When the Charlotte Bobcats hired General Manager Rich Cho in June of 2011, the Burma native and former Boeing engineer constantly spoke of a desire to implement a particular database he had created that he felt could lead to a winning team. Often labeled as a "Money Ball" type approach to the NBA, the system has seemed to be leading to some success thus far, but it's still quite a mystery in what it's actually telling our front office about players we attempt to acquire and/or maintain.
According to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the database cost owner Michael Jordan "well into the range of six figures" and provides pertinent information to the team and updates different range of evaluations pertaining to a players around the league. This ranges from a player's statistics and efficiency throughout the season to other things such as behavioral issues and off the court transgressions. Overall, it is said to include over 500,000 web pages of real time information. The program is an extension of a popular one in use throughout the league under the guise of "Hawkeye", but has been specifically developed for the Bobcat's organization with the help of a Microsoft engineer.
So what is this program delivering us other than information like LeBron James is superior to Cory Higgins? We at Rufus on Fire may never know. Even finding information on the Hawkeye program itself is hard enough, but from patterns I am noticing, I think I have a decent hypothesis of what we're doing, and what direction we will go in the future.
Two years removed from being the worst team in NBA history after finishing with a 7-59 record during a lockout campaign, and only one year away from being the 2nd worst team in the league last season with a 21-61 record, we're three quarters of the way through the season sitting in prime position to secure only our second playoff berth in franchise history and are one of the surprise teams in the league. That's something to be excited about. But because the Bobcats have no players that made the All-Star game and have passed on a few gems in the draft, Cho still has a good bit of detractors.
And that's fine, I certainly understand how it can be troublesome to some that we may not have a player on the cover of NBA 2K or participating in the "Space Jam" sequel. But let's take a step back and think about this database again. Maybe it's actually working. Though we're getting limited statistical production from lottery picks like MKG, Biz, and Zeller, honestly for me, it kind of makes it more impressive that we're actually in position to win games. Who would have thought that signing Tolliver would supply us with a such a needed weapon? Or that the trade for McBob last year would have landed us an integral player? Rich Cho, that's who. Or his database, at least.
I'm not a mathematician at all and don't get caught up in the numbers like a lot of people do, but I certainly have a high respect for the statistical information brought to the table. Numbers don't lie. On the other hand, numbers don't tell the whole story either, so I don't put all my stock into them. I watch the games and examine the strengths and weaknesses of teams and then look to the numbers for confirmation of my beliefs or the cold blood truth that I was wrong. Either way, when what I felt was our most glaring hole was filled the day we signed Al Jefferson, the post season this year became my personal goal for the team. So far, that's looking to be the case. And it's good to know that the database agreed with me in these regards.
But that's only one piece of the equation. What's lead to our draft picks, trades, and other free agent signings? I've identified three major areas that I think Cho derives his choices in the database from when constructing the team and honestly feel as though what I am about to say can be somewhat of a blueprint for building our team going forward. These three areas are Roster Construction, Athletes, and Culture:
Again, all I can assume about the state of Cho's mindset with the team and potential moves can be derived from what he's done in the past. Since the Trail Blazers gig was his first official General Manager position, we can begin by taking a look by what moves he was able to sign off on and go for and this is what I've come up with in regards to what he (or his database) is looking for out of our positions on the floor.
Kemba Walker Leads a List of Score First Guards Acquired by Cho
Point Guard : Out of the PG position, to me it appears that the database is pointing towards bringing in scorers more than anything. Although we have willing passers at the position, Cho's primary picks can all be considered better scorers than passers. Scorers such as Kemba Walker, who was drafted by us after taking over the scoring load during UConn's title run. Want more reasoning for this? Just look to the bench. Luke Ridnour, though a pass first guard, is known to be able to convert from the arc and add points. Jannero Pargo as we all know has the propensity to turn into an instant gunner. Ramon Sessions, who we just traded away was able to add 10+ a night getting to the rack as well. And also consider the fact that we WERE prepared to bring D.J. Augustin back to Charlotte on a smaller deal than his qualifying offer was worth (and is flourishing in Chicago) and also chased Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns in free agency a couple of years ago. All of those players are guys that can be counted on to put up 10+ a night either starting or from the bench, an idea which strays a little bit away from the traditional roles of a point guard. And I know I said I'd start at Portland when examining Cho's history, but take a look at Russell Westbrook as well. Everything from the point guard position indicates that the database calls for guards who can first put the ball in the basket, and then pass second if needed to. This draft I expect us to draft a long term backup for Kemba. I can pretty much guarantee that whoever it is will have a scorer's mindset that will need to be honed into a passer's so they can take advantage of both skills. After all, to me it's easier for a scorer to became a passer rather than a passer to become a scorer.
