Nothing is set in stone.
The Charlotte Bobcats haven't even finished setting their roster yet—at 12 contracted players, they're still pretty light in the depth department.
But the closer we get to training camp, preseason and eventually the regular season, things are starting to shape up for the Charlotte Bobcats and how they're going to play things for this coming season.
I'm going to attempt to predict Charlotte's starting five, and then discuss some of the more important bench players sitting behind them.
Worth noting, this list will not include players that aren't yet under contract. They have some fairly strong talent coming to training camps to essentially audition for the club like Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine. They are also working out a few higher profile names like Josh Howard and Tracy McGrady.
The starting rotation is far from official; it's just what I think it's going to be mixed with a little of what I think it should be, and who I think will be some key players off the bench.
I will give my own projected stats for the five starters but will refrain from projecting anything else for the other five guys I'm going to talk about, simply out of uncertainty.
Now, let's look at the guys who are going to revive a dying basketball team.
This one is pretty much set in stone, though a little surprising to many who thought Ramon Sessions would start at PG to begin the season.
It was recently reported that Kemba was getting the nod to start in an article by Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer—a decision that makes sense for Mike Dunlap's new up-tempo, youth driven scheme.
Will it make sense in the grand scheme of things, though?
Kemba still has a lot to learn about playing the point in the NBA. He's an explosive playmaker at times but is often terribly inconsistent. He took some terrible shots last season, and it really hurt his overall field goal percentage which was 36.6 percent.
Still, Kemba looked like he had shown signs of improvement during summer league, he will have Sessions backing him up and urging him to bring the best of his game every time he plays, and it's going to force Kemba to be a better player.
What better way than by experience?
Kemba can handle starting. He's a good enough defender, he's a high-velocity, up-tempo player, and he's shown real signs of improvement with his decision making. Don't be surprised to see Kemba's numbers from last season improve fairly noticeably, especially with more talent around him.
Projected Stats: 26 MPG, 14.7 PPG, 6.2 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG, .435 FG%, .345 3P%
I feel like I have to say this every time I write an article about the Bobcats, but it is imperative that Gerald Henderson starts for the Bobcats this season.
The general consensus is that whoever doesn't start at SG will be the sixth man (in this case, Ben Gordon), but I think Hendo is just too good to have coming off the bench.
Hendo has more experience with Kemba, and they've already built up a level of chemistry that will help both players. If Gordon starts, Kemba will be forced to figure him out on the court, and I think it'll negatively impact both players in the short term.
In the long term, Hendo is Charlotte's best player. He led the team in scoring last year and can be pretty explosive in that area, he's a good rebounder and passer, and he has good size (6'5") for the position.
Furthermore, he's been named the captain of this squad.
Hendo doesn't have the three-pointer that Gordon has, but both Kemba and Hendo have worked on their three-point shots over the break, and I expect both to see an improvement.
His leadership on the court is going to be vital for the young Bobcats, as Henderson suddenly becomes the seasoned vet of the team. He's been there during the "good" years (if you can call them that), he's been there through the really, really bad year, and he's ready to lead this team out of mediocrity.
Projected Stats: 28.5 MPG, 16.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, .465 FG%, .295 3P%
This is the most obvious selection in this slideshow. The Bobcats didn't draft Michael Kidd-Gilchrist second overall to ride the pine—they drafted him to be the cornerstone around which they build.
And it's all going to begin this season when we learn if he lives up to the lofty hype that has been thrust upon him.
Personally, I think MKG is going to soar. Might just be me being a homer, but I look at the overall increased talent in the Bobcats' roster, and I see an opportunity for MKG to really break through and to help some others do the very same thing.
The comparisons have been plentiful and favorable. Modern comparisons to Gerald Wallace and Andre Iguodala are popular, while Michael Jordan himself said he sees a young Scottie Pippen.
Personally, I think he's going to exceed what Wallace and Iggy have done, and I think the Pippen analogy is closer to the type of player MKG can be once he works out his kinks.
He won't be there this year...he still has a fair amount of work to do on mechanics and distance shooting, but his defense is as good as it gets. He can drive to the rim as good as anyone, he's fierce while rebounding and he can be a great passer.
