Hawks vs. Bobcats: Q&A with Rufus on Fire

Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE

Chris Barnewall of Rufus on Fire stops by Peachtree Hoops to give his thoughts on Al Jefferson, tanking, the future in Charlotte, and Monday night's Hawks-Bobcats match-up.

The Hawks locked up their seventh consecutive playoff trip on Saturday, which tells us that this franchise has been pretty much the polar opposite of the Bobcats over the last seven seasons, but still managed to carry the same gloomy outlook for much of the time. The times seem to be changing for both franchises though, perhaps the start of a more cheerful era. The Hawks have continuity in the front office, the Bobcats have Al Jefferson and don't suck. Everyone gets what they wanted.

To tell us more about our inner-divisional foe, Chris Barnewall of Rufus on Fire (also a writer at HawksHoop) was kind enough to answer a few questions about tonight's game.

Question (Daniel Christian) There was much discussion, some of which involved heavy criticism, of the Al Jefferson signing last offseason. Has his monster year been enough to prove that he's worth such a hefty contract? Does he deserve All-NBA consideration?

Answer (Chris Barnewall): I think Al Jefferson is definitely worthy of making at least All-NBA 3rd team. Not only would the Bobcats have 10 fewer wins without Jefferson, but the numbers he's putting up are unmatched by many across the NBA. He's averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds per game and is almost unguardable. Teams try to throw double or triple teams his way and even then he still puts up these monster numbers. I have no qualms with anybody who wants to put Roy Hibbert over Al Jefferson but there is no reason for anybody to say that Jefferson doesn't belong in the conversation.

Q: Okay, super-loaded question time: Tanking has increased in popularity over the past few years, but the Bobcats are proof that such a strategy doesn't always work. They accumulated young talent in the draft for years and, while taking baby steps in the right direction, still seem to be ways away from legitimate contention. Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zelller were all Charlotte lottery picks. Four of those were top-10 picks and two were top-5. Other than Walker and Henderson (and I guess it's still early for Zeller), none of those players look like they'll live up to their draft positioning. Is this a highlighted example of the struggles small market teams face as they fail to lure marquee free agents, some poor drafting decisions by management, or a warning sign that lottery picks aren't a lock for greatness and building through the draft is harder than it seems? With so many teams trying to tank in today's NBA, are some teams destined for perpetual failure?

A: It's mainly an example of building through the draft can bite you in the end if you don't run your team well. It wasn't just poor drafting that plagued the Bobcats for many of the franchise's existence. Bad trades, questionable decisions, and bad coaching was also a huge factor into building up this aura of awful that is only now beginning to fade away. However, if you asked most NBA minds if the Bobcats were doing the right thing you would say yes. You have to keep making attempts at the draft until you hit on at least one of them. Now you don't have to build an entire team through the draft and every team is on a case by case basis. The Bobcats case had nowhere to go but down and the Bobcats chose to make sure they were as down as possible so they could have a better direction to move forward with.

Q: The Bobcats made clear and noticeable strides in the right direction this season. Assuming they lose their first round series to their likely opponent, the Miami Heat, where do the Bobcats go from here? What sort of pieces would they like to add?

A: The Bobcats exceeded everybody's expectations this season and it was a major success. I think they're going to use their draft pick (they will get the Blazer's draft pick) to try and draft someone that can help them spread the floor and then they will go to free agency and use their cap space to try and attract an all star talent to put next to Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. Does this actually happen? Well that remains to be seen. Other off season priorities will be improving the bench, finding more consistent shooting, and making some decisions on young talents like Jeff Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Q: What's one particular match-up you'll be looking for in tonight's Hawks-Bobcats game and how do you handicap that match-up? Also, tell us who you think wins and why.

A: I'm going to be paying very much attention to whoever is guarding Kyle Korver. Korver is one of the three best players in the NBA at coming off a screen and setting himself in perfect position to hit the long range shot. The Bobcats have a top 8 defense but it hasn't been at the level it needs to be over the last few games. The Hawks are the kind of team that can burn you for that and I've seen them struggle against players that are very good at moving off ball.

As for who wins, I think, if Kemba Walker plays, the Bobcats will FINALLY beat the Hawks. The Hawks are usually a match up nightmare for the Bobcats but I feel like Charlotte knows if it doesn't win tonight their chances at getting the 6th seed and avoiding Miami in the 1st round is pretty much dead. However it won't shock me at all if the Hawks win tonight.

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