Watching the Bobcats snatch defeat from the jaws of victory last night, I figured out their biggest problem, the reason why — even if they beat the odds and sneak into the playoffs this year — they’re not really ready yet.
Charlotte desperately needs a crunch-time jump shooter. You look at the playoff teams in the League, and most of them have at least one: Kobe in L.A., Ben Gordon in Chicago, Chauncey in Denver, and as the ‘Cats have so emphatically learned over the past couple seasons, Ray Allen in Boston. But it doesn’t even have to be a star or a 20-point scorer; Roger Mason fills that role in San Antonio, Steve Blake has hit a lot of clutch jumpers for Portland, and Rasual Butler has even come up big for New Orleans when called upon.
When the Bobcats need a bucket, Options A and B are Ray Felton and Boris Diaw. But neither of them is a reliable jump shooter in those situations; Felton gets his on penetration or the occasional pull-up, and Diaw gets his on mid-range stuff or Ron Artest-ish awkward drives.
As the ‘Cats watched Ray Allen take out their heart multiple times last night, they couldn’t respond with a sniper of their own. At no time was I confident any of them would hit a big-time jump shot when it was needed. That’s why they allowed the Celtics to go on an 8-0 run to force overtime, why their last play before OT involved Felton getting into the paint but not knowing what to do once he got there and Diaw throwing up a hook shot that didn’t hit rim. That’s why despite Larry Brown drawing up a good inbounds play at the end of the second OT — with Emeka Okafor crushing Ray on a pick and getting Raja Bell a wide-open look from three — they couldn’t deliver.
On paper, Raja Bell is Charlotte’s go-to shooter. And while he did hit a ton of threes in Phoenix and his percentages look good (41.9% 3PA), he doesn’t strike fear in anyone’s heart besides Daniel Ewing. So who’s it going to be? Vlad Radmanovic seems like a good candidate, and he was often a safety-valve option on last-second plays when he was with the Lakers, but Coach Brown doesn’t use him in that role. While Radmanovic has gotten about 20 minutes of burn per night since the trade, he’s not in the game in crunch-time situations. D.J. Augustin can shoot, and was 4-for-4 beyond the arc against Boston, but where do you play him at the end of the game when you already need Felton (ball-handling, passing), Bell (defense, hustle plays), Diaw (scoring, passing), Gerald Wallace (defense, hustle plays) and Emeka Okafor (defense, rebounding) to be on the court?
There is one solution: Trading Felton this summer for some value that hopefully includes a shooter. If nothing else, it’ll open up the PG job for Augustin, who can take and make those spot-up jumpers in a pinch. But that’s for next season. This season, the absence of That Guy on the ‘Cats roster will be what ultimately keeps them out of the playoffs. Again.