I'm going to be blunt. I am tired of reading about how bad the Bobcats were last year, and about how bad they're probably going to be this year. It's time to stop it with that talk.
The Bobcats are a sleeper team who, I feel, with a respectable level of certainty, will surprise many people this season.
When I say sleeper, I only use the term loosely. They're not going to make the playoffs—I'm not an idiot. But over the course of the past two years, all anyone has read about is how the Bobcats are a losing team caught in a perpetual cycle of ineptitude.
I have written things along those lines in many of my articles myself, but I'm done talking about last year, and after two years of reading about how bad the Bobcats are, I'm ready to think positively.
It's time to stop thinking about last year. It's time to stop talking about how poorly of a job Michael Jordan has done with this team. It's time to stop pointing fingers in every direction, and start looking forward.
Michael Jordan (with extensive help from Rich Cho) has finally put together what will be a competitive team. Not great, not ready for the playoffs, but decent enough to triple, quadruple, or even quintuple their win total from last year.
Everyone knows that to become a great NBA team, you have to start from nothing to build something. With the sole exception of major market teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat, and perhaps a few others, no team is perpetually good.
The Bobcats were pretty good a couple of years ago, but Jordan recognized that they were never going to get better with the aging roster they had put together. As much as I loved Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, it was time to start over.
Unfortunately, things were a lot worse than most people thought they were going to be, but we got through it. Now we're about to witness what may be the most important season in the history of this franchise.
I'm going to rank each player that is currently listed on the roster by their importance, starting with least and moving to most important. Worth noting is that I am not including "maybe" players who are currently at training camp.
Guys who very well could make the team (Cory Higgins, Scoop Jardine, Othello Hunter and several others) are not on this list. This is strictly the 12 guys who are insured to be on the roster to start the season.
2011-12 Stats: 12.0 MPG, 1.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.5 BPG, 0.9 APG, .357 FG%, 6.8 PER
Okay, honestly...if this was surprising to you, then I really don't know what to say. Do you watch basketball?
At this point in Diop's career, I think the Bobcats are better suited to be spending $7 million ('Gana's salary) on a bag of potatoes. Or even a potato. At least then they could feed someone important.
He is one of the worst players in basketball, and I don't mean that hyperbolically. He really, really is one of the worst. With a Player Efficiency Rating of 6.8 (league average being 15), Gana is utterly useless.
With the merciful acquisition of Brendan Haywood this offseason, there is now a substantial number of players to buffer the Bobcats from ever being forced to play 'Gana this season, and, barring a catastrophic injury, Diop should come nowhere near 12.0 minutes per game again this season.
Skip Bayless is an idiot, and DeSagana Diop is to Shaquille O'Neal as...well, I can't think of an analogy bad enough. I think that speaks for itself.
He will be worthless this season. His dreadful contract finally comes off the books at the end of the year, and the nightmare will be over.
2011-12 Stats: 22.6 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 1.8 APG, 2.8 RPG, .416 FG%, .308 3P%, 12.4 PER
First of all, there is a colossal step up from 12th to 11th on this list. Even for the Charlotte Bobcats, who are just coming off the worst season in NBA history, Reggie Williams could favorably be compared to Michael Jordan if DeSagana Diop was the basis of evaluation.
But, still, Williams won't have much worth for the team this season. He was brought in prior to last season to be a reliable three-point shooter, something that, for whatever reason, he completely failed at. In 2010/11, he shot a spectacular 42.3% from behind the arc for the Golden State Warriors, but as you can see above, he dropped 11.5% with the Bobcats.
The Bobcats brought in some good guards this offseason, and still have Scoop Jardine in training camp competing for some playing time. Pair that with the fact that incoming rookie Jeffery Taylor can shoot the three-ball well and could see some time at shooting guard, Williams is now a redundancy.
