The time for experimentation might be over, but that doesn’t mean new Charlotte Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap will give up on playing a deep bench.
Dunlap warned at the outset of the preseason he’d be mixing-and-matching constantly in exhibitions. He acknowledged the other day treating some players like “pinch hitters,” as in giving them brief chances to show what they could do.
The games start for real Friday, and Dunlap named five starters for the opener against the Indiana Pacers: point guard Kemba Walker, shooting guard Gerald Henderson, rookie small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, power forward Byron Mullens and center Brendan Haywood.
Then Dunlap added he intends to play 11 Bobcats per game, a deeper rotation than is typical in the NBA. That’s a nod to the defensive energy he expects his team to expend nightly.
“You can’t ask these guys to do some of the stuff we’re asking them to do unless you let them go to the bench for a drink and respite,” Dunlap said. “You have this really long season. If you go with a short bench, and you’re demanding we’ll do some trapping, you’ll end up with a burnout factor.”
A lot of teams talk about trapping on defense and running on offense, then default to more of a walk-it-up style. Since he got the job Dunlap has said the Bobcats must try the unorthodox to compete, and pushing the tempo in this fashion is unorthodox.
Dunlap has harped on defense-first. Though Mullens hasn’t traditionally been thought of as a great defender, the coach says his starters are his best defensive options.
“They get after it defensively and we’ve been selling that. If I say we’re going to tilt this thing toward defense, then you’ve got to do it with actions, not words,” Dunlap said. “Those five – on our deflections chart, on everything defensively we chart – are in the top five, so that’s how we did it.”
The selection of 11th-season veteran center Haywood as a starter reflects that defensive slant. While he’s limited offensively, Haywood defends the post and is a chatterbox at the back of the D.
“We’re getting better defensively as a unit – talking, communicating, knowing where everyone is supposed to be,” said Haywood.
He played a modest 21 minutes per game in the preseason, but Haywood understands what Dunlap was trying with all the different lineups.
“I don’t think anyone really has a rhythm yet because that comes with consistent minutes. Coach Dunlap is trying to give that to us now,” Haywood said.
“Coach had to see who plays better with each other. It’s a process for everybody – for him as a coach and us as players.”
• Dunlap was asked Wednesday if Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 overall pick, is ready to be an NBA starter:
“I don’t think any rookie, even (top pick Anthony) Davis, is ready for an 82-game season,” Dunlap replied. “I think the rookies go through tremendous highs and lows. And it’s like running your first marathon. They can tell you about the wall, but when you hit that wall, it’s a whole different deal.”
• While Dunlap didn’t specify his top reserves, it’s a given that point guard Ramon Sessions, shooting guard Ben Gordon and center Bismack Biyombo will play big roles off the bench.
Gordon could end up the Bobcats’ leading scorer.