Shooting Guard: For our two guard position, I believe the database is saying to go get a defensive starter who can happen to score some and then complement that player with a pure shooter off the bench. Case in point with Gerald Henderson. I don't think it's any coincidence at all that he's been the last holdover from the previous Bobact regime (well, sort of)as he just so happened to fit in Cho's database and hasn't had to face much of a starting threat as there haven't been really many defensive upgrades available. However, to illustrate my belief of this further, think about who Rich Cho signed to be Portland's starting SG. That's right, Wesley Matthews, another player cut from the Henderson type of cloth. Behind that player, I believe the database is telling us to bring in a three point threat who can just shoot the lights out. There were reports we were interested in Monta Ellis (which I think were true and believe he would have been a sixth man) but what I know to be more than a rumor is that we've had Ben Gordon here and have brought in Gary Neal as well. I know that Gordon was more because of the draft pick than anything, but he was actually brought here to contribute a bit as well, which he did at times.
Small Forward : I believe the database calls for a jack of all trades from the SF position. Not just a scorer, not just a rebounder, not just a defender, but everything at a decent rate. Of course, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is our starter and is regarded for his ability to do pretty much everything outside of score, but think about other guys as well. Jeff Taylor and Chris Douglas-Roberts are pretty much the same player and can do a lot of the things MKG is able to do. And then think about the fact that Cho traded for Gerald Wallace in Portland, a player MKG is said to be close to in terms of style. I don't think this is a coincidence at all. Even Corey Maggette fit that description somewhat the lone year he was here.
Dirk Nowitzki Would Fit Well Within the Bobcats' Scheme
Power Forward: Cho's database seems to place a big emphasis on utilizing the four spot with player's who can stretch the floor with some minutes going to a bruiser underneath. All of the players considered power forwards on our roster currently are able to take shots outside the paint (Anthony Tolliver, Josh McRoberts, and Cody Zeller) and even players of the past and free agent attempts like Byron Mullens and Antwan Jamison fit this criteria. For the bruiser role, of course we had Jeff Adrien in this spot earlier this season and last, and we were also chasing Carl Landry at one point in free agency, who is the same kind of player as Adrien, just a lot better.
Center: The database appears to point to have players that have complimentary skill sets as well. The big thing with the starting big men is to get buckets. Mullens can be fit into this category, as well as our current starting big man Al Jefferson. Also, don't forget that we were prepared to offer Brook Lopez a maximum contract. Most say it was done just to screw over the Nets' plans which was partially true, but it was about to still put us in position to pay him had Brooklyn declined to match, and he'd had become our center of the future. Off the bench, we can expect players of a defensive mold to offset this, with Bismack Biyombo being a high lottery pick of Cho's and guys like Brendan Haywood who can be counted on to bring a big body to D up against other big men.
So what does it all mean? I'm not sure, but the pattern of acquisitions since Cho has been in charge of things has been fairly consistent, particularly his penchant for having scoring point guards and stretch fours. Some may view these things as a coincidence, but I think it's more than that. Statistics over the years I am assuming have the database thinking this is the best model to building a team that can compete for a title. Of the last few title teams, I think it's apparent that we are trying to follow a Detroit Pistons type of model, a team that was contenders in the Eastern Conference for several years. Chauncey Billups was at one time known as Mr. Big Shot and turned into a solid distributor over his career. Richard Hamilton was a guard that could excel from mid range and hit the occasional three while being a decent enough defender. Tayshaun Prince was a lock down defender who could also contribute on the boards. Rasheed Wallace was a big man who could be successful in the paint, but made a living stretching the floor with his shooting skills. Ben Wallace was a dominant rebounder and rim protector. Do those qualities match up to our young core players or what? In my opinion they certainly do, and to me this is the team we have been attempting to emulate.