Ben Gordon was brought in to basically do Williams' job, and with Gerald Henderson and Gordon competing for playing time at SG, along with Taylor and Jardine possibly getting some minutes there as well, Williams won't be seeing over 20 minutes per game again this season.
He had a few good games for the Bobcats last season, and a lot of his drop-off could be contributed to the general lack of talent around him, but he still couldn't perform, and the Bobcats simply have better players to do his job now.
2011-12 Stats (Dallas Mavericks): 21.2 MPG, 5.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.0 BPG, .518 FG%, 12.9 PER
Okay, I know I just mentioned two slides ago that Haywood was a very important acquisition for the Bobcats, and I stand by that. Any player that gives room between 'Gana and the floor is invaluable.
That being said, Haywood is at the end of his career, and he isn't going to be very productive for the Bobcats. It's tough to tell what Charlotte is going to do at center going into the season, but Haywood should still see a decent amount of time on the floor.
He'll provide solid defense, he takes good shots (just not many of them), and he's going to be a good mentor for the younger big men on the team. In those capacities, he'll be a valuable commodity.
But in terms of production and long-term value, Haywood doesn't bring much to the table. Fortunately, he's coming cheap to the Bobcats for $2 million per year for the next three years after being amnestied by the Mavs, so the Bobcats aren't wading knee-deep in to a river of—well, use your imagination—for another big man.
Haywood will be nice to have around, but as far as big men go, the Bobcats have far more talented, and far more important players for this coming season, and for the future of the franchise.
It was still a fantastic pick-up by the Bobcats' front office though, and it came at tremendous value.
2011-12 Stats (Vanderbilt): 32.1 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, .493 FG%, .423 3P%
I had a tough time deciding whether Jeff Taylor should be ahead of, or behind Haywood on this list, but I ultimately decided ahead because of the rookie's versatility on the court.
Taylor came at a bargain for the 'Cats, who selected him with the first pick in the second round of the 2012 draft (31st overall). Many fans were disappointed in the pick, as the Bobcats had already selected a star small forward with the second overall pick, but Taylor will prove to have a lot of value.
It might not come in big amounts, and Taylor is fairly low on this list, but that's not a knock on Taylor's ability, it's just because he's coming off the bench behind an eventual superstar.
Still, he'll be second on the depth chart at SF behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and he should see some valuable playing time. As I mentioned earlier, Taylor has a great touch on his shot and has excellent range, so he could also see time at SG to get him on the court with MKG at the same time.
Taylor is also an extremely gifted wing defender, which gives him boosted value off the bench.
Many had predicted that Taylor would be going in the 20's in the 2012 NBA draft, but he fell to the Bobcats in the second round for whatever reason, and the Bobcats have firmly locked up their SF position for the foreseeable future.
Taylor is going to be a fantastic player in this league, and he should contribute fairly well off the bench in his first year as an NBA player.
2011-12 Stats: 18.8 MPG, 5.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.1 BPG, .367 FG%, PER 9.0
Tyrus Thomas is probably the most polarizing player on this entire roster.
One thing that no one is going to argue with is that he was downright horrible last year.
With the starting power forward gig handed to him on a silver platter, Thomas picked up that platter, threw it in the server's face, jumped up and down on the platter until the silver was battered and destroyed, and then walked out of the restaurant in a fluster because his steak was cooked medium instead of medium-rare.
If you didn't follow that elaborate metaphor, what I mean to say is that he sucked. He blew his first real chance to start, and most of the time it didn't even look like he was trying. He was a clubhouse cancer, a constant candidate for trade and the Bobcats' primary amnesty candidate this offseason.
But the Bobcats know the talent Thomas has, and while many fans aren't happy about him being back, I am. Thomas was drafted fourth overall in the 2006 draft, he put up great per 36 numbers in his two previous seasons with the Bobcats, and he is just too talented to give up on after one horrible season.
He's this low on the list because there are players that want it more than him. If Thomas finally puts forth the effort he needs to, and sucks up the fact that he isn't on a great team, his value will skyrocket.