Projected Stats: 30 MPG, 15.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, 0.8 BPG, 1.4 SPG, .495 FG%, .300 3P%
Okay, so this might confuse some people a little bit, but if you've read any of my articles in the past you know that I believe that Byron Mullens is better suited for the 4 than the 5 (in terms of play-style), and would thrive at PF.
Mullens was a great surprise story last season. He really showed why he was a first-round pick back in 2009. His talents were extremely overshadowed in Oklahoma City, where he saw virtually no playing time.
He came to Charlotte and got plenty of playing time, and did a pretty good job as a reserve center/power forward. This is a team that is extremely thin at PF, with the only truly viable options being Bismack Biyombo (we'll get there in a second), and Tyrus Thomas, who doesn't deserve to start after the atrocity that was last season.
Mullens will probably be a defensive liability regardless of where you put him on the floor, but I think he'd do a better job guarding post power forwards than he would standing in the paint against equally-sized centers.
Offensively, it opens up Mullens to do what he likes to do, and that is take jump-shots. He'll need to become more consistent to prove himself, but after a strong summer league, I believe he is more than capable of being this team's power forward for at least another year.
Projected Stats: 30 MPG, 15.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.0 BPG, .452 FG%, .320 3P%
I'm not really sure how things are going to shake out positionally for the Bobcats, but for my money, Bismack Biyombo belongs in the paint. He plays a better undersized center than Mullens plays at seven feet.
Biz is only 6'9", but has a ridiculous wingspan of 7'6" to make up for the couple of inches he lacks to play a full-sized center. He proved last year that he can guard with the best, getting the better of several league superstars, including Dwight Howard.
His offensive game includes dunking and the occasional hook-shot, but he can't really get out of the paint to do much scoring. He belongs in the paint to clog up lanes and block anyone who is foolish enough to drive against him.
Mullens and Biz could possibly be switched in the rotation, but I do believe both will start, and I believe they will both end up taking the roles that I've described in the previous slides, making their positional titles trivial.
Bismack has a long way to go before he can be considered a legitimate offensive threat, but his defense is already pretty much there, and he is an excellent rebounder. If he's given the time, he will likely lead the league in block shots—at the very least, be near the top.
He can be a bit overly-aggressive, so he might need to tone it down a bit so he doesn't get in early foul trouble. The aggressiveness is a welcome attribute for what was a very lethargic team last year.
And for the record, I'm determined to make the nickname B-Smack an official thing this season. Be prepared.
Projected Stats: 24.5 MPG, 7.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.8 BPG, .485 FG%
I think shooting guard is easily the most hotly contested position on Charlotte's roster. You have Gerald Henderson, who as I mentioned was Charlotte's best player and is the captain of the team this coming season. You have Jeffery Taylor, who I'll get to in a few slides. And you also have a couple of other guys that may or may not make the final roster.
But the general consensus is that either Hendo or Gordon will start, and whichever one of them isn't starting will be the first man off the bench.
It's a role that I think Gordon should take. It was his position for the Detroit Pistons, and as I mentioned, I just can't imagine benching Charlotte's best player from last season, even if he does still get a significant amount of playing time.
Gordon offers this team something that pretty much no one else has—solid perimeter shooting. Unfortunately, that's about all he has to offer.
He's a very streaky player, and at times he can come out and completely take over a game and top 40 or more points, and then the next he can come out and only score six points.
He should get plenty of playing time in Charlotte, likely at least as much as he got in Detroit. The difference is that he is going to be expected to shoot a whole lot more in Charlotte than he did in Detroit, one of the major reasons his production had dropped off so significantly.
At his core, he's one of the best three-point shooters in the game right now. Having him come off the bench would be a great asset to Charlotte, and he could average 15 or more points per game in such a capacity.
Tyrus Thomas was been given one more chance to succeed as a Charlotte Bobcat when the organization decided not to use its amnesty clause on him this offseason, and I'm definitely hoping it pays off.
I have done a lot of slideshows about the Bobcats, so at the risk of sounding redundant—we need Thomas to be better than he was last year, and we know he can be.
That's the basic gist of my Tyrus Thomas rant.
He simply didn't try last season.
I believe most (hopefully all) of the players were disappointed with how poor of a team the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats were, but none of them made it more apparent than Thomas.
