August 15, 2012 Goodbye, Dwight! Ranking the Eastern Conference Front Courts
The news that Dwight Howard is out of the Eastern Conference, even better, the Southeast Division, just doesn’t seem to get old now, does it? I hated the trade because it created yet another megaladon-sized powerhouse for the Washington Wizards to have to fend off en route to a championship; on the other hand, Dwight Howard can’t abuse the Wizards anymore! Over 31 games against the Wizards during his eight year career, Howard has averaged 18.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. He has crushed Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas, and JaVale McGee in every way possible since entering the league, but all that ends in 2012.
The Wizards now boast one of the best front courts in the NBA, and within the East it is as formidable as any that they will face throughout the season. But where does it rank? Well, let’s just break down all of them and try to peg where they stand….starting with the worst in the Eastern Conference.
#15. Charlotte Bobcats
Centers: Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood
Power Forwards: Byron Mullins, Tyrus Thomas
Small Forwards: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Reggie Williams
If you want to start any NBA list about the “Worst-anything,” all roads lead to Charlotte. Their front court situation does not veer far from that trend, as they are without a doubt the pits of the Eastern Conference. Part of that stems from how young their roster is, with only 154 games played in total between Bismack Biyombo, Byron Mullens, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Obviously, with that type of youth up front, there are going to be some serious rough spots. The Bobcats are headed in the right direction with the drafting of MKG, but they have a lot of ground to make up in order to overcome that fateful 2011 season.
Best Case Scenario:
The best case scenario for the Bobcats is that MKG shows signs of becoming the next Scottie Pippen, Bismack Biyombo turns into Dikembe/Serge Ibaka, and Byron Mullens manages simply to be better than Tyrus Thomas at his worst (which, mind you, is all the time). Really, though, the best case scenario only requires one thing: noticeable progress. If they can do that, they may end up coming out of the gutter of the Eastern Conference front courts.
Starting with the most important piece, the franchise player and youngest member on the team, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The strategy of hinging your future on an 18 year old kid is a dubious one at best, but those are the demands which the Bobcats have placed upon MKG’s shoulders. I actually believe that, if anyone can impress so much in their rookie season, it will be him. Watching MKG in his one summer league game was all I needed to see to decide he would be incredibly effective at the professional level. It was against the Sacramento Kings, but I was awe struck at his versatility. In that game, he scored 18 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, dished out 5 assists, and nabbed 4 steals en route to a 121-87 victory. That’s right, the Bobcats won, and it was on the back of a young kid.
As was his modus operandi in college, MKG was all over the court hounding defenders and making plays. He made the entire roster look better simply by his disruption of plays. Whenever he scores, it’s never a drawn up play, but rather an exploitation of a defensive scheme. His talent is that there is really no definitive defensive strategy to guard him; if you force him to shoot, he’ll just pass to an open man. If you’re not on him immediately, then he’ll shoot the ball; if you’re late on a rotation then he’ll be there to score. He has an incredibly good knowledge of how an offense functions, and where points are to be had on put backs opportunities, cuts, and steals. That’s where he’ll make you pay on the offensive end.
Furthermore, if you make a sloppy pass, MKG will be there to take it away, because he seriously doesn’t take plays off. It’s natural for any player to do it, but I’ve never seen a guy work as hard as him. He has the quickest feet on a 6’7ish player I have (yep, I’ll say it) ever seen. MKG runs the court like a guard, and doesn’t often lose his defensive assignment. I think he’ll get schooled by LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, but when I look at the Eastern Conference list of small forwards, I see him being a defensive stopper on all but those two. That’s how much praise I’m heaping on this kid, and a reason why he might just be able to turn Charlotte into a defensively stout front court for any team.
Enough about MKG, what about the rest? In Bismack Biyombo, they have an incredibly athletic and long defender who can do only that–defend. Statistically, Biyombo averaged a paltry 5.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. On paper he isn’t going to look good, but watching him play is a different story. He appears to have solid defensive instinct, loves to block shots, and actually fights for rebounds. Biyombo is very physical down low, and if he can learn to combine that physicality and length with actual box out skills, he should be grabbing 10 rebounds a game. Of course, part of that is on his teammates, but I do see lots of potential. He is young, and his progression will be key.