As it is, the Bobcats are thin at PF, and Thomas may even have the starting job again at the beginning of the season (doubtful, but still possible). His value with this team, and his future as a player depend on his own desire to perform this season, because we all know he has the talent.
2011-12 Stats: 23.1 MPG, 5.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.8 BPG, .464 FG%, 10.6 PER
Originally drafted seventh by the Sacramento Kings, Bismack Biyombo had his rights immediately traded to the Bobcats, and the 'Cats got a hard-working, intelligent and incredibly raw center/power forward prospect.
Biyombo was a project pick from the start. He was only 18 years old at the time of the draft, and he had very little offensive refinement in his game prior to being drafted. His value came (and still is) in his size and defensive prowess.
Biyombo is 6'9", which is average for a PF prospect, but well below average for a center prospect. But Biyombo's ace in the hole is his wingspan, which is a ridiculous 7'6", something he uses to great success by blocking shots at a tremendous clip.
His 1.8 blocks per game in 2011/12 (2.8 per 36) is an impressive stat, but it's hardly the ceiling for him. He could have had many more blocks if he had toned back the aggressiveness a bit, and many of his block attempts led to silly fouls that hampered his production significantly.
Biyombo can, in every way, become the type of player that Serge Ibaka is for the Oklahoma City Thunder. A defensive-minded big man who doesn't really need to shoot the ball on the court to be effective.
Biyombo's offensive game will continue to steadily improve, but he'll probably average out at around 10-12 points per game even with 30 minutes on the floor. His value is going to be his ability to guard any big man in the game, and his ability to play both PF and C.
I think ultimately, Biyombo is going to be the center of the future for the Bobcats, and the intelligent, hardworking young man is going to continue to improve next season.
2011-12 Stats (Cleveland Cavaliers/LA Lakers): 26.7 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.3 RPG, 0.7 SPG, .428 FG%, .443 3P%
Ramon Sessions was something of a surprise pick-up for the Bobcats, who at the time still had a qualifying offer for D.J. Augustin, and still-point guard of the future Kemba Walker waiting in the wings. His addition meant pulling the offer for Augustin and letting him go to the Indiana Pacers, and perhaps temporarily suspending Kemba's official tenure as the starting point guard.
Augustin needed to go. He simply didn't fit in here. Sessions is, in my opinion, an upgrade.
Sessions played exceptionally well after being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers from the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, and he has put up respectable numbers over the course of his entire career. He can score when he wants to, he has a solid three-pointer, and he's a pass-first point guard.
Bringing him in was a fantastic move by Charlotte's front office to push Kemba Walker to improve his performance, and to help mentor the young PG who will eventually take over the point in Charlotte.
Sessions will probably start the season at the top spot of the depth chart at point guard, but don't expect him to start every game, and don't expect him to get a full 30 minutes. His role is to facilitate, both on and off the court.
On the court he will be responsible for spreading the floor out, and getting the ball to guys like Ben Gordon, Gerald Henderson and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist. If he has an open shot, he'll take it, and he usually does a pretty good job of that. He can also drive to the rim effectively, similarly to Kemba.
Off the court he's going to be a mentor for Kemba, who still needs to learn how to efficiently play the point in the NBA. He's going to be very important to the Bobcats this year, even if he doesn't blow up the box scores every night.
2011-12 Stats (Detroit Pistons): 26.9 MPG, 12.5 PPG, 2.4 APG, 2.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, .442 FG%, .429 3P%, 13.5 PER
Let me get this straight right now: placing the top five has been quite difficult. There is still a lot up in the air in terms of who is going to start, how much time players get, and how effective players will be in the roles they are given.
I am of the mindset that Gordon should be the sixth man for the Bobcats.
I just can't bring myself to believe that they should bench Gerald Henderson, who was Charlotte's MVP last year, for a player who, in all honesty, is relatively one-dimensional.
