NEW YORK — The Bobcats entered Madison Square Garden Wednesday night with a 1-4 record, sporting one of the league’s worst offenses and one of the league’s worst defenses. A couple of hours before that offense torched the Knicks, Charlotte head coach Paul Silas sat down with me and chatted about the challenges of finding practice time, Kemba Walker’s early season struggles and how angry he was when Boris Diaw and DeSagana Diop showed up to camp out of shape.
SI.com: Have you guys had a practice yet?
Silas: We have. I just made us practice. We took one day off and then we had a couple of practices, including one that probably should have been a day off. But we need it. We have a lot of young players and a lot of guys that haven’t played together, and we’ve got to get our offensive and defensive situation right. It’s been very tough for us.
SI.com: Give me one specific Xs-and-Os thing you’ve really stressed in that limited practice time, whether it’s pick-and-roll coverage, an offensive set you want to run, some nugget like that.
Silas: On pick-and-roll coverage, we send all pick-and-rolls down from the side. We call that “blue.” When a pick-and-roll is up top, we send it to the left on every one that we can. We call that “weak.” And the big man [guarding the screener], he has to show, and he has to get back. If his man pops, the guy on the weak side, he takes him, and then we rotate. It’s been OK, but we haven’t gotten it right yet, you know. Sometimes the big man stays back too far — he doesn’t come out far enough, and the guard can go over the pick and turn the corner, and go inside, and then we have problems. It’s been a struggle, but we will get there.
SI.com: Why try to force every high pick-and-roll to the left?
Silas: Because most players are right-handed and don’t do well with their left hand, so we try to send each player to his left.
SI.com: When people around the league look at your roster, they wonder how you guys are going to score enough to compete. What sort of ideas are you tinkering with — plays, lineup combinations, whatever — that could loosen things up a bit?
Silas: The main thing is we have to move the basketball. We have to play together, because we don’t have one guy that we can just give the ball to and say, “Go do it for us.” So when we run our basic offense, which is a UCLA offense, we get everyone into the action, and we do well.
We also try to push the basketball on the break. We want guys to run on the wings and for the big men to run to the basket. It’s just so difficult when you don’t have the practice time, you know. We should really be in preseason right now, and we’ve played like five games so far. But it’ll get there. My teams normally start slow, but around mid-season, that’s when we take off.
(Editor’s note: Charlotte is playing at the league’s third-fastest pace so far this season, though two early games against Miami are probably inflating that number a bit.)
SI.com: You guys lead the league by far in the number of long two-point shots attempted per game, and you don’t take many threes. Stat geeks hate that stuff. Do you consider it a problem? Or is it partly by design, given the personnel here?
Silas: We don’t really have a lot of good three-point shooters, so we don’t want guys taking a lot of threes. We have Reggie Williams, who’s hurt, and he’s a great three-point shooter. When he comes back, that’s really gonna help. D.J. Augustin is a great three-point shooter, but those two are basically the only ones that shoot threes that well. So we want guys to either penetrate to the hoop or shoot mid-range shots.
SI.com: What’s one thing Kemba Walker has had trouble with this season that you see and think, “He’s a rookie — of course he’s having trouble with that.”
Silas: It’s mostly penetrating to the hoop and finishing, because hasn’t been used to having huge players to contest that shot. So he’s coming into the lane, and he’s gotta take it around [those guys] or up on the board, and that kind of thing. And he’s missed so many so far, but he’ll learn. He’ll learn how to use his body and go into the guy, and either get fouled or make the shot. But it’s very difficult for him right now.(Editor’s note: Walker is shooting just 44 percent on shots at the rim and 33 percent on shots from between three and nine feet out; the league averages on such shots for point guards are typically around 60 percent and 40 percent, per Hoopdata.)
SI.com: There were a lot of snarky remarks about the shape Boris Diaw and Desagana Diop were in when they showed up to camp. Was all of that fair? And if it is, how angry did it make you?
Silas: It was fair, and it was upsetting. They did not come in shape, and it has been very difficult for both of them right now to get in shape, because we’re playing nine [players] so far. But it’s one of those things where they have to take responsibility.
SI.com: Last one, before you continue to prep for the game: You were a fantastic rebounder as a player. Who was the best rebounder you played with or against?
Silas: The best rebounder I played with was Dave Cowens [in Boston from 1971-72 through 1975-76]. He was terrific for his size, only around 6-9, but he had great jumping ability, he would block out, and he just knew the game perfectly. He and I were the ones that really made our team, I think, when we played together, because I was a rebounder and he was a rebounder. I can remember, we would be shooting [pre-game] layups, and he would go and pat me on the rump once before every game, and that would mean we were ready to go that night. But sometimes he would wait until like the last minute to do it, and I’d be waiting like, “When he is going to do it?” And then he’d finally do it, and it meant we were ready to go.