Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford looks back and forward

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comApril 30, 2014 

The Charlotte Bobcats had one of the NBA’s better defenses this season, despite coach Steve Clifford minimizing the number of special-situation coverages in his first stint with the team.

That will change with most of the current roster returning next season.

“We need to do more things defensively – great-player defenses,” Clifford said at his season-closing news conference Wednesday.

Clifford has said the difference between good and great defenses in the NBA is the ability to throw wrinkles at a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony during the fourth quarter, when superstars take over games.

Clifford said there were things he would have done differently this season had he and the players been more familiar with each other. He believes in teaching defense slowly, so basic concepts are retained throughout.

Clifford said the impact of center Al Jefferson and the improvement of point guard Kemba Walker were the obvious highlights of the roster. Other postseason impressions from Clifford:

On power forward Josh McRoberts, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent in July: “We need him back, in my opinion.”

On acquiring shooter Gary Neal: “That trade helped us a great deal. You want to take your best player (Jefferson) and surround him with players who make him better. Gary Neal helped do that.”

On small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: “He has to be able to make open jump shots to be a more consistent player” but he’s “an exceptional individual defender and a very good team defender.”

On shooting guard Gerald Henderson: Clifford said he had a challenge adjusting to playing with Jefferson and getting fewer shot opportunities, adding, “To give himself a chance to have a better season individually, does he need to be a better range shooter? Yes he does.”

On the risk/reward of adding talent with less than ideal personalities: “You want to improve the skill level and maintain the chemistry of our locker room. I think that’s a realistic goal.”

On rookie Cody Zeller: “He has to be a knock-down, 19-foot jump-shooter. And improve strength (to be effective) at both ends of the court. And have a way that when the ball comes to you, you can score.”

On whom he wants playing in summer league: “Cody and the draft picks,” adding the injured Jeff Taylor wants to play but might not be ready in July.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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