Don't get me wrong, that one dimension is wonderful, and something the Bobcats badly lacked last year—shooting the ball.
Gordon is one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA right now, and before his career is done, might just be one of the best three-point shooters of all time. He knows how to hit it from long range, and as I mentioned earlier, the Bobcats brought him in essentially to do what Reggie Williams was supposed to do last year.
Except Gordon will actually do it, and do it well.
Gordon can be an explosive scorer, even off the bench, and I still think he should get 28 or more minutes on the court every game. I also think he should be utilized more than when he was in Detroit. Gordon took significantly fewer shots with the Pistons, and for whatever reason that was, it should be reversed in Charlotte.
Gordon is going to be an excellent complement to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker, guys who thrive on driving to the rim. Simply having Gordon on the floor will consistently force at least one perimeter defender to stick with him at all times, opening lanes up.
Gordon is going to be very important for the Bobcats in 2012-13, and I think he could see a major scoring boost, even as the sixth man.
2011-12 Stats: 22.5 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.8 BPG, .425 FG%, .235 3P%, 13.0 PER
Placing Byron Mullens above Ben Gordon will likely draw the ire of some fans, but I think he's about to have a serious breakout season.
Last year could have been considered something of a breakout season for Mullens, as it was his first time ever getting any significant time on the floor (he only combined for 139 minutes total in his two seasons at OKC).
But this year is going to be different for Mullens.
He now has the pace and the style of his game under his feet, he's had a full offseason and summer league to improve, and I think that improvement is going to be evident.
Mullens is not your typical center. Sure, he's seven feet tall, but he hardly plays like it. Mullens is not a particularly good defender in the paint, and he's honestly not a great scorer in the paint either.
Mullens thrives on jump-shots, and he does it fairly effectively. The 23.5 three-point percentage is low, but Mullens has the mechanics and the talent to raise it significantly.
I'm placing Mullens so high on this list because I think he needs to start at Charlotte's thinnest position—power forward. My favorite thing to say about Mullens is that he's a small forward trapped in a center's body, and his playing style is more suited for power forward. Over the course of summer league he showed his improved lateral movement and post defense, and he can guard power forwards in this league.
This gives Mullens the ability to play his game at the other side of the court. At the end of the day, if Mullens can consistently hit his jumper (which he can), he could end up being the biggest weapon the Bobcats have. How many people can defend a seven-footer on the perimeter?
Bismack Biyombo and Brendan Haywood can both cover center, and they're both better defenders and rebounders than Mullens in the paint anyway.
If Mullens puts all of his skills together and starts playing with consistency, watch out.
He'll be a big-time weapon.
2011-12 Stats: 27.2 MPG, 12.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.5 RPG, 0.9 SPG, .366 FG%, .305 3P%, 14.9 PER
Kemba Walker is the point guard of the future for the Bobcats.
He is everything the Bobcats can ask for in a point guard...aggressive, fearless, energetic, up-tempo and clutch.
Unfortunately for Kemba, he was thrust into a starting role well before he was ready, after D.J. Augustin was hurt last year. He was forced to learn the game at a pace that he wasn't quite ready to handle, and while he did an admirable job as a starter, he was far from perfect.
His most telling statistic is the fact that he shot 36.6% from the field. That is simply not good enough for a starter in this league. Kemba took wild shots that had no chance of going in, and he played like a slashing small forward for a good chunk of the season instead of a point guard.
He had some great nights, but was plagued by inconsistency all year. He could go off one night for 20 or more points, and then spend 30 minutes on the floor and score six points the next night on ten percent shooting.
As I mentioned earlier, it's going to be critical for Kemba to learn from Ramon Sessions. He needs to learn how to be a facilitator first, and a scorer second. That doesn't mean he has to be a low-scoring PG, it just means he has to be able to open others up in order to take good shots for himself. Chris Paul is a perfect example of a high-scoring PG that almost always thinks "pass first."
