It's been a busy offseason for the Charlotte Bobcats, and thank God for that.
The Bobcats added some legitimate talent, cut loose some dead weight and have improved on essentially every level.
It's not too difficult to improve from a 7-59 season, but I think there's a chance that the Bobcats may have significantly improved to the point where they will be surprising some folks this season.
Over the course of this slideshow, I am going to take a look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for each player on the roster, and I'll give you my own realistic estimates on where they will stand during the season.
Kemba Walker showed last year that he has the potential to be a dynamic point guard. Very often he looked like the only energized player on the Bobcats' roster, and he may have taken his role as general of the court a little too dynamically, as it showed in his poor shooting percentage. Still, Kemba put together a good rookie season, and it's going to be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Best Case Scenario
Kemba improves not only his shot selection, but also his passing skills, opening up other players and raising his assist total. With the addition of Ramon Sessions, Kemba will likely see around 28 minutes per game (similar to last year), and in the best case, we can expect 16 PPG, six APG, and around four RPG.
If he improves his shot selection and continues to improve his unique ability to drive to the rim, he could raise his shooting percentage well into the 40s.
Worst Case Scenario
The addition of Ramon Sessions means that Kemba, at one point considered the surefire starter at point for the 'Cats, is now potentially second off the bench. Depending on the play of Sessions, Kemba's minutes could decrease even if he is playing well.
In the worst case, Kemba continues to struggle with shot selection and creating for others, and he takes a dramatic step back from last year's respectable rookie campaign. At the worst, I think he may only see 15 minutes per game, to go with around seven points, two assists and two rebounds, while still shooting around 35 percent from the field.
Closer to best case. Kemba played well in the summer league and has a unique passion that very few players in this league possess. He may still struggle with shot selection, and Sessions is going to eat his minutes, but don't expect Kemba to take a step back.
Expect the added talent around him, the competition with Sessions, and a full offseason of training to get Kemba ready to play. I expect around 25-28 minutes, 15 points, five assists and 3.5 rebounds per game, with a shooting percentage in the low 40s.
The addition of Ramon Sessions was not only vastly underrated by the general public, who instead decided to derail Sessions' character, but it was also a move that vastly improved the Bobcats in a big way.
Sessions and Kemba Walker aren't dissimilar players. Both are high energy, attacking the rim point guards. Sessions' passing skills are much better than Kemba's at this point (the veteran averaged 7.5 APG per 36 minutes last year), and he is a better shot taker. This has likely come with experience.
Best Case Scenario
In Sessions' best case, he wins the starting point guard job in Charlotte. Sessions is a more refined point guard than Kemba but has a much lower ceiling.
He takes smarter shots than Kemba at this point; he just doesn't take enough of them. If given the green light to shoot, Sessions could parlay his career .449 field-goal percentage into high numbers, and he'd be an even more dangerous assist man, requiring constant guarding.
Sessions could see 32-plus minutes per game, in which he scores 20 points and adds in an additional seven or eight assists. Those are absolute best case, but Sessions has never been in a situation where he has truly been given the chance to show what he's capable of, so you never know.
Worst Case Scenario
Worst case, Sessions becomes Kemba's second fiddle. He'd probably still see at least 20 minutes and average eight to 10 points with another four to five assists, but that is not why Sessions came to Charlotte.
Sessions was very efficient as a Los Angeles Laker, but obviously he had more talent around him than he will in Charlotte. He may not be able to adjust to the talent disparity between the two clubs.
I think Sessions and Kemba are going to complement each other well. I don't expect Sessions to put up the superstar numbers that I listed in my best-case section, but I do expect another efficient season from Sessions, and I expect him to mentor Kemba Walker into becoming a true point guard, capable of opening up others instead of taking absurdly low-percentage shots.
As I have said in pretty much every article in which I've addressed Gerald Henderson, he was the best player on this team last year. He emerged as a slashing, aggressive shooting guard capable of driving to the rim and being vicious in transition, and he is in possession of a solid mid-range jumper.
His one knock is that his long-range game is virtually non-existent, but he's been working on that this offseason. Henderson improved leaps and bounds over his previous two seasons with the Bobcats and finally looked like the lottery pick that he is.
It's fairly obvious what the best case scenario for Gerald Henderson is—further improvement and an improved long-range game. If he becomes a threat on the perimeter, he will be a 20-plus points-per-game threat and would be valuable enough to play for 32 minutes or more.
