The Critical Improvement Each Young Charlotte Bobcats Player Must Make
One good thing you can say about the Charlotte Bobcats is that they're young.
Extremely young. And perhaps, with a little more time, extremely good.
In writing this article, the cutoff age is 26 years old. Being a rabid Bobcats fan, I knew we had plenty of players under that mark, but I wasn't quite expecting three quarters of the team to be at or below 26 years old.
Of the 12 players currently contractually included on the Bobcats' roster, nine of them are 26 years old or younger. That's pretty astonishing when you think about it.
And it gives us a good reason to perhaps assign blame for how bad the team was last year. Little veteran leadership on a young team that had more injuries than they could keep up with.
But with every season, every Bobcat gets another year of experience, and this team is going to keep getting better.
Three players are not being included on this list—Ben Gordon, DeSagana Diop and Brendan Haywood. There is a strong possibility that the Bobcats will elect to sign Josh Howard and/or Tracy McGrady to bring some veteran leadership to this team as well.
But the rest of these guys are under 26, and every single one of them has room for improvement.
Bismack Biyombo: Offense
It's about a week late, but I guess blessings are in order for Bismack Biyombo, who just turned 20 on Aug. 28 of this year.
Biyombo was drafted seventh overall in the 2011 NBA draft, and played his entire first season as a teenager in this league.
His youth showed, as Biyombo was perhaps the rawest athlete selected in the lottery. But his talent is abundant, and he has the drive and build to be a good center/power forward in the NBA.
He has a number of areas he can improve in, but I think the most obvious of which is his offensive game. I know that's a pretty large blanket term, but that's just the truth of the matter.
Biyombo will never be an offensive force in the NBA, but he can still carve his niche as a 30-minute player defensively, an area where he is already excelling in. If he wants to get those 30 minutes, he's going to need to score a little more efficiently, however.
He has no jump shot to speak of. His range extends roughly the distance he can jump and his post game is lacking.
He showed signs of improvement during summer league, but Biz is still a very raw player. He'll have plenty of playing time this season, and should make a positive impact defensively, but the progress he makes offensively will be most important.
Gerald Henderson: Range
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Gerald Henderson is probably going to be the best player for Charlotte this year, even with the additions of Ben Gordon and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Don't get me wrong, Gordon is the better pure shooter, and MKG has way more potential than Henderson, but Hendo is entering the prime of his career as an NBA player. The stage where he has gained enough experience as a young player to take it to the next level and become a veteran leader.
I, and several others including Corey Maggette, are of the mindset that Hendo is a future All-Star. That might not happen this year, but I do expect him to improve in most areas statistically with a better team around him.
He also says that he's worked on his biggest problem this summer—three-point shooting.
Henderson is a very mobile player. He thrives on driving to the hoop and taking short-to-mid-range jumpers which works for him, but if he wants to truly be a great player, he must become a bigger threat from behind the arc.
Last season he only shot 23.4 percent from long range, and his career average is an even lower 21.6 percent. He is versatile enough to be a great player without that long-range shot, but if he wants to become an All-Star caliber player, he must be able to shoot at least 30 percent.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: Shooting Mechanics
As I mentioned in the previous slide, Gerald Henderson is this team's best player at the moment, but MKG is nipping right at his heels, and he very well could be the best player on this team by season's end.
He is an explosive playmaker, a tremendous athlete, and an all-around solid player who will be able to do everything on the court.
He already drives to the rim more tenaciously than anyone on this team last year, he rebounds exceptionally well for a small forward, he's an effective passer, and he graded out as the best wing-defender in the draft.
In short, he's a stud.
There was one glaring issue in his scouting report before the draft, however.
His shooting mechanics are pretty bad, to put it kindly.
His mechanics won't limit his effectiveness altogether. He can still be a great player in this league with the strange hitch and long release he has in his jumper, but if he wants to be a a go-to scorer, he's probably going to need to smoothen things out.
I say probably because he showed in summer league that even with his mechanics, he can still score at a great clip, putting up 18 points in only 22 minutes on an injured leg in his only appearance, also drilling his only three-point shot.
So maybe comfort is all that matters and his mechanics aren't a huge deal. It probably won't hurt to try to get that hitch out, though.
Byron Mullens: Identity
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Byron Mullens is one of the most intriguing players on the Bobcats roster. He had a breakout season last year after complete anonymity two years prior with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
OKC was obviously a much better team, but Charlotte was able to pick up a pretty solid player that the Thunder just didn't need.
He's listed as a center—at seven feet tall, he's kind of put in that category regardless. But Mullens plays his game much more like a small forward or a shooting guard. He plays his game like Gerald Henderson.
Byron Mullens can get into the paint and score and grab rebounds, he can play the post, and he can adequately guard big men. He can also shoot the ball from mid- to long-range fairly effectively.
But he can't do both at the same time.
Mullens' biggest issue is inconsistency and identity. He knows what he is capable of, and anyone who has watched him while he's got that magic touch to his shot knows what he's capable of.
He can guard power forwards fairly well, and he can get in the paint and collect defensive rebounds, but he is much better suited to play offensively more like a shooting guard.
It was something I think the coaching staff tried to coach out of him last year, but I don't understand why. Guys like Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki thrive in the mid-range and can shoot the long-ball, why can't Mullens?
He needs to embrace the type of player he is, and stop trying to play like a traditional center. He loses all value when he does that.
Ramon Sessions: Defense
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The Bobcats have decided to take a different approach at point guard for the coming season.
While it's already been stated that Kemba Walker will be the starter for the Bobcats entering the season (something of a surprise to me), Sessions is going to play a major role for the Bobcats.
His biggest role will be helping Kemba develop in one key area that I'm going to discuss later on in this slideshow.
