Bobcats coach Steve Clifford sees rebounding as team's biggest challenge heading into season
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said despite adding two big men to the roster this offseason, rebounding remains his biggest concern as the team prepares to open training camp Tuesday in Asheville, N.C.
Charlotte made a splash signing free agent center Al Jefferson to a $40.5 million contract and drafting 7-foot forward Cody Zeller fourth overall to upgrade its frontcourt. But Clifford said the Bobcats only have two proven rebounders — Jefferson and small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, last year's No. 2 overall pick.
Clifford said "other than that we don't have guys that have been even average (rebounding) with any consistency."
That has the first-year coach a little concerned despite a roster that he views as significantly more talented than the previous two seasons when the Bobcats went a combined 28-120 — the worst mark in the NBA.
"The bottom line is this: We can get a lot better on offense and a lot better on defense, but if we don't get a lot better rebounding it may not matter," Clifford said.
The Bobcats didn't give themselves much of a chance last year.
They were 29th in the league in defensive rebounds and were outrebounded on average by 3.9 per game, also second-worst in the league.
"Rebounding is something this team has struggled with and to be the team we've got to be we have to improve that," Jefferson said. "There are no excuses. It has to be done."
Clifford said he'll stress "gang rebounding" this preseason.
"It's not going to be an easy thing for us," Clifford said. "It will be something that we're going to talk a lot about... five guys going after the basketball. And if you can't get it (at least) make sure the other guy doesn't get it. "
Shooting guard Gerald Henderson said players are taking Clifford's message to heart, knowing that everyone needs to chip in to help overcome that deficiency.
"We were really undersized last year and we're still undersized," Henderson said. "It's improved some, but clearly we need to get better with rebounding. And we can't just rely on the bigs. Guys like myself, I need to be a better rebounder. I don't rebound well for my position. I think that's where the guards need to get in there and clean up a lot of shots that come off the board."
Despite the rebounding concerns, the frontcourt is better than a year ago.
Things were so bad at times the Bobcats were forced to start Bismack Biyombo — a non-factor on the offensive end — at center. They rarely got a contribution from backup centers Brendan Haywood and Gana Diop, while Byron Mullens was at times a power forward playing out of position.
Jefferson gives Charlotte a legitimate low-post scoring threat and a player Clifford believes will be their "go-to guy" with the game on the line.
At power forward, Zeller is expected to battle with recently re-signed Josh McRoberts — who played extremely last season after being acquired from Orlando in a trade — for a starting spot. Clifford also seems high on Anthony Tolliver, a lesser known free agent pickup.
The Bobcats had the worst winning percentage (.106) in NBA history in 2011, going 7-59.
They went 21-61 last year under Mike Dunlap, but the 14-game improvement wasn't enough to save his job and he was fired after one season.
Despite the rebounding concerns, there's a buzz around the organization — a sense that the Jefferson acquisition gives this team some legitimacy. Players aren't talking about the playoffs, but it's clear they feel the perennially dreadful organization is finally headed in the right direction.
Point guard Kemba Walker said he expects the Bobcats will surprise some people this season.
"There's no question," Walker said. "It's all about us buying into what coach is trying to do. Right now we don't really care what people think. We're trying to work as hard as possible and hopefully the results will show.
"We want to change the culture. We want to bring winning back to Charlotte."