The fact is, he's on a five-year, $40 million contract that he has not earned. Thomas put up excellent per-36 numbers in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but completely flopped when he was given the chance to start permanently last season.
He needs to suck it up. He needs to understand and be okay with the fact that he's on a bad team, that he's probably not going to start for a bad team because of his ineptitude last year, and that it's his own responsibility to clean up his mess.
Thomas brings some much-needed athletic size to the PF position, which is easily Charlotte's weakest position. The Bobcats are going to need him to be a much better player than he was last year.
As I mentioned in the first slide of this article, Kemba Walker will be starting at the point for the Bobcats, which means Ramon Sessions is going to be coming off the bench most nights.
I'm sure Dunlap will give Sessions, who is still a young guy at 26, plenty of playing time, and he'll probably get a few starts as well, just to give Kemba a break.
Sessions is going to have two very important roles with Charlotte this season—one is going to be helping Kemba develop into a more complete point guard, and the other will be as insurance in case Kemba fails.
I think it's fair to say that we're all hoping the latter doesn't happen. Having two (three if you include Ben Gordon) NBA-ready point guards on your roster is a major commodity, and Sessions brings a lot of value to the organization.
Sessions is versatile on offense, he's shown that he can (albeit sporadically) hit three-pointers, he's a pretty good decision maker and passer, and he generally takes smart shots.
All of that needs to be passed on to Kemba.
Kemba is still raw as an NBA PG, but having Sessions on this team to push him, and having him on the bench constantly nipping at Walker's heels to get playing time, is going to be a major boost.
If Walker proves he can lockdown the position, Sessions could also become a fairly valuable trade piece to acquire a big guy later on in the season.
Brendan Haywood has perhaps the most important job of any Charlotte Bobcat this coming season: keeping DeSagana Diop off the court.
Parades should be held in Haywood's name—a city-wide celebration in jubilance, knowing that Diop's career as a Bobcat is, in essence, over.
Don't get me wrong, Haywood isn't the best center in the world. He may or may not start, but if I were Dunlap, I'd put him on the bench behind Biyombo and basically split time evenly between the two, with Mullens getting reps at the five as well.
He won't score much, but when he shoots he's good for making it at least 50 percent of the time, as any seven-foot center who shoots from the paint should be able to do. Unless your name is Gana Diop.
He's an effective rebounder, a solid shot blocker and a nice, big presence in the paint to deter players from driving to the rim against this team. He'll be an excellent role model for Biyombo, who plays a very similar style of basketball. Don't leave the paint too often, block whoever dares to drive to the rim, and be aggressive in rebounding.
Bismack will have a better career than Haywood, who has for the most part been just an average, serviceable big man. But he's a veteran and brings championship experience to a very young roster with a lot of talent waiting to explode.
And most importantly, we won't have to watch this anymore.
Jeff Taylor was Charlotte's second-round pickup, and he came at a bargain.
He spent four years on a very good Vanderbilt squad and improved every single year he was on the team. He's an aggressive defender, scorer and rebounder.
Similarly to MKG, he really can do it all on the court.
He even has a few tricks up his sleeve that MKG can't boast—three-point shooting and refinement. Jeff Taylor's shooting mechanics are significantly better than MKG's, and he proved in his senior year that he has a great shooting touch from long distance.
It's a tool that will likely be utilized by the Bobcats to the point where Taylor should get more playing time than the average second-rounder.
Taylor can also play shooting guard. As I mentioned, that is easily Charlotte's most talented/deepest position, but the Bobcats may have a few high-octane offensive packages planned to have both MKG and Taylor on the floor at the same time.
Taylor is going to have an excellent NBA career. He has all of the tools of a first-round pick, and he's certainly more polished at this point than MKG.
MKG is obviously the de facto starter for the team, and Taylor knows he's going to be playing second fiddle, but he should still get his fair share of minutes. I believe he'll make the most out of them and prove to the teams that passed him at the end of the first round that they really missed out.
Taylor is a representation of Rich Cho's philosophy of drafting for talent and not for need. Picking two small forwards in the same draft for a team that desperately needed depth elsewhere might seem silly, but Taylor will prove his worth.