As we soon enter training camp, the Bobcats are going to have many questions regarding their frontcourt. With the signing of Al Jefferson, the drafting of Cody Zeller, and Bismack Biyombo around for another season, the Bobcats have three frontcourt players in their arsenal that should make them more flexible than ever before. The question, however, is: With these new options that the team has never had before, what kind of lineups will we see? What will be the advantages and disadvantages that these lineups bring? All will involve at least one of the three frontcourt players mentioned above and a rotation of backcourt players that will hopefully fit the lineup of frontcourt players.
Walker, Henderson, Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller, Jefferson
(High offense, bad defense)
This is the lineup many projected the Bobcats will go with to start the season, bringing out the two new frontcourt additions to power their starting lineup. This lineup will have a lot of offensive firepower and will most likely see a lot of pick and roll with some off-ball screens and cuts.
I'm imagining this kind of scenario when these players are on the court: Walker will bring the ball upcourt and then Zeller will come over to set a high screen. When Walker goes around the pick he will have a couple options.
Option 1: Walker fires the ball down to Jefferson, who has established position in the low post, allowing the big man to work on his defender toward getting a basket. According to MySynergySports.com, Jefferson was involved in post-up plays 45.7 percent of the time last season so, uh, yeah, that is definitely his go-to offensive set. This will most likely be the Bobcats' go-to move, too, especially when they're in dire need of a bucket considering Jefferson is arguably their most efficient offensive player.
Option 2: Walker takes the ball into his own hands. If Walker sees a lane for him to penetrate through a weak defense, he will use that lane, allowing him to create havoc - whether dumping it off to a teammate, kicking out to an open teammate at the three-point line, or shooting the ball himself. This was also the play that Walker ran the most last season, according to Synergy. Walker ran the PnR as a ball handler 35.8 percent of the time -- much higher than the second-highest, which is transition at 21.3 percent and spot-ups at 17.7 percent.
Option 3: Walker hits the cutter. This can work with anybody really, but I'm thinking of Zeller, MKG, or Henderson in this situation. Zeller in most pick and roll situations like this one is going to cut towards the basket, which gives Walker an immediate man to dump the ball to after the pick. Zeller will then have the option of finishing at the basket, dumping it off to Al Jefferson or another cutter in MKG/Henderson, or passing back out to someone on the perimeter to shoot a jump shot. The same thing can happen for a cutting MKG/Henderson if the ball goes to them on cuts instead of Zeller getting the ball after the pick. They will have all of the same options that Zeller had above. This play can easily be the most effective because of all of the movement, but it is also the hardest to execute and can lead to turnovers. Let us not forget how young four of the five starters will be. Inexperience with a new coach will breed mistakes. It happens. You can expect improvement from a young squad, but you can't expect perfection.
This lineups has some glaring weaknesses that we can't ignore. Although the backcourt defense is solid, the frontcourt defense is very poor. Let's just say Zeller did not become a highly touted prospect for his defense in college. Due to Zeller's short wingspan, longer players at power forward can finish around him. Luckily, he has the speed to avoid being outmaneuvered, but he's going to struggle against bigger opponents that can push him around. He also shies away from contact and challenging shots with force. Further, Zeller is a rookie and most rookies struggle defensively due to getting used to NBA speed and power. Jefferson also struggles mightily on defense so having a frontcourt of two defensively struggling players is a major weakness. Jefferson lacks the agility and quickness of Zeller, but shares a similar inability to defend around the rim. This combination could collapse the team defense, leading to breakdowns both in the interior and exterior.
Walker, Henderson, MKG/Zeller, Biyombo, Jefferson
This could be the biggest lineup the Bobcats have (if they're brave enough to put Zeller at small forward) and it can give them an advantage when teams want to go small. Biyombo has showed that he can be a solid help defender, making this lineup my favorite. Jefferson's defensive struggles are more easily covered up by a helping Biyombo than they are by Zeller. This lineup is interesting because of the flexibility the Bobcats have. If Zeller shows that he has an ability to take his jump shot past 6-8 feet, then the Bobcats could have the fortune of being able to play all three of their major frontcourt players at once. If the team would prefer to try and protect the rim with this lineup then MKG will be their guy instead of Zeller thanks to his athleticism and defensive skills.