He's also a capable rebounder and has good size for a guard at 6'5", and averaged 4.1 rebounds a game last season. That's likely about where he will stay in the future, so in the best case you can expect around five rebounds a game, along with the occasional double-double or possibly even triple-double, even though he's not the best passer in the league.
The acquisition of Ben Gordon will push Henderson and may eat his minutes, but if the Bobcats give Henderson the minutes, in the best case he may become one of the premier shooting guards in the game.
Ben Gordon becomes the primary shooting guard for the Bobcats, and Henderson is reduced to a role player. Henderson has a very similar play-style to draftee Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (slashing to the rim/mid range game), and they could possibly clash. In the worst case, Henderson sits around his career numbers of 23.2 MPG, 9.6 PPG, and 2.9 RPG.
I definitely don't expect the worst case out of Henderson. I'm a huge fan of Hendo, and I think that, in all likelihood, the fact that him and MKG have similar play-styles will enhance both players.
I don't think we'll quite see my best case scenario from Henderson, as I do expect Gordon to get plenty of playing time, but I still expect Henderson to get around 30 minutes per game, and I think with the additional talent around him to help open him up, he'll post around 17-18 points and around 4.5 rebounds.
With the addition of a legitimate swingman in MKG and a hopefully more reliable Kemba Walker/shooting Ramon Sessions, Henderson could also see around 3.5 assists per game.
The Charlotte Bobcats shocked the world of basketball by having a good offseason, and a major reason for that good offseason was the acquisition of sharpshooting Ben Gordon, acquired in a trade for SF Corey Maggette. The Bobcats also received a protected first-round pick, the kicker in the deal making the Bobcats the clear winners of the deal.
Gordon is a premier three-point shooter, they will get a high first round draft pick in the future, and Maggette was dead weight last year and would be a redundancy this year with the additions of two great rookies I'll talk about in a bit..
Best case for Gordon is fairly obvious—a return to his Chicago Bulls form. Gordon was once a superstar and has twice averaged over 20 points per game in his career. If Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist don't mesh well together, Gordon will become the primary SG in Charlotte, and he very well could put up numbers like he did in Chicago.
Ben Gordon's career .406 three-point percentage is currently the eleventh highest active percentage in the NBA and the 21st highest percentage in NBA history. Last season with Detroit as the sixth man, he averaged a career-best .429 from three-point range. Gordon won't do much of anything else extremely well, but if he's given 32 minutes a game, he could get 20-22 points, and around three assists and three rebounds.
Gordon loses his three-point touch and becomes a fairly useless pine rider. I'm going to be honest, Gordon is here because he can hit the three, and if he can't do that, he won't get minutes and he won't do much of anything for Charlotte.
I expect Gordon to play much in the same capacity that he did with the Detroit Pistons—as the sixth man. I certainly don't expect him to lose his shooting touch, and he is definitely good enough to start. I just like Henderson too much.
If he's the sixth man, expect him to come in as a three-point specialist, giving the Bobcats around 12-14 points per contest.
Reggie Williams was brought in last year much for the same reason as Ben Gordon was this year—to be a reliable three-point shooter off the bench behind Henderson.
Instead he was injured until the last day of January, and when he did finally begin playing again, he was hardly the reliable long-distance threat he had shown in Golden State, dropping from a three-point percentage of .423 in 2010-2011 to a miserable .308 last season.
At the very best, Williams is still only the fifth best guard on the roster. Even if he gets his shooting touch back, it will take an injury to Gordon and/or draftee Jeffery Taylor, who could adequately play the 2, for Williams to get any extended playing time.
In the best case (for Williams, not the team), he sees around 20 minutes each game and shoots at least .375 from long range, giving Charlotte around eight or nine points. Williams can also rebound fairly well, and in those minutes would get around 2.5 to three rebounds.
There are two worst cases here. Worst case for Williams, he gets virtually no playing time. Worst case for the team, Williams does what he did last year... contribute 22 minutes a game and continually shoot and miss threes, becoming a complete non-threat.
As much as I hate to say it, Williams will probably see the first part of the worst case scenario—no playing time. Henderson and Gordon are both quality shooting guards who will be getting pretty much all of the playing time.
Williams might be able to get eight to 10 minutes per game and might be a decent distance shooter, but don't expect more than five points a night and junk minutes when the Bobcats are either well ahead or getting blown out.
Jeff Taylor was the Bobcats' first pick in the second round. In my pre-draft evaluations I was hoping and praying Taylor would still be available for the Bobcats to draft, and that they would be smart enough to take him, and here he is.
