As the playoffs near, Steve Clifford and the Bobcats continue to tweak with their rotations in a last ditch effort to achieve their best performance. At a risky, crucial time when the Bobcats are trying to improve their playoff seeding, Clifford has made a fairly big change in his bench, bringing Chris Douglas-Roberts into a bigger role and decreasing Anthony Tolliver's.
The two have comparable skill sets and talents. Douglas-Roberts is 6-foot-7 and Tolliver is 6-foot-8. Both have a fairly dependable jump shot from behind the arc, which is why their success has been so instrumental for the Bobcats' offensive improvements.
Unfortunately for Tolliver, CDR can offer a bit more flexibility on the floor. Tolliver is pretty limited to playing small forward, where he best defends against players who aren't as quick as guards but aren't as strong as frontcourt players. Douglas-Roberts, though, can defend guards in addition to small forwards.
Though this gives us the general idea of why CDR's star is rising among the Bobcats' reserves, it doesn't tell a full story.
Anthony Tolliver's rise in the Bobcats rotation was first brought on by a pair of injuries to the Bobcats' top two small forwards. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a hand fracture and Jeff Taylor ruptured his Achilles tendon in December and suddenly Tolliver was starting.
The Bobcats' offense was miserably limited by their woeful three-point shooting, ranking around 28th in overall offensive efficiency after a couple months. Their spacing shrunk the court and their roster had few talented sharpshooters. Tolliver, however, gave their outside scoring a shot in the arm, even after Kidd-Gilchrist returned and Tolliver went back to a bit of a smaller role. Even in coming off the bench, Tolliver contributed significant minutes with his shooting, knocking down 44.2 percent of his long balls before the All-Star break.
For a while, CDR's role coexisted with Tolliver's. Clifford still often ran the twin-point guard lineups with Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions, but Douglas-Roberts became the backup shooting guard. He too offered a knack for three-point shooting off the bench, hitting 40 percent of his attempts in limited minutes, usually somewhere in the mid-teens.
But when the Bobcats pulled the trigger on the trade centered around Ramon Sessions and Gary Neal, their roles shifted. Ridnour became the backup point guard and Neal took over a bigger share of minutes as the backup shooting guard.
Naturally, Clifford had to decide which player would see diminished playing time and it's clear that player has been Anthony Tolliver. Despite receiving a grand total of 25 minutes in the 10 games from Feb. 4 to March 2 -- Gary Neal's first game as a Bobcat was on Feb. 28 -- CDR began to consistently receive big-time minutes after that March 2 game. Starting with the March 3 Heat game, Douglas-Roberts has averaged 25.7 minutes. In that same time, Tolliver averaged 10.5 minutes per game.
So why the rotation switch?
Well, besides the aforementioned versatility advantage, Chris Douglas-Roberts' simply seems to be improving as Tolliver regresses.
Tolliver, as fine a player as he is, just lacks a versatile offensive and defensive skill set. Nearly two-thirds of his offense is spot-up shots and another 11 percent of his possessions come in transition, where he is quite effective, but we're talking about a fairly small number of possessions.Tolliver does pick his spots well and doesn't over-extend himself on offense.
Yet, his physical limitations confine him to a smaller role. He's not quick enough to be a particularly great threat cutting off the ball nor is he good enough in creating his own shot or shots for others with the ball in his hands to justify giving him a ton of playing time. Defensively, Tolliver brings terrific hustle and commitment to the floor, but despite active feet and hands, he can be exploited on the perimeter by faster forwards. Still, his team defense is solid. To make matters worse, his three-point shooting has significantly regressed since the All-Star break, now hitting 31.3 percent of his threes.
Clifford has conversely hitched his wagon to Douglas-Roberts' star as the backup small forward. CDR's shooting from behind the arc is pretty much identical to his percentage before the break, though he's taking nearly twice as many threes. More importantly, Douglas-Roberts is simply a better all-around player. His release on his jump shot is a little unconventional, coming from just over his head, but hey, whatever works, right?
Beyond jump shooting, CDR is a pretty solid all-around reserve. He's not only extremely active running off-ball through screens or keeping the floor spaced by offering a dependable three-point shot, but with a decent handle, Douglas-Roberts can do a little creation off the dribble and is a willing passer when the situation arises for the extra pass. He doesn't possess the greatest vertical gifts, but he hits a great percentage of his shots at the rim, making 63 percent of those attempts.
CDR has also shown to be a talented defender. He has good quickness and agility and footwork on the perimeter. He's not an extremely good defender, as we can see in the on-off court differential statistics that highlight the statistical impact of players in the form of points per 100 possessions on offense and defense when a player is on or off the court. Since the All-Star break, the Bobcats outscore opponents by 3.8 points per 100 possessions when Tolliver or Douglas-Roberts are off the floor, but CDR maintains a better net rating when he's on the floor than Tolliver, by a small margin of 0.5 points per 100 possessions -- +2.0 to +1.5, respectively. In these differences, the on-off statistics suggest the Bobcats offense is bettered by CDR despite giving up a bit defensively, while Tolliver's presence has decreased the Bobcats' offensive efficiency but improved the defensive efficiency.
So far, Clifford has seen good results from giving Douglas-Roberts more minutes. Time's proving to be the biggest enemy for the Bobcats in their chasing the elusive 6 seed, but by going with the more versatile player in Chris Douglas-Roberts, the Bobcats are hoping to capitalize on developing their bench rotations with him.