Quick feet and trust.
Those are the non-negotiables to play defense the way the Charlotte Bobcats approach it this season. Coach Mike Dunlap overloads the strong side of his defense more than any other NBA team. Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins noted that Friday and Dunlap didn’t dispute the perception Saturday.
Overloading the strong side generally means keeping four defenders on the side of the lane where the ball is. Dunlap says most current NBA offenses – pick-and-roll heavy – concentrate the action on the strong side. Teams adept at swinging a pass to the “weak’’ side can target what the Bobcats are doing. But by-and-large, it’s been an advantage so far this season.
This is one of the ways Dunlap, who spent most of his career at the college level, has tried the unconventional. He also installed a matchup zone that threw off the Indiana Pacers in the opener. Dunlap said when he took the job in June that if the Bobcats do everything conventionally, they’ll struggle to compete against more talented, experienced teams.
Collins sounded intrigued by what Dunlap is trying. He said the advantages are the Bobcats can apply great ball pressure early in a possession and can guard three offensive players with four defenders. That creates turnovers and eats up possession time in a 24-second shot clock.
The tradeoff, Collins described, is if a team is patient enough to swing the ball all around the court, overloading the strong side creates a “house of cards” effect, where a guard is covering a big man at the rim or the Bobcats give up an unguarded 3 at the far end of the baseline.
Dunlap agrees. But he feels he can live with that risk because this style fits his personnel and offers a distinctive wrinkle. Playing this way puts a premium on perimeter defenders who can cover a lot of ground. Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson and rookies Jeff Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all fit that description.
Walker likes what Dunlap is trying. They started experimenting with this back in summer league in Las Vegas and have stuck to the principles.
That’s where quick feet and trust become essential. Seventh in the NBA in steals this season at 2.07 per game, Walker said the leap of faith is trusting teammates to cover for you when you cover for others.
“It’s about commitment. We do a lot of helping. You have to be your brother’s keeper,” Walker said. “When someone gets beat, you help him out and trust your teammates behind you to be where you leave.
“We have really quick guys who can move their feet. Even our bigs with Byron (Mullens) and Biz (Biyombo). So this fits.”
After a rocky start over the first five games, the Bobcats are a respectable 17th in opponent field-goal percentage (44.3 percent) and fourth in steals (9.21 per game).
“We overload a lot and that means we have to recover,” Walker concluded. “It’s tough, but it’s something we’ve been doing. We’re getting really good at it, actually. If we stay active and are committed to do it, it works.”