Problem: How do the Charlotte Bobcats get their best two scoring options on the floor together if they play the same position?
Solution: Perhaps they don’t always have to play the same position.
Gerald Henderson finished last season as the Bobcats’ leading scorer at 15.1 points per game. Then in June the Bobcats traded for Ben Gordon, a career 16.5 ppg., scorer. Henderson and Gordon are both best suited to playing shooting guard at the NBA level.
But for significant stretches of Sunday’s 100-88 exhibition victory over the Washington Wizards, new coach Mike Dunlap played “small ball’’ with Henderson at small forward, rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at power forward and only one true big man (generally Byron Mullens or Bismack Biyombo) in the game.
The Wizards made that easier to do, since they were missing key big men Nene (plantar fasciitis) and Emeka Okafor (general soreness following training camp). But Dunlap liked what he saw, and plans to go small for at least portions of most games this season.
Certainly there are tradeoffs: You can be only so good a rebounding team with just one player taller than 6-7. But the scoring options when Henderson, Gordon and point guard Kemba Walker are all in the game, and the potential for takeaway defense and fast breaks, make the lineup intriguing.
“Better ballhandlers, more scorers, quicker ball-movement,” Dunlap said of the advantages of small ball. “Obviously we give up some rebounding and some mismatches, but the strong side of it is we have those kind of players who can penetrate and make great decisions with the ball.”
Gordon, who had 16 points off the bench Sunday, immediately became the Bobcat best suited to be a go-to guy in late-game situations. He’s dangerous going to the rim and his pull-up jump shot is the most proven offensive weapon on this roster.
Gordon said the small lineup worked well Sunday, but so did everything else the Bobcats tried against a depleted Washington roster. He said small ball will work as a change-up, but probably couldn’t be something the Bobcats employ for long stretches because the defense would break down.
Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist have the biggest challenge defensively in such a lineup. Kidd-Gilchrist is replaceable with a true power forward, but for small ball to work, Henderson has to be able to guard opposing small forwards.
He has before, and he’s confident he can now.
“I don’t get posted up that much unless it’s a really big guy,” said Henderson, who is 6-5 and a sturdy 215 pounds. “When threes (small forwards) try to post me, I feel I can hold my own.”
Henderson said this team should embrace the unorthodox as potentially creating advantages.
“With the pace we want to play at and the guys we have, it’s not going to be perfect lineups all the time,” Henderson predicted. “You’re going to see me and Ben in the game at same time or Kemba and Ramon (Sessions) in the game at the same time. It can work.”