The Charlotte Bobcats' Top Training Camp Storylines
It's safe to say that the Charlotte Bobcats have gotten better this season. The reason you can go ahead and safely assume that is because things couldn't have gotten much worse.
I'm not going to doom and gloom a Bobcats slideshow. I see it all the time, and every time I read a Bobcats story it's primarily focused on the negatives. Even with rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, everyone is focused on his jumper.
Yes, it's ugly; but it's been worked on. No, I don't think it's going to be a big deal.
But what are Charlotte's biggest questions coming out of training camp and into preseason play? What are the best position battles, where are we looking at injury concerns and who am I looking at to shine as we plunge our way into another NBA season?
Let's take a look.
Is Tyrus Thomas Really Ready to Play?
A training camp story written by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer gave us some optimism about Tyrus Thomas going into the season.
Thomas reported to camp healthier, more muscular, more optimistic and, by all accounts, in a much better mood than last season.
Many have hypothesized that one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new players and coaches in Charlotte would be Thomas, who is coming off his most embarrassing season as a professional athlete and probably the worst season of his athletic life.
He was viewed as a thorn in the sides of players and coaches, he looked like he didn't care, he came into the season unprepared and he squandered what was a golden opportunity for himself.
But as Bonnell reports, Thomas may be in for a better season with the dramatic change in Charlotte.
Am I ready to buy it?
Yes. If you just look at the pictures from training camp, it's obvious that Thomas buffed up this offseason, and he clearly looks happier while practicing.
With Thomas perhaps coming back to play for the Bobcats after essentially taking a year off, the power forward position suddenly becomes much more interesting, as Thomas is a viable and explosive option at the 4.
So, Who Starts at Power Forward?
This is a nice introduction into one of the more interesting position battles of camp this season.
Heading into the offseason, the Bobcats appeared to have a logjam of players who could play power forward, but perhaps weren't ready, weren't naturally suited to the position or weren't mentally prepared.
With the evident growth of Tyrus Thomas both mentally and physically, the emergence of Byron Mullens as a strong PF candidate and the growth of Bismack Biyombo (particularly as a defensive option), it looks like the Bobcats are actually fairly talented at the 4.
Mullens has the size to play center, but the skill set to play PF. Thomas has the size to play PF, but the skill set to play small forward. Biyombo has the size to play PF, but the skill set to play center.
What do you do here?
My best bet, and the most likely option, will be a healthy rotation between the three.
If it's true that Thomas is actually going to be a force this season, and if Mullens continues to impress both on the boards and in terms of scoring, the Bobcats might do pretty well at power forward this season.
Charlotte also added Brendan Haywood to play center, which opens the door for Mullens to play even more time at the 4.
I have no idea who will emerge as the official opening day starter at PF, but I'm predicting it'll be Mullens. I think Thomas will also factor in heavily, and if Biyombo shows any growth in terms of offense, he'll see time both at the 4 and the 5.
Is Gerald Henderson Ready to Lead?
Gerald Henderson is one part of the best position battle in Charlotte (shooting guard). He's also now looked at as the leader, as he was named captain of the squad by coach Mike Dunlap.
The former Duke star was Charlotte's leading scorer last season and one of the only bright spots on an otherwise...er...underwhelming team.
Hendo will have to bring all of his talents to the club every day to keep this team motivated, but with a young core of focused, driven players, I think Henderson can handle the duties of leading.
He'll have help from several incoming vets, as well. Guys like Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood, who have experienced success on other teams, will bring their wisdom to Charlotte.
But Hendo is this team's leader, and for my money, still its best player.
With a three-point shot that has been worked on over the offseason, the ability to drive to the rim, a strong mid-range shot and a healthy dose of good defense and optimism, Henderson has proven to Charlotte he can man the 2 and lead the team.
He showed last year that he has what it takes to lead. Now he will be expected to grow for a fourth consecutive season. Don't bet against him.