Taylor came at a bargain at 31st overall, and I think he should've gone much higher. Many pre-draft predictions had Taylor going in the early 20s and even late teens. He's a good three-point shooter, an aggressive swingman and an all-around great small forward.
Unfortunately for Taylor, he'll be playing behind fellow draftee Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but Taylor could still get plenty of time.
As I mentioned in the previous slide, Taylor also has the shooting capabilities to be moved over to SG on occasion, and in the first game of summer league, he and MKG seemed to have good chemistry on the court together, so the Bobcats may be looking to play them together on occasion.
Taylor will also still be No. 2 on the depth chart at SF and will probably see around 20 minutes off the bench. In those 20 minutes, if Taylor can translate his three-point shot from college to the NBA, he could average 12 or so points a night to go along with four or five rebounds, as he is an aggressive rebounder. He's also a good facilitator, so he could get just as many assists as rebounds, and if he's given a few starts here and there, he could be a legitimate triple-double threat.
Taylor's shooting abilities don't translate to the NBA. If this happens, he'll still get time, and he will still likely be effective from mid-range and drives to the rim, but he won't be nearly as efficient as the Bobcats are hoping. Still expect 16-20 minutes in the worst case, but only six to eight points.
I think Taylor is one of the few players on this roster capable of meeting (or possibly even exceeding) his best-case scenario. Taylor showed that he still has some work to do in summer league, but he also showed he can be a very hot shooter when he gets going.
Barring injuries, MKG will likely get around 30-34 minutes, so expect Taylor to get those leftovers, most likely around 16-18 minutes. I think he'll be efficient, and drop in around eight or nine points, while contributing solidly on the boards with three or four rebounds.
The cream of Charlotte's offseason crop came with their second pick in the draft. Wisely, Rich Cho (GM of the Bobcats) decided to play it safe and keep the second pick despite many offers to trade down. Cho and company knew who they wanted, and they weren't going to risk losing him.
In keeping the second pick, they got the second best player in the draft, and quite possibly the player with the highest ceiling.
When I say second best player, I mean eventually. Kidd-Gilchrist (henceforth referred to as MKG) still has some flaws in his game. He has outstanding build, work ethic, determination, and athleticism, but he still needs to work on some of his mechanics.
In the best case, MKG can be a superstar and the face of the franchise (which he probably already will be). He has a strange hitch/double clutch in his jump shot that, while it doesn't prevent him from hitting jumpers, does take a long time to release. If this isn't as big of a problem as many are making it out to be (or he fixes it), MKG can and will score over 20 points a night.
He's an elite rebounder for his position, so at his best he can snag 8-9 rebounds in 32 minutes. He can also pass the ball fairly effectively and might get three to four assists as well. Best case, MKG becomes Charlotte's best player and contends for Rookie of the Year.
His jump shot does prove to be as big (or worse) of a problem as many are saying. This will limit him to being a swingman who will still be able to tenaciously attack the rim and defend every position.
It still makes him relatively one-dimensional, and he could only score 10-12 points in his 30-plus minutes, which I'm sure he'll still get. I doubt he'll get fewer than six rebounds, and he will still be a borderline elite to elite defender.
MKG will likely be the player I talked about in the best-case scenario section. The sky is the limit for a guy who has the combination of pure freakish build and athleticism on top of unbeatable work ethic.
In his rookie season, I think he's going to have to work through his jumper, but I still see him putting up about 15 points while collecting around 7.5 rebounds, possibly more. He will likely earn recognition for his defensive excellence (which will be there without question), and I expect him to at least be in the running for ROTY.
One of the most confusing players on Charlotte's roster, Tyrus Thomas was once viewed by fans and management as the power forward of the future in Charlotte, and for a time he played like it. He was drafted fourth overall in 2006, he is 6'10", he has ridiculous length and great defensive aptitude, and it looked like he was the man for the Bobcats.
One five-year, $40 million contract later, he looks like one of the biggest financial busts in the history of this franchise.
Thomas returns to form and puts up numbers that at least partially justify the money the Bobcats owe him. He was a candidate to be amnestied by the Bobcats this offseason, but Charlotte had enough cap room to move and apparently still has enough faith in him to give him one more shot.
In 2010 and 2011, he had per-36 numbers of 16.7 and 17.5 points per game respectively, and he was also an excellent rebounder, grabbing 10.1 and 9.4 rebounds per game in those years as well. Thomas can also be an elite shot-blocker and post defender.
Basically all that's holding him back is a bad attitude, and if that attitude changes, we could see some of the numbers I posted above or better. He was drafted fourth overall for a reason, and the Bobcats signed him to this extension for a reason. Maybe he'll show it.
He does a repeat of his 2011-12 campaign, in which he averaged a measly 18.8 minutes, 5.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and a completely pathetic Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 9.0. I honestly don't think he could play any worse than he did, and I don't think he could have acted any worse, showing absolutely no dedication and even getting into a physical altercation with then-head coach Paul Silas.
I made the case in this article for the Bobcats to not amnesty Thomas, and that his raw talent alone was worth one more shot, especially since they have to pay him regardless. PF is easily the Bobcats weakest area, but it could potentially be one of the best if Thomas and Bismack Biyombo break out.
This will be Thomas' make-or-break campaign, and I think he knows that. With a new crop of players around him and a new coaching staff, maybe he will be more motivated to play his game, and maybe he can return to his pre-2011-12 form. I hope he can do that, and honestly, that's as close to an expectation as I can give. Thomas is an enigma, and I don't know what's going to happen.
Bismack Biyombo was drafted seventh in 2011 by the Sacramento Kings and immediately traded to the Bobcats. He and Kemba (drafted ninth) were the beginning of ushering in a new, younger team that had flat-lined and needed to be rebuilding.
Obviously, last year was a disaster, but it can hardly be blamed on those two, as they both actually played fairly well. Biyombo was drafted as a project pick, and he has proven to be just that.
Biyombo is a physical freak standing nearly 6'10" with a completely ridiculous wingspan of 7'6". He had almost no offensive skill when drafted, but his defensive upside alone was worth the pick. The Bobcats now have to continue to refine him.
Serge Ibaka. That seems to be the best comparison for Biyombo. Like Ibaka, Biyombo will likely never put up big numbers offensively, but if he can just perfect his post up hook shot, he could average around 10 points in 32 minutes.
Where Bismack will excel is on the boards, where he could potentially average over 10 rebounds and 2.5-3 blocks. He could be a defensive force in the center and, in fact, showed his defensive potential often last season with the Bobcats.
Biyombo's marquis game last season came on March 6, 2012 against the Orlando Magic, where he got the better of Superman/Crybaby Dwight Howard. In that game, he scored 10 points, collected 15 rebounds and blocked seven shots. That's potentially Biyombo in the best case.
If Biyombo doesn't improve offensively and start committing fewer fouls, he's going to be viewed as a bust. No amount of blocked shots will block the fact that he is still extremely raw and was drafted purely because of his physical gifts.
If he doesn't grow, Biyombo will become a permanent 15 minutes-a-game PF, and I don't want that for him. He's a young, intelligent, hard working young man that just needs the right direction to achieve the "Serge Ibaka Effect." He might just not have the actual skill.
In many ways, Biyombo is the embodiment of the entire Charlotte Bobcats' core: young, physically talented, positive and hard working, but still just not good enough.
This coming season is by no means do-or-die for Biyombo, and he is still learning. He also has the burden of having to learn two positions (PF and "undersized" center).
Depending on Tyrus Thomas, what the plan with Byron Mullens will be (we'll get there) and how the coaching staff tackles his development, Biyombo could either stay about where he did last year (23.1 MPG, 5.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.8 BPG) or improve slightly.
I do expect him to do the latter, and I think a fair statistical estimate for Biyombo will be around 8.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks off of 25 or so minutes.
Mullens is technically listed only as a center (and at 7'0", he should be), but he plays more like a SF, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him play some PF alongside Brendan Haywood at center this coming season.
Mullens was one of the few pleasant surprises for the Bobcats last season, where he had something of a breakout year, averaging 9.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.8 BPG in 22.5 minutes. Mullens loves mid-long range shots, making him a unique offensive weapon when he's hitting his shots, but as a drawback, he's not a huge force on the boards or in the post game.
Mullens has a shot to be seriously special. He is one of those rare big men who can score in all kinds of ways, including from distance. Most seven-footers have to rely on points in the paint, but Mullens is everywhere.
He was sent to summer league this year where he impressed pretty much everyone. He appears to have beefed up a bit, he effectively played like a true seven-footer, and for the most part he shot his mid-long range jumpers well. All of it was on display in a win over Minnesota where he scored 33 points, collected eight rebounds, and went 3-of-5 from three-point land.
Mullens could potentially be a double-double machine and one of the highest scoring, most uniquely styled centers in the game. At his best, Mullens could score 20-30 points nightly, collect six to 12 rebounds and make his presence known on the perimeter. He showed glimpses of greatness last year, and consistency will get him to greatness.
