The preseason is about experimentation and problem-solving. The Charlotte Bobcats have plenty of problems to solve and some experiments to conduct, starting with tonight's preseason opener in Cleveland versus the Cavaliers.
Charlotte Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell considers five open questions as a week of training camp concluded:
1. What do you do for a power forward?
This was a head-scratcher before Boris Diaw and Vlade Radmanovic sprained their ankles. Radmanovic is back and listed as the starter versus the Cavs, but Diaw likely will sit out the first four exhibitions.
Alexis Ajinca is getting a ton of attention as they try to coach him up to a rotation player. Radmanovic has the height of a power forward but is more a lengthy jump shooter than a conventional post player or rebounder. Coach Larry Brown has said Gerald Wallace and Stevie Graham might slide over to power forward on occasion, making the Bobcats' lineup quite small.
2. So is Ajinca up to heavy minutes?
This is the time to find out, when the games don't count. They need him to start producing to avoid another Sean May situation - where a former first-round pick fits an obvious need but doesn't contribute given great opportunity.
The telling statistic for Ajinca might be fouls committed. He was frail last season, and that made it difficult for him to hold position in the post, either offensively or defensively, without fouling. The coaches want him to start playing like he's 7-foot, which means fewer 20-foot jump shots and more rebounds and blocked shots.
3. How will the injuries impact building team chemistry?
This was the question Gerald Wallace posed in an interview Monday. With Diaw and center Tyson Chandler both recovering from ankle injuries, the Bobcats will spend much of the preseason playing without their projected starting big men. Can the starters jell on the quick in the final 10 days before the season opener once these two are healed?
I passed Wallace's comment on to shooting guard Raja Bell, who offered this perspective: While it's never good for starters to miss long stretches of the preseason, Diaw and Chandler are the right people to catch up on the fly.
Bell said Diaw and Chandler are particularly cerebral players, so they probably can keep up from the sidelines of practice as well as anyone could.
4. How much will the rookies play?
The Bobcats were genuinely excited about getting Gerald Henderson in the first round and Derrick Brown in the second. But two free-agent acquisitions just before training camp might push them out of the rotation.
Flip Murray is a scorer, which the Bobcats obviously need having finished last in points per game last season. That will eat into Henderson's minutes behind Bell. Stevie Graham is rugged and a veteran, which makes for a crowd at Derrick Brown's small forward position.
5. So Graham makes the regular-season roster?
That's the way the wind is blowing. When Larry Brown calls you his new "George Lynch," as Brown said of Graham recently, it's a sign the guy is a keeper. Graham is tough enough that he could play some power forward in a small lineup. There's a presence about this guy that has Brown intrigued. We'll see if that carries through the preseason.