Sessions is essentially D.J. Augustin's replacement, and while arguments can be made either way, I believe he's an upgrade of Augustin, who was just tired of playing for Charlotte.
Sessions doesn't do any one thing on offense exceptionally, he just does everything on that end of the court effectively. He can drive to the rim, he takes smart shots, he is an effective passer an a good decision-maker.
Where you will find fault in Sessions' game is his defense, which is properly horrible. With Sessions on the floor, the Bobcats may as well be playing a four-man defensive scheme, which is probably why Kemba is getting the nod to start to begin the season.
Sessions is 26 years old (just making the cutoff point for this article) and he's entering into his sixth season as a pro. There's probably not a whole lot Sessions is going to be able to do to noticeably improve his defense.
He's carved a niche in this league as a dependable point guard to come off the bench or start if necessary, but he's a liability on defense. Perhaps defensive-minded head coach Mike Dunlap can help him improve a little bit on that end of the court.
Jeffery Taylor: Consistency
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Jeff Taylor is, in my book, the steal of the draft. It doesn't matter that the Bobcats had already selected a star small forward in MKG with the second overall pick, they truly got the best player left in the draft at 31st overall.
He is, in all honesty, a more polished prospect than MKG at this point. Taylor has had three more years of competitive SEC basketball to refine his game, and he's done that.
He graded as the second best wing-defender (behind MKG) during the draft, so he's a commodity on that end of the court. He has solid shooting mechanics, he's aggressive with the ball, he's an all-around type of player, and he can shoot a three-pointer.
He's going to be an excellent player who should one day be a starter in the NBA if everything goes correctly for him. He has the shooting and defensive skills to also play shooting guard, so that should buy him even more time on the court.
His one biggest flaw at this point (and this is judging solely off of the summer league games) is his consistency. He has hot streaks and cold streaks shooting the ball, and his three-point shot was far from reliable in summer league.
Chalk that up to rookie mistakes or whatever you want, it's something that Taylor can't afford to continue in the NBA. I don't think he will, and I think ultimately he'll be an excellent player in the NBA.
Someone a bunch of teams will regret passing over, even in such a deep draft.
Tyrus Thomas: Personality
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I've said it before, and I'll say it again—Tyrus Thomas is altogether the most important, and the most disappointing player on this team.
He has the talent and abilities to be an absolutely excellent power forward, something the Bobcats simply don't have. He can shut down the post with his defense, he can rebound with his excellent length, and he plays a solid, steady offensive game.
At least, that's what the Bobcats thought when they gave him a five-year, $40 million contract.
His per-36 numbers in 2009-10 and 2010-11 were excellent, and it looked like Thomas was ready to be a star in the league.
But his personality let him down, and it let the whole team down. I don't know Thomas personally. He could be a great guy, heck, I'm sure he's at least a decent guy. But last season he let down his teammates and he gave up on the season.
He got into a physical confrontation with then-head coach Paul Silas, he under-performed the entire season, and most of the time it didn't even look like he was trying.
Thomas could be a star. He's certainly being paid to be one. He needs to understand that he doesn't play on a great team, and he needs to stop being bitter about that. He needs to change his personality and help make this team better instead of making it worse.
He has all the talent in the world; he just needs to use it.
Reggie Williams: Shot Consistency
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Okay, so I've been doing this list in alphabetical order, but I'm taking a little bit of a liberty by talking about Reggie Williams and saving Kemba Walker for last...I think it's pretty clear who is more important to the team.
Reggie Williams won't be doing much for the Bobcats this season, barring some catastrophic injury. He's going to be blocked by Gerald Henderson and Ben Gordon at his natural position at SG. He could also play SF, but that's a spot filled by MKG and Jeff Taylor, not to mention the possible additions of Tracy McGrady and Josh Howard.
So, Reggie Williams is pretty far down on the depth chart.
He was brought in last season to be a reliable three-point shooter for the Bobcats, something the team knew they lacked and badly needed.
It was a role Williams was able to fill admirably in his previous season with the Golden State Warriors, shooting lights out from behind the arc at 42.3 percent.
But then he came to Charlotte and forgot how to do what he does best and only shot 30.8 percent. Not good enough, and that's exactly why Ben Gordon was brought in.
If Williams wants to see any playing time at all this season, he has to hope that Ben Gordon and Jeff Taylor are both duds from long-range, and he has to prove that his shot has gotten back to where it was in 2010-11.
I doubt it will happen, though.
Kemba Walker: Decision Making
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Kemba Walker, the future of Charlotte at point guard.
Seems like just yesterday we took D.J. Augustin in the lottery and declared him the future of point guard for the Bobcats.
Let's hope Kemba works out a little better.
Kemba put together a solid rookie campaign after being shoved into starting with injuries to Augustin and other key players. He was plagued by inconsistency and rookie mistakes, but he often showed us how great he can be if he gets his game working.
The explosive playmaker that led UConn to a national championship still lives in Kemba, the Bobcats just have to learn how to harness it, and Kemba has to learn how to be a point guard in the NBA.
Earlier on in the article I mentioned that Ramon Sessions was going to be vital in helping to develop Kemba in a big way, and his decision-making is what I was talking about. Kemba will always play a more aggressive, driving point guard than a lot of point guards, which I am fine with.
What he needs to learn, and what Ramon Sessions will be able to teach him, is that you don't have to shoot every time you drive to the rim. If you get boxed in the paint, you don't have to take a wild shot and pray for it to go in. You can pass the ball, because if you're being guarded that aggressively, it means you opened someone else up.
Kemba is going to be a great point guard. That is my official prediction. He just needs to take better shots, an become a smarter passer. He was slowly beginning to get that by the end of last season, and it looks like he got the message in summer league as well.
Let's hope it carries over into the regular season, along with everything else I've talked about in this article.