On offense this lineup will still be running a lot of post ups, screens and pick and rolls because of Walker and Jefferson. And I think there will even more screens with Biyombo on the floor due to the necessity to create space to help Biyombo's offense.
With this lineup we should see Biyombo coming off a lot of cuts, especially on the baseline. Last season 28.6 percent of all the plays Biyombo was involved in were off of cuts. One of the more likely ways he'll receive the ball in this lineup is MKG sets an off-ball screen for Biyombo and Walker gets him the ball.
When Zeller is on the floor in this lineup he will be doing one of two things: He will either set picks then fade out to set up for a triple-threat position or he will spot up for jump shots. Zeller needs to have some form of a jump shot for this lineup to reach the pinnacle of success with him on the floor. Sadly, he hasn't inspired many people with confidence when it comes to that. With Biyombo and Jefferson out there the paint is going to be clogged enough as is. A guy that can shoot has the ability to really spread the floor for those two guys allowing them to get to the rim easier.
The biggest weakness here will be spacing issues. We still don't know if he can consistently make jump shots at an NBA level. We already know about MKG's shooting woes. It's possible that to fix the spacing issues here if the team puts Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon or Jeff Taylor at shooting guard and moves Henderson to small forward or if they just go ahead and play Jeff Taylor there.
Walker, Sessions, Henderson, MKG, Jefferson
(ITTEH BITTEH KITTEH lineup)
Teams are going to small ball lineups more often than ever so don't be surprised if we see the Bobcats throw out this lineup a few times this season. Putting MKG at power forward in this lineup allows the Bobcats to do some fun things with Al Jefferson. MKG is big and strong enough to the point where he can set solid screens on power forwards and centers, which allows him to be a screen man for Jefferson. Jefferson has shown with his post ability and low turnover percentage that he can hold onto the ball, which means he can probably get around small screens. Another thing that the Bobcats can do is have Jefferson set up off the elbow in the high post (ie. in the HORNS set) where they can have a cutter run past Jefferson. This will force Jefferson's man and the guy chasing the cutter to treat Jefferson as a screener, even though he has the ball, so this will then give Jefferson the option of passing the ball to the cutting man or take his shot during the bit of confusion defense goes through. With Henderson at small forward one thing the Bobcats liked to do last season was have Henderson be the guy to set up the offense. He's a solid ball handler and passer so allowing him to create a shot while Sessions and/or Kemba spots up at the three-point line is a nice play the Bobcats can run every once in a while. They can also do this exact same thing with Walker or Sessions handling the ball. The nice thing about the lineup is the entire backcourt is filled with guys who can handle the ball. There is lots of potential for shot creation here.
Walker, Sessions, MKG, Zeller, Biyombo
(We're gonna run you out of the building)
This lineup is fast. All of the plays they'll be running I've mentioned above but this lineup probably won't be out there to run a lot of sets. They'll be out there to try and push the pace and outrun the other guys.
Imagine this lineup doing something like this: Biyombo gets the ball off a defensive rebound and immediately passes it to Walker, who sprints upcourt. Sessions is slightly behind him and heading for the corner for an easy trey if need be. Zeller and MKG run upcourt next to Walker ready for a 3-2, 3-3 fast break as they fill transition lanes. Kemba can take it to the rim, dump it to one of his extremely athletic teammates or start a passing spree to the most likely open player (in this case, probably Sessions). This lineup can score at lightning speed when it works and will be fun if used.
The main weakness of this lineup is that it can struggle defensively since MKG is the only solid all-around defensive threat in this lineup. If they can't outscore their opponent or meet an equally athletic lineup (such as the Heat) then this group of guys could get scored on in a hurry. They'd be best used in certain special situations.
All of these lineups all have their strengths and flaws. Some of them can be fixed by taking a Ben Gordon or Jeff Taylor and inserting them in for a guy. Then that lineup will have new strengths or new flaws. No lineup is exactly perfect with this roster and if we tried to dissect every possibility we'd be here all day. But thanks to the additions of Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson and further depth with Josh McRoberts and Anthony Tolliver, this team is more flexible than ever. Expect all kinds of different lineups and creations this season. Some will work and some won't. However, this flexibility is the first step to building a winning team.
Some of these lineups could be the foundation of the Bobcats finally finding themselves the identity they've been searching for.