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Bucks vs. Bobcats preview: Battle of the surprising woodland creatures

The Charlotte Bobcats and Milwaukee Bucks have made some big early strides, respective to their expectations for this season. That makes for an unexpectedly compelling matchup tonight in Charlotte.

Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE

2012/2013 NBA Season
(6-2, 3-0 away)
(4-4, 3-2 home)
November 17, 2012
Time Warner Cable Arena | Charlotte, NC
6:00 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Brandon Jennings PG Kemba Walker
Monta Ellis SG Jeff Taylor
Tobias Harris SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Ersan Ilyasova PF Byron Mullens
Samuel Dalembert C Brendan Haywood
2012/13 Advanced Stats
95.9 (1st) Pace 92.9 (11th)
105.3 (11th) ORtg 101.9 (22nd)
101.5 (7th) DRtg 105.4 (20th)

On the Bobcats: Rufus On Fire | Queen City Hoops | Bobcats Baseline

Lord Byron And The Down Lows. Remember when this happened? Mr. Mullens has since morphed into the Eastern Conference Channing Frye, an outside-in 7 footer that ranks second on the Bobcats in three point attempts per game (5.4, 30.7% 3fg), and averages less than half the shots at the rim (2.6) taken per-game by Ramon Sessions (6.3) and Kemba Walker (6.9). In other words, I don't know what's going on.

Mullens is a part of a frontcourt that ranks 1st in the league in field goal percentage allowed at the cup (58.3% fg), while allowing the second most shots in that area (29.4). Meanwhile, Milwaukee's at-rim defense has been exactly average in percentage terms (63.7%), but they allow the second-fewest attempts at the rim in the league (22.4) despite playing at the league's fastest pace. The Bucks have had their issues finishing around the rim this season, but they've finished 20 and 21 shots inside over the past two games. Around 63% of those attempts have been assisted. Milwaukee will get plenty of penetration tonight, so the team's success is dependent (as always) on the point guards' ability to create plays for themselves and the weak side Tube Men.

Not your 2011-12 Bobcats. For most NBA teams, the verdict on the 2012-13 squad's improvement over last year's team has yet to be rendered. The Bobcats are not one of those teams. Although Charlotte had its three game winning streak snapped by the red hot Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, the ‘Cats have reached 57% of their win total from 66 games last year in just 8 contests. Obviously, I wouldn't pencil them in for a playoff spot right now, but any movement is a step forward for the Bobcats. In reality, they still have significant deficiencies that could use another draft lottery or two.

Funny enough, Charlotte and Milwaukee share some concerns about finishing at the rim and connecting on three balls. Other than Ben Gordon (42.3% 3fg), Charlotte has very little to scare you around the perimeter (24th in threes per game, 30th in efg on three pointers). Combining youth (Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and a familiar veteran (Sessions) the Bobcats have a backcourt very adept at getting into the lane (31.1 attempts at the rim, 3rd in the NBA) and missing (58.6% fg at the rim, 27th in the NBA). When your team is, for all intents and purposes, bad at scoring at the two most efficient spots on the floor, that puts pressure on defense to create extra possessions (4-1 holding opponents under 100 ppg).

Board games. Here's a lesson in statistical assumptions for you: The Bobcats rank 7th in the NBA in rebounds per game (43.9 rpg). The Bucks rank 11th (42.6 rpg). That looks great on paper, but from an efficiency perspective, Milwaukee is much better at crashing the boards. The Bucks lead the NBA in defensive rebounding rate (78.09%), while the Bobcats fall at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, ranking 30th at 67.61%. Charlotte is particularly bad on the offensive boards as well, yielding 32.39% to opponents, dead last in the league. That differential goes a long way towards explaining why the Bucks allow so few attempts at the rim while the Bobcats allow so many.

Essentially, the Bobcats get a lot of rebounding opportunities, but they don't rack up as many as they should given how consistently they've recently become defensively (36.7% ofg, 25.3% o3fg over the past four games). Charlotte has allowed 50+ opponent rebounds in four games this season, so facing a Milwaukee front line that is building an identity as a defensive board-crashing machine may not bode well for Brendan Heywood and Co.