I'll make this short—if Mullens falls too deeply in love with mid- and long-range jumpers, he won't be effective. He's a good shooter, but he needs to use his physical gifts to his advantage. If he doesn't, he'll simply be a role player and will only get the occasional memorable appearance here and there.
I'm big on Mullens. I like him a lot. I love his attitude, his no-fear mentality in his shooting and his multi-dimensionality.
It's hard predicting how much time he will get with the addition of Brendan Haywood at center and the unpredictability of both Biyombo and Thomas at PF, but I expect new head coach Mike Dunlap to utilize Mullens significantly, especially as a coach who loves the three-pointer.
I expect Mullens to average around 14 points and six to seven rebounds, but it could be much higher if he finds his consistency and he gets the minutes.
This has already been a long article, so I'll make this slide pretty quick.
He forgets to eat his morning box of doughnuts and scores a basket in a game at some point.
He does this some more or just stands on the court.
24.4 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 3.5 BPG. Oh, whoops. I meant he'll be completely, utterly worthless. Like he always has been.
At first glance, the addition of Brendan Haywood by the Bobcats isn't that special. He was amnestied from the Dallas Mavericks, and he doesn't exactly fill up a stat sheet. Last year for the Mavs, he only averaged 5.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 21.2 minutes. Those are essentially Bismack Biyombo's rookie numbers.
But when you look at it a little deeper, you see just how good of a move it was for the Bobcats. It gives them more freedom to play Mullens as more of a combo forward/center.
And most importantly, Haywood isn't bad. He's a defensive stalwart in the middle, puts up decent per-36 numbers, has a career field-goal percentage of .534 and, most importantly, gives the Bobcats one more big man to shield them from ever having to play Gana Diop.
I'm not going to tell you that Haywood is going to average a double-double this season. It is all but out of the question. He will, however, put up valuable minutes in the center, take smart shots and give the Bobcats some much-needed defense in the paint.
Best case he finds a little of his old magic when he was able to put up per-36 numbers around 12-13 points and nine to 10 rebounds, but like I said that's highly unlikely.
He digresses to a slightly more athletic Diop. He'll still provide good defense and snag a few rebounds, but he'll be 33 in November, and seven-footers don't have bodies that age well.
Really, I think this was a brilliant move by the Bobcats. I know this has been a pretty vanilla sounding explanation of Haywood and his style of play, but he is an excellent stopgap at center for either Biyombo or Mullens to come into their own at center.
Biyombo especially will benefit from Haywood's presence, as they are similar players who rely on defense. Haywood will be a good mentor for the young big men (hopefully even Tyrus Thomas), while providing about six points and rebounds per game and good defense for 25 minutes every night. He was quietly a very good addition for a team in desperate need of quality size.
As you may have noticed, the Bobcats only have 12 players officially under contract for the season at the moment, having rescinded their qualifying offers for Derrick Brown and D.J. Augustin, among other things. The 'Cats still have cap room and will almost definitely add a few more pieces before the season starts.
My favorite candidate for addition is Othello Hunter, who played very well for the Bobcats in summer league this year and has some (very minor) NBA experience. Hunter would give some more depth at the PF position, which would be very valuable considering the volatility of the players at that position.
Another name that has popped up recently is Scoop Jardine, who will reportedly be trying to earn a roster spot with the Bobcats at training camp for this season. Jardine is a Syracuse University graduate, and he was unable to participate in pre-draft workouts due to a broken foot, going undrafted as a result.
Jardine is an interesting option for the Bobcats, coming from a four-year (five including his sophomore season in which he did not play) career at the talent factory that is Syracuse University. While there are four very good guards on the roster in Charlotte, Jardine will probably make the team at a bargain.
Don't be surprised if the Bobcats try to trade one of their guards and/or a pick or two for a quality power forward if the team is uncomfortable with Tyrus Thomas and Bismack Biyombo. The Bobcats gambled by rescinding their qualifying offer for Derrick Brown and not holding onto D.J. White in hopes of grabbing either Antawn Jamison or Carl Landry, neither of which happened, unfortunately.
Point of this slide is: The Bobcats aren't done adding pieces, and I cannot predict what I do not know.
I do know the Bobcats are going to be much better this year and will likely surprise many observers. I'm calling for a 30-win season, which might sound like a stretch, but I think the Bobcats have the talent, and now the veteran leadership, to get there.