Charlotte Bobcats: Roster Preview, Predictions & Storylines to Watch in 2012-13

Alex KayCorrespondent IOctober 16, 2012

Charlotte Bobcats: Roster Preview, Predictions & Storylines to Watch in 2012-13

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    The Charlotte Bobcats are coming off the worst season in NBA history, winning just seven of their 66 games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign.

    Unfortunately, the ping-pong balls didn’t bounce their way, and instead of landing Anthony Davis—a guaranteed superstar that fills a huge need—with the No. 1 pick, the 'Cats had to make a tough call at No. 2.

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should be a great NBA player with a bright future, but he doesn’t immediately help Charlotte get significantly better than they were with Corey Maggette starting at small forward.

    It looks like another rough season on the horizon for the Bobcats, but fans should at least see some flashes of what’s to come from all of the young players on the roster.

    Let’s take a look at Charlotte’s free-agency acquisitions and departures, the projected starting lineup and depth chart, some of the team’s strengths and weaknesses, predictions for the season's outcome and much more in the Bobcats 2012-13 preview. 

Key Arrivals

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    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 2 overall draft pick)

    Jeffery Taylor (No. 31 overall draft pick)

    Ben Gordon (Trade with Detroit Pistons)

    Ramon Sessions (Free agency)

    Brendan Haywood (Free agency)

    Mike Dunlap (Former St. John’s coach)

     

    Because of how awful Charlotte was last season, GM Rich Cho had his work cut out for him once the offseason officially began.

    He jettisoned Corey Maggette—a serviceable but overpaid swingman—for a high-volume shooter in Ben Gordon. While Gordon has been struggling in recent years with the Pistons, he showed that he still has something left in the tank, with a notable 45-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets back in March. We are actually projecting him to start at the beginning of the season in order to provide some more offensive output.

    When the draft rolled around, Michael Jordan’s organization selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (MKG) to fill its SF need, and his defensive intensity and finishing ability around the hoop will be a welcome addition. While it’s not his team yet, eventually the former Kentucky star will be the leader of this franchise and its star player.

    Jeffery Taylor is a great second-round pick, and many mock drafts had the highly athletic and sweet-shooting senior forward going in the late first round. The Bobcats have to be elated that he fell into the second, and he should be a regular member of the rotation.

    Free agency wasn’t anything spectacular for Charlotte, but it did acquire an above-average PG in Ramon Sessions, who opted out of his contract following a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Los Angeles Lakers in the middle of last season. He should battle second-year player Kemba Walker for starting point guard duties.

    Brendan Haywood was acquired after the center was amnestied by Dallas, and the 'Cats picked up a bargain big man for approximately $2 million per year over the next three seasons. There is a good chance he starts a number of games, with only the defensively lacking Byron Mullens to truly compete for minutes at the 5.

    Finally, Cho canned coach Paul Silas, who had an abysmal 32-88 record during his tenure in Charlotte. He hired Mike Dunlap—a long-time assistant for numerous college programs who also had a two-year stint under George Karl with the Nuggets from 2006 to 2008—to helm the team. Dunlap helped lead the St. John’s Red Storm as an interim coach in the absence of coach Steve Levin for most of the 2011-12 college basketball season.

    This is his first head-coaching job at the NBA or Division I level. 

Key Losses

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    D.J. Augustin (Free agency)

    Derrick Brown (Free agency)

    Corey Maggette (Traded to Detroit Pistons)

     

    The Bobcats originally elected to extend qualifying offers to both Augustin and Brown, but rescinded them for various reasons.

    Augustin ended up signing with the Indiana Pacers after they traded Darren Collison and opened up a roster spot for a PG, while Brown is fighting for a roster spot at San Antonio Spurs training camp.

    Maggette was shipped to Detroit for Gordon and a future first-round pick prior to the draft.

    While there is no doubting that all three of these players can contribute and be productive members of an NBA team, they simply did not fit with what the Bobcats are trying to do, and after such an awful season, it was time for them to move on.

    Augustin’s absence has opened up more playing time for promising sophomore Walker, while Brown was deemed expendable with MKG and Jeffery Taylor now on the roster.  

Projected Starting Lineup and Depth Chart

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    Position

    Starter

    Bench

    Reserve

    Point Guard

    Kemba Walker

    Ramon Sessions

    Cory Higgins

    Shooting Guard

    Ben Gordon

    Gerald Henderson

    Matt Carroll

    Small Forward

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

    Jeffery Taylor

    Reggie Williams

    Power Forward

    Bismack Biyombo

    Tyrus Thomas

    D.J. White

    Center

    Brendan Haywood

    Byron Mullens

    DeSagana Diop

     

    This starting lineup has a lot of potential, and the reserves aren’t too shabby either.

    Kemba Walker will likely get the nod at PG, although there’s a chance he fills the sixth-man role on occasion. He will be primarily backed up by newly acquired Ramon Sessions, who is quite a good facilitator and can keep this offense rolling.

    Gerald Henderson was one of the only “good” players on the roster last year, and averaged a solid 15.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 0.9 steals during the 2011-12 campaign, while also playing incredible defense. However, we have Ben Gordon starting at the 2, as he is a more natural and experienced scoring guard, and the team can’t afford to start both Henderson and MKG and still hang around on the offensive end.

    Speaking of Kidd-Gilchrist, he should be a starter from Day 1 and will likely be tasked with guarding the opposition's best perimeter player. He has a lot to work on with his offensive game, but he’s already an incredible finisher and hustles on every possession. That should equate to plenty of easy scoring opportunities. Fellow rookie Jeff Taylor and Henderson will split minutes behind him at the 3.

    Bismack Biyombo, one of our favorite players in the league, should be the starting 4, as his ability to block shots, grab rebounds and immense athleticism make him a force down on the block. He’s incredibly raw—a liability really—on offense, but the Bobcats can afford to keep him on the floor with Gordon and Walker dominating the ball. Tyrus Thomas will be his primary backup and provides similar athleticism and defense.

    At the 5, it’s going to come down to Haywood, who can protect the rim at a high level, and Mullens, who can score and plays like a European big man, but has no idea what he’s doing when playing D.

    Expect coach Dunlap to substitute and start these guys based on the matchups. 

Strengths

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    While it’s hard to find anything that truly separates the 'Cats from the rest of the league—and they don’t have any outstanding attributes that make them elite in any one category—they do have some positives to look forward to in 2012-13.

    One of those is seeing how all of the new pieces come together and work to improve. They are extremely young and athletic, which will make them exciting to watch and will allow them to win some games they have no business being in—especially when facing veteran teams on long road trips or playing in back-to-back games.

    Charlotte’s frontcourt and wing players are also looking much better than last year, with Walker and Sessions, Gordon and Henderson and now MKG and Taylor playing the 1, 2 and 3, respectively.

    While the 'Cats aren’t going to be able to hang with a team like Miami or Oklahoma City, they will give some of the other good teams in this league a run for their money if they are having a decent night. 

Weaknesses

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    Many of the problems that plagued the 'Cats last season are still around. Most notably is the sheer amount of raw players on the roster.

    Guys like Biyombo, Walker, MKG, Taylor and Mullens still have a lot to learn about the league and will have trouble with consistency. There are going to be plenty of games where they just look confused and out of place, and have trouble getting things going.

    Unfortunately, there aren’t many experienced veterans to come in to show them the ropes or pick up the slack when things are starting to slip away. Coach Dunlap actually makes for an awesome coaching choice in this situation, as he is used to dealing with young, college-aged players.

    Considering that seