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Today at 4 p.m. PST the Golden State Warriors face the Charlotte Bobcats, who have already matched their win total from last season in their first 19 games of their 2012-13 campaign. For insight on what's going well, Kemba Walker's development, and the potential of reverting back to the old Hornets mascot, I contacted Ben Swanson of SB Nation's Rufus On Fire.
After a dismal season in which people were already compelled to #PrayForCardboardGerald, the Bobcats arguably deserved to win the Anthony Davis sweepstakes more than any other team or fanbase.
While the Golden State Warriors experienced a little lottery day luck earlier this year - with some help from a late-season "slump" - the ping pong balls were not quite so kind to the Bobcats. Alas they ended up picking second.
Nevertheless, both teams are arguably off to a better than expected start and compounding good fortune with more good fortune Bobcats fans have also recently gotten news that getting their old Hornets mascot back is now a possibility. For insight on the somewhat rapid change in fortunes for the Bobcats, I contacted Ben "Cardboard Gerald" Swanson of SB Nation's Rufus On Fire for some insight on the team's start in 2012 and a suddenly hopeful season rescued from the seemingly infinite sadness of last season.
Q&A with Rufus On Fire
1. There were people in the Twittersphere praying for Cardboard Gerald after the Bobcats didn't win the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, but despite that the Bobcats began the season well and are now right in the middle of the pack in the East. What has surprised you most about this team so far? (And hopefully there are no hard feelings about the Warriors tanking and getting a little bit of tank-induced lottery day luck, right?)
Ben Swanson: Ha, no hard feelings whatsoever. To deny the effectiveness of tanking would be naïve.
Anyway, the thing that has most surprised me about the team is probably Kemba Walker's improvements. He's absolutely feasting this season, and my fear of small sample size is moving into the rearview. Last season Walker struggled mightily, mustering FG/3P/FT shooting percentages of 36.6/30.5/78.9 but this year has raised each of those, especially his FG% (now 42.4). And he's getting to the line a bit more. Walker's ability to penetrate and finish at the rim is slightly improved but what's really great that he wasn't doing well last year is shooting the midrange shot. From 10-15 feet, he's shooting 43.2% and from 16 feet to the three point line, Walker's shooting 47.1% (via basketball-reference.com). After last year's underwhelming season, this has been my favorite surprise of the season.
2. The promo for this game on our local network features Kemba Walker as the star of the Bobcats and to some extent the statistics support that. Yet while Walker's athleticism defensively could certainly give Stephen Curry problems, some of us also assume that his limitations might be something the Warriors can exploit. So given the style of play for the Bobcats thus far, who might you say is the most significant contributor for this team?
BS: I really do think Walker has been the most significant contributor, not only because of this season but because of how important it is to the future of this team to see him start putting it together. He's scoring pretty efficiently, turning the ball over at a better rate than last year and passing the ball better. Walker's not a Chris Paul-type creator, but he's not nearly as bad a passer as people assume because of how well he scores. After last season, fans couldn't help but question drafting him but Kemba is really coming into his own this season.
3. There was obviously some talk about the Bobcats drafting Harrison Barnes, but what are your thoughts about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist so far? Has anything in particular surprised or disappointed you about MKG?
BS: MKG has been pretty good so far. You know what you're getting on defense, which is a lot of great talent, but his offense has been somewhat surprising both in good and bad ways. The good is that he's a decent ball-handler and get drive to the rack. He also is responsible with his jump shot, recognizing that it's a weakness and he can't just try to shoot through it. The bad news is he can get a bit too LEEROY JENKINS when he goes to the hoop and puts up hurried shots against rotating big men, who block them easily.
This has led to him being one of the most-blocked players of the league. He can be very good at making space with his body, but when he goes all gangbusters like that and panics, you can pretty much predict what's going to happen.
4. Positivity aside, the Bobcats are in the midst of a 7-game losing streak and some Warriors fans are looking at this as a game the Dubs should win. When you look at this matchup, what gives you hope that the Bobcats can end this losing streak tonight?
BS: Well, there isn't a whole lot because the Bobcats have been god-awful at defending the three, which the Warriors are decent at. Golden State could put Klay Thompson on the weak side and feast, or run some strong side ball movement, put Curry through some back screens and swing the ball around for a decent look in the corner or something. They play a lot of zone.
But I guess where I have some hope is that the Warriors don't take care of the ball especially well and the Bobcats like to push the pace, which feeds into their youth and athleticism. The Bobcats also have a strong bench squad, though they don't defend very well. Ben Gordon's a threat to pour threes down your gullet and Ramon Sessions is exceptional at drawing fouls. The Bobcats also match up decently on defense with the Warriors (Walker/Curry, Henderson/Thompson, Kidd-Gilchrist/Barnes, Biyombo/Lee) with the David Lee matchup really intriguing me to see how Biyombo's post defense is progressing.
5. Moving beyond tonight's game, I'm no fan of the "Pelicans" as a name for any sports team, but it appears New Orleans will take it. That leaves Charlotte with the possibility of reclaiming the "Hornets" mascot. On a scale of 1-10 - 1 "do not want back", 5 being "indifferent" and 10 being "must happen immediately" - how significant is this development to you?
BS: I rate it a 7. I want ‘Hornets' back a lot, but it won't happen for a while. When I see why other fans want to change the name, it's as much about going back to a name that has great history with the city as it is trying to whitewash the Bobcats' embarrassing past. I can't support that aspect. For better or worse, what happened with this franchise happened and fans shouldn't just try to trash it.
Yes, Bob Johnson created many of the problems the team has today, especially with TV deals and connecting with fans, but his significance in the team's annals must be understood. He tried to make a sports channel similar to the YES Network before it was popular and in a smaller market. He was the first black big-four sports team owner. He also burned bridges with local businesses. Fans cannot just treat the team like the Bobcats didn't exist before the Hornets name might return.
Other than that, I think it would be a very positive change. It would re-connect with the fans that refused to accept the Bobcats and ride the recent wave of nostalgia apparel. Long-term it wouldn't matter as much as making a good team product but it certainly would help a little bit.