The Bobcats Young Core Consists of Prime Athletes
Something a good percentage of our recent acquisitions have in common as well as that they are all excellent athletes. Well, at least those we acquire as youth initially. Everyone acquired in trades or free agency thus far has been pretty mundane in this department, with Jefferson, McRoberts, Tolliver, and Pargo being pretty much the main components of this. They are all decent enough athletically to be in the NBA of course, but none are considered to be really prime athletes.
Rich Cho and Rod Higgins Speak on Drafting Zeller
But what happens when we look at the draft? Walker, Kidd-Gilchrist, Biyombo, Zeller, and Taylor are all above average athletes who are pretty nimble on their feet in comparison to their peers. All had scores at the NBA combines that stood out in some areas as being elite in potential whether it was Walker's speed or Bismack's length. Cody Zeller set some of the greatest scores for big men in the entire history of the event.
So what's that telling? Obviously there is a disconnect somewhere, but I view it as this. If we are going to take a kid in the draft, then questionable athleticism is going to be a huge red flag for us towards selecting such players, which can partly begin to offer explanation to why we passed on certain players in the draft. If they have proven that despite their limited athleticism that they can still serve a purpose in the NBA, I think the database begins to open up a lot more to accept those guys. They won't be developing under our watch though. These will be veterans who know how to come in and contribute.Ridnour and Neal can be added to that group as well. However, when it comes to the draft, our days of selecting players with questionable athleticism are over. Any young gun we pick up is going to be an above average athlete.
It's Been Said MKG's "Work Ethic" Was Huge in Him Going Over Andre Drummond
The final element I feel that Cho's database aims to do is find genuinely quality people to change the way things are done in Charlotte. Not only has Cho, but Michael Jordan and Rod Higgins have on several times spoken on trying to build an environment full of players who are constantly trying to improve and find losing hard to accept. I mean, duh, of course, everyone wants to have a winning environment, but a lot of teams around the league have people that are perceived as "cancers" in a locker room. Whether that's deserved or not, I'm not really going to get into it, but it is what it is. We've had to come a long way from having those type of players on the roster.
Of course we didn't have a J.R. Smith admitting to staying out all night before an important game, or players like Raymond Felton getting arrested on gun charges (not with us), but think of what we did have. I was one of Stephen Jackson 's biggest fans, but I'd cringe every time at the site of him arguing an official down to the point techs were called and/or we were getting beat 4 on 5 in transition on the other end of the floor. It made me sick seeing Boris Diaw sludge down the court overweight and Tyrus Thomas having to shift to small forward because he was so underweight. I hated watching Mullens take pull up three point shots in fast break situations.
This year, players are holding each other in check the correct way. Rather than getting in each others faces and arguing amongst themselves, players are communicating on a positive note, redirecting errors quietly while not embarrassing their own teammates. As for the wild shots and not getting back on defense, it's not even something we have to worry about as no one on the team can be genuinely consider a ball hog who is constantly taking bad shots anymore. Everyone is truly on the same page as far as trying to win goes. We have players who have won NCAA titles and others who have played on great NBA teams. These guys have tasted winning before, and want to taste it again.
I certainly believe that the database throws up huge red flags for anyone that could possibly disrupt the culture that Cho is attempting to build here. So that leads me to believe that people like Demarcus Cousins and Smith or P.J. Hairston, no matter how good, will never wear a Bobcat uniform as the system simply has that as a disqualification point. Which may cause us to miss out on some good players, but in the end, if it's working so be it. It kinda makes you wonder though........would we still take Marcus Smart if he was on the board? We know not everything is his fault, but in the end, he still had to sit out three games for his actions.
So what have learned? Nothing you didn't already know of course. No groundbreaking information here. Everyone knows our roster, and that we have athletes, and that we've preached about wanting to become a positive, winning environment. But has anyone been noticing what we're actually doing? I think every move Cho has made in Charlotte thus far has been database approved. Or is it all coincidence?