Battle Between Veteran Leadership and Youthful Potential at Point Guard
With every win coming at a premium last season, I don't like to view any decision to start in Charlotte as a position "battle," but with more talent all around the group, there are some legitimate scraps.
Kemba Walker is viewed as the point guard of the future in Charlotte and has been linked to the starting job throughout the offseason. But with head coach Mike Dunlap recently saying that no position is set in stone, Sessions has entered the discussion to start.
Sessions has the benefit of age, proven effectiveness and winning experience in the NBA. Walker has the advantage of youth, potential and team chemistry.
I still think the job is Walker's, and Dunlap's comments were more to ignite a fire than anything.
Sessions is a great backup option and should see plenty of playing time. He's an upgrade over D.J. Augustin, who is now with the Indiana Pacers after the Bobcats willingly let him walk via restricted free agency.
But Walker is the future in Charlotte, and now is the time for him to build chemistry with his team.
He's proven this offseason that his shot selection and court vision have both improved, and you definitely can't argue against his youth and the excitement he brings to the game.
The Club Looks Healthy
As I mentioned previously, Thomas is as healthy and strong as he's ever been. Going into preseason play, Charlotte also looks pretty healthy as a unit, especially compared to an injury-depleted Washington Wizards team.
There was some concern about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's minor leg injury during Summer League, but it looks like everything is fine on that front—being held out of all but one Summer League game was simply precautionary.
He looked healthy with a solid debut against the Wizards, scoring 12 points, collecting six rebounds and playing great defense. He swiped the ball three times in just under 27 minutes of action.
No one else is a concern right now (I'm crossing my fingers and knocking on wood as I write that sentence).
Youth is one of Charlotte's biggest weaknesses, but in this department, it can also be one of their biggest strengths.
Ben Gordon or Gerald Henderson at Shooting Guard?
Henderson' status as the team captain isn't guaranteeing him a starting job this season. The additions of Ben Gordon via trade and Jeffery Taylor via the draft make shooting guard a very deep position in Charlotte, especially when you factor in Reggie Williams and Matt Carroll.
The two biggest combatants to start, barring injury, will be Gordon and Hendo. Right now, Hendo is being given the nod.
Gordon will be used extensively whether he's starting or coming off the bench as the sixth man, but Henderson will likely be given the chance to start at the beginning of the season.
Gordon presents something that the Bobcats lacked last season—a legitimate threat from long range. He is one of the best three-point shooters in the league.
Henderson is essentially the polar opposite, relying on his athleticism and short-to-mid-range game to score.
But with an improved three-point shot, Henderson is, at least for now, the best man to start.
Gordon, a combo guard, will be given plenty of time at both PG and SG, so don't worry about that.
Henderson is my preseason pick to be this team's MVP again, and his athleticism and ability to defend and grab rebounds should be enough to help him hold onto the starting job, despite the strong scoring abilities of Gordon.
Should Fans Be Optimistic or Pessimistic This Preseason?
It's a question worth asking for the vastly improved Charlotte Bobcats. Should fans feel positive or negative heading into the season?
Well, it's not quite as black and white as it is for other teams.
For some teams—the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and several others, optimism is clearly the right view. For teams like the Orlando Magic, who suffered massive losses, clear pessimism reigns.
For a team that was as bad as Charlotte was last season, it depends on what kind of season you're going to consider a success.
If you're betting on the Bobcats to make the playoffs, you should probably feel pretty negative. If you're betting on a team that should at least triple, possibly quadruple its win total from last season, you should feel pretty optimistic.
The simple facts are that the Bobcats are much better than last year, but still too young and not talented enough to contend in a very deep Eastern Conference.
They will still be near the bottom of the league and should be in line for a high lottery pick, but I don't think they're going to be the worst team in the league (or even the division) this season.
The Bobcats have a bright future. With another high pick, some genius moves by Rich Cho and incoming cap space, we could be looking at a team that can contend for the playoffs within two or three years.
That alone makes me feel pretty happy as a Charlotte fan.