Biyombo will more likely be offensive on offense before he becomes an offensive threat (read it, it makes sense). He has no post moves at the moment, has no jump shot, and does not resemble Serge Ibaka in any way, shape, or form on offense. But the potential is there for him to have the same effect; fantastic defense coupled with a single post move or patented way to score enough to justify staying on the court. Also, his Per 36 minute stats suggest he could become a double-double guy in the future, believe it or not. When you take that into account, it’s easy to see why Bobcats fans have slightly high hopes for him to become a 12-10-2 (block) guy in the very near future.
(Last thought: I think former Wizard Brendan Haywood was a great offseason addition to help Biyombo’s development. Haywood is far from an offensive threat, but he is passable on that end. It took him a long time to establish himself as a solid option, so perhaps he can quicken that learning curve for the Bobcats. Haywood is getting older and requires less minutes, but when he is on the court his defense is decent enough where he can spell Biyombo perfectly without sacrificing too much.)
As for Byron Mullins, he finally escaped from the Oklahoma City Thunder and their far too talented roster, in hopes of carving a name for himself in Charlotte. Last season, all that was really asked of him was to become a better player than Tyrus Thomas, the incumbent unhappy power forward who just collects paychecks at this point. Did he succeed? Yes, because he actually played, where as Tyrus just mailed the season in.
Byron played well enough last year to give Bobcats fans hope that he might become a scorer for them. His midrange ability showed itself last season, albeit a bit inconsistently. He will never be Dirk Nowitzki, but he can hit enough to keep defenses in check and counteract Bismack. Charlotte really liked making him the focal point of their offense last year (his usage rate was a crazy 22.5), but unfortunately he couldn’t hit shots consistently. Then again, no one on the Bobcats could do that, either.
Mullens issue was at the defensive end, where he couldn’t stop a beach ball. He really hadn’t played NBA basketball consistently until last season, and it showed. If Mullins can adjust to the speed of the game accordingly, his hard work and good size could make him passable on the defensive end. He needs to help Biyombo out more, because he is a sloth on defense. I think, in time, he could become better with help defense and fulfill the potential that Thunder GM Sam Presti once saw in him.
Worst Case Scenario
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’ knee ends up being far more of a problem that originally presumed. The same one that made him sit all but one summer league game just isn’t right, and he is forced to miss the majority of the season. That would leave their small forward position in the hands of Reggie Williams, the soon-to-be 26 year old Virginia native who failed to make an impact in Golden State prior to last season. MKG, when healthy, proves that his shooting ability leaves more than a bit to be desired, and his offensive production is disastrous. Add in his lingering knee issue, and his lateral movement and ability to stay in front of the man he is guarding is robbed. After realizing that MKG is obviously hurt, Charlotte sits him for the remainder of the season, and his effect is marginalized.
Bismack Biyombo, on the other hand, makes little progress in terms of anything outside of blocking ability. Offensively, he is a disaster and, while he tries to shoot more jumpers, fails to make any of them. His progress resembles more Olowokandi than that of Serge Ibaka, and justifying him being on the court becomes a harder and harder task. Instead, they opt for Brendan Haywood, in hopes of some marginally better production. The result is that Haywood, having complained the entire season of coming off the bench (as he did earlier in his career with the Wizards), becomes a malcontent. He failed to put in the effort earlier in the season, and his conditioning is poor. He proves to be a worse option than Biyombo, and thus the Bobcats are stuck with two poor performers occupying the same position.
Byron Mullens, on the other hand, shoots about as poorly as Adam Morrisson, and stagnates the offense with his ball stopping, ill-advised jumper hoisting ways. He doesn’t provide anything on the defensive end, and what was once predicted to be a stingy defense is now a sieve. With Mullens playing terribly, the Bobcats have to rely on, quite possibly, a worse option in Tyrus Thomas, who is already fed up with the Bobcats. His sour mood infects the front court, and the rest of the team feeds off his dismal morale, leading the entire team into mutiny. In a worst case scenario, the Bobcats have an offensively brutal, malcontent, and slightly injured front court that lacks the wherewithal to do any better than last season. They don’t stop anyone, and continue having the worst record in the league.