Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford is no fan of small ball. He joked at a preseason media luncheon that you go big in the NBA “only if you want to win.”
With that in mind, backup point guard Ramon Sessions must have left quite an impression over the last month.
Clifford is increasingly playing point guards Kemba Walker and Sessions together this early season. While that goes against Clifford’s general philosophy, the success the two have had as a tandem pushes Clifford to be open to the option on more than an occasional basis.
“You have to do what your roster allows to win,” Clifford said. “Our biggest strength is getting to the free-throw line and (Sessions) is our best at getting fouled.”
No doubt of that. Through Tuesday’s games the Bobcats averaged the third-most free-throw attempts in the NBA, at 33 per game. The Houston Rockets were first at 37.4 per game and the Los Angeles Clippers were second at 33.75.
Sessions is by far the Bobcats’ free-throw leader, averaging eight attempts per game. Over the first five games, Sessions is averaging 17.5 free throws attempted per 48 minutes played ( a full NBA game). That is tops in the NBA this season.
So when shooting guard Gerald Henderson sits, it’s as likely Sessions will play shooting guard as it is either Jeff Taylor or Ben Gordon.
“He’s got more ways to hurt you offensively than I realized,” Clifford said of Sessions. “He’s not just a pick-and-roll guy. He can play well off the ball and you can run a simple screen that shifts the defense one way and Kemba the other.”
Sessions flashed a huge grin when told his play had changed Clifford’s mind.
“Any time you get a compliment like that from a coach, it’s huge,” Sessions said. “I didn’t know that was his philosophy, but he has been playing me at the (shooting) guard position to find me minutes.”
One of the things Clifford likes about his other wing players – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Taylor and Gerald Henderson – is each is big and strong enough not to generally need help defensively. That’s not quite the case with Sessions, but he’s no shrimp, either.
“It’s not like I’ve never played the two(-guard) before. I did it early in my career in Milwaukee,” Sessions said. “I’m not 5-11, I’m 6-3. And it’s not just me out there. As a team we’ve gotten really good defensively. We help the helper a lot. A lot of teams in this league go small, not just us.”
Clifford calls this a “give-and-take” proposition. Sessions takes that to mean for whatever liabilities there might be defensively, the other team has a challenge, too, trying to contain two such explosive ballhandlers under the NBA’s no-hand check rules.
“People always ask how we’re going to defend (together), but it’s tough to defend us with me and him together on the court,” Sessions said.
“We’re two of the quickest guys in this game, as far as getting the ball up-court and getting to the rack. That’s tough to guard. I’m not tooting my own horn, but anybody will tell you that.
“Baseline-to-baseline, I think people really don’t understand just how quick I am. I thrive on that.”
The other thing that makes this work is Sessions doesn’t feel the need to always run the offense.
“I like to play off the ball. This is Kemba’s team and I like how he runs the show,” Sessions said. “Sometimes he’ll defer to me in the pick-and-roll, but I’m here to support him.”
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell