The Charlotte Bobcats in 2005-06

Posted on August 28, 2006 by

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If you are a fan of the Bobcats, this post might be disappointing.  It is not because I will say anything too distressing about the team from Charlotte. Rather, it is because I wish to spend most of this post talking about Bernie Bickerstaff and the Denver Nuggets.

Bernie Bickerstaff came to the Denver Nuggets in 1990, after five seasons as head coach of the Seattle Supersonics. Under Bickerstaff the best the Sonics ever did was win 47 games.  This mark was posted in 1988-89.  The next season the Sonics regressed to 41 victories and Bickerstaff departed for the position of general manager of the Denver Nuggets.

Bickerstaff inherited an aging team.  Under Doug Moe the Nuggets had made the playoffs nine consecutive seasons and captured two division titles.  In 1989-90, though, the Nuggets only won 43 games and Denver decided to start anew with Bickerstaff at the helm.  Bickerstaff let go aging veterans like Fat Lever and Alex English and brought in Paul Westhead to coach the team. 

With Bickerstaff as general manager and Westhead as coach, the Nuggets surged to the top of the NBA in points scored.  Moe’s team averaged 114.6 points per game in 1989-90.  The next season under Westhead the team averaged 119.9 points per contest, a mark unmatched by any NBA team in the past fifteen seasons.

Unfortunately the Nuggets under Bickerstaff and Westhead set another mark.  The Nuggets allowed 130.8 points per game, a mark unmatched in NBA history.  A bit of math reveals that the Nuggets were outscored by about eleven points per contest that season.  Hence it is not surprising that Denver only won 20 games.    

The reward for this failure was Dikembe Mutombo, the player taken with the Nuggets lottery pick in 1991.   Behind Mutombo the Nuggets improved to 22 wins the next season and then – with the addition of LaPhonso Ellis – managed 42 victories in 1993-94.  But then the Nuggets rebuilding efforts stalled.  Remember, Bickerstaff inherited a team that won 43 games.  And although the Nuggets won 41 games in 1994-95, even Bickerstaff taking over as coach in the midst of that campaign could not get the team back to what Moe had done in 1989-90.

In 1995-96 the team with Bickerstaff calling all the shots regressed to 35 wins.  Bickerstaff had built his team around draft picks.  In addition to Mutombo and Ellis, the Nuggets gave major minutes to former draft picks Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Bryant Stith, Jalen Rose, and Antonio McDyess.

But after the failure of 1995-96, the youth movement ended.  Dikembe Mutombo signed with the Atlanta Hawks.  Jalen Rose was traded to the Pacers for Mark Jackson.  And Abdul-Rauf went to the Kings for Sarunas Marciulionis.  What was the motivation behind these moves?  I recall Bickestaff arguing that the team needed veterans who knew how to win.

Through much of this episode I was a graduate student at Colorado State.  I recall the argument that Westhead’s offensive scheme would overcome the Nuggets obvious lack of productive NBA players.  I recall the argument that the Nuggets could build a championship team with young players hungry for NBA success.  And I recall the argument that the Nuggets needed veteran leadership to win.  Through all these arguments, though, the Nuggets never had much success on the court.

In 1996-97 the Bickerstaff era finally ended in Denver.  The team’s new veterans won four of the first thirteen games that season and Bickerstaff departed.  By the time the season was over the team had only won 21 games, a mark quite similar to what the Nuggets achieved the first season after Bickerstaff arrived. 

Bickerstaff departed the Nuggets for the Washington Wizards. The Wizards won 44 games in 1996-97 with Bickerstaff as head coach for 35 games.  But the next season the Wizards only won 42 games, and after starting 13-19 in 1998-99, Washington let Bickerstaff depart.

Now Bickerstaff is the head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats.  In their expansion season the Bobcats won 18 games.  This past season the team improved to 26 victories, and as one can see HERE, the Bobcats do have a few good players.  The most productive of these was Gerald Wallace, who produced 13.2 wins last season.

As noted in previous posts, the average NBA player has a Wins Produced per 48 minutes (WP48) of 0.100.  Wallace posted a WP48 of 0.335, one of the better marks in the NBA last season.  So Wallace is quite good, although his ability to stay healthy is a problem.

In addition to Wallace, the Bobcats received above average performances from Brevin Knight and Emeka Okafor, although the latter was hurt much of the season. Raymond Felton, the team’s lottery pick in 2005, was also quite close to being average.  So although the team won only 26 games, there are a few pieces in Charlotte to build around.

The lottery in 2006 might have brought in one more productive piece to the puzzle.  Rookies are hard to forecast, but there is a chance Adam Morrison could be above average his rookie campaign.  In sum, it is possible that that the Bobcats could improve in 2006-07.  Wallace and Okafor might be healthy.  Morrison and Felton could be above average.  And Bickerstaff could lead a team to more than 43 victories. 

Well, it did happen once in Seattle 17 years ago.  So maybe it can happen again in Charlotte this next season.  Then again, maybe not.

– DJ