There is not a doubt in my mind that Kemba Walker will be a more dynamic player than Sessions in the future, and there is not a doubt in my mind that Walker will improve on his decent rookie campaign from last season.
He has more talent around him, he had a summer league (which the lockout stole from him and Biyombo last season) and he is as motivated as anyone in the NBA.
This guy is a winner. He won at UConn, and he wants to win in Charlotte. I think he's going to be a big piece of building a winning team, and it really starts this year for him.
2011-12 Stats: 33.3 MPG, 15.1 PPG, 2.3 APG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 SPG, .459 FG%, .234 3P%, 14.0 PER
Okay, if you've read any of my Bobcats articles, you know I'm a big-time Gerald Henderson fan.
I mentioned in the Ben Gordon slide that Gordon needs to be the sixth man in order for Henderson to start, and I absolutely, unequivocally mean that. I think having Henderson come off the bench would be a huge mistake.
Henderson is a much more versatile player than Gordon. He has multiple methods of scoring, like hard drives to the rim followed by fierce dunks or soft floaters from short distance. He also has a solid mid-range jumper. He's a good rebounder, he's a solid passer, and he's a great defender.
To put it simply, I think he is the Bobcats' best player—at least until MKG has proven himself.
The improvements he has made over his three years in the league have been extremely noticeable, and he has gone from what looked like a bust of a lottery pick, to a player that Corey Maggette and several others believe can one day be an all-star.
He doesn't have a three-pointer. We all get that...it's just not part of his game, though he said he worked hard on it over the summer.
But he does everything else for this team, and he is the team's captain. He is the leader, and even with MKG coming in, Hendo should still be the leader on the court.
A lot of people are concerned that having Kemba Walker, Hendo and MKG on the court at the same time is going to present a redundancy problem, as all three play fairly similar styles of slashing and driving, but I think it's only going to enhance all three of them.
When all three are on the court, defenses will have to constantly worry about a serious drive to the hoop when the ball is in their hands, and the Bobcats are going to score a lot of points from short to mid-range.
He is the leader, the best player, and the guy I want to take the final shot at the buzzer (as long as it's inside the arc).
2011-12 Stats (Kentucky): 31.1 MPG, 11.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.9 BPG, 1.0 SPG, .491 FG%
Remember in the last slide when I said Gerald Henderson is Charlotte's best player?
Well, it's in title only, really. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is about to become the face of this franchise, and while Hendo will still be a great player, MKG is going to eventually take this team over. It's only a matter of time.
Most of the criticisms directed toward MKG at this point is his relatively one-dimensional offensive game. He loves slashing to the rim, getting into the paint, and scoring at close range. His jumper is mechanically hilarious, and he didn't shoot well from long-distance last season at Kentucky.
But MKG at least put a cork in some people's mouths with his one and only summer league performance.
We all know what happened: he went up for a shot, made the bucket, and landed somewhat awkwardly, but continued playing. It was hardly an injury, but MKG was held out of the rest of summer league just to be safe. By all accounts, he's back to, and really never lost, full strength.
In that one game he really shocked a lot of people, though. He scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out five assists, and poked away four steals all in only 22 minutes on the court. He clearly got the better of fellow rookie Thomas Robinson in the match up, and was a big part of the the reason T-Rob had eight turnovers in that game.
He did it in a variety of ways, and it looks like all of the negative publicity regarding his jumper isn't really a big deal. He still hits the mid-range shots, and he does it consistently. He is perhaps even better than advertised on the glass both offensively and defensively, and he was able to open others up at the same time.
It was one performance, yes, but it was a great one. MKG is not playing around this year, and I am now officially sold on the idea that he is the cornerstone around which this franchise needs to be built. I've compared him favorably to Gerald Wallace and Andre Iguodala in my writing, but I think he's going to be better than both.
He's the new face of the franchise, and while Hendo is, and should be the captain, there's no doubt that MKG is about to become the new King of the Queen City.