Commentary

Bonnell: Points or rebounds: A strategic tradeoff

In My OpinionRick Bonnell

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comDecember 5, 2012 

— Scoring or rebounding? Boards or points?

The Charlotte Bobcats can be a small NBA team that shoots and scores. Or they can be a bigger team that rebounds and defends the post. The way the roster is configured, it’s unlikely they can be both.

The Bobcats blew an 18-point lead with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter Monday to lose to the Portland Trail Blazers 118-112 in overtime. There were various factors contributing to that loss: They fell in love with their jump shots, rather than drive to the rim, and the Blazers successfully blitzed Charlotte’s pick-and-roll, double-teaming point guard Kemba Walker to take away his driving and passing lanes.

But the biggest single factor in this loss was probably the offensive rebounds the Bobcats gave up. The Blazers had to outscore them 12-3 in the last 2 minutes, 51 seconds to force overtime. Four of Portland’s last five baskets in regulation resulted from offensive rebounds.

Bobcats power forward Byron Mullens took the fall for that, blaming himself for LaMarcus Aldridge’s three offensive rebounds late. Certainly Mullens should have been better at boxing out.

But this meltdown illustrates a wider concern: The Bobcats have a sort of split personality. They can either score playing small ball, using guards Walker, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon all at once. Or they can use a more conventional unit that gets big men Brendan Haywood and Bismack Biyombo more time to rebound and protect the rim.

There’s not a lot of in-between. Mullens, averaging 12.9 points, is the only offensively inclined big man in the rotation right now. Even so, he’s shooting just 37 percent.

Haywood is limited offensively, Biyombo even more so. Starting center Haywood didn’t play in the fourth quarter or overtime Monday, while Gordon played all 17 minutes. That’s understandable, as Gordon was white-hot from the field, making five of seven 3-pointers in that span.

Still, the tradeoff is an issue. Dunlap discovered in the preseason that Walker and Sessions play well together, even as they give up height to bigger backcourts. Gordon has shot so well (18 of 26 on 3-pointers his past three games) that you have to play him.

But having those three on the court together for long stretches unavoidably gives up size and rebounding.

If there’s a fix, it could come as other Bobcats recover from injury. Gerald Henderson, a rangy, athletic 6-foot-5 who can play shooting guard or small forward, just returned from missing 13 games with a foot sprain. Tyrus Thomas, a 6-10 power forward who can rebound and shoot, is more than a month away from playing because of a left calf injury.

Henderson and Thomas are more the blend between guys who can score and guys who can offer length and rebounding. Dunlap seemed to be talking about Henderson after the game when he said, “Once we get a couple of guys playing to their (traditional) numbers, it will be a little easier.”

In the meantime the Bobcats face a home slate of tough opponents: The Knicks on Wednesday, the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday and the Los Angeles Clippers next Wednesday. Matchups will be key in all three of those games, which begs that question:

Scoring or rebounding?

Bonnell: 704-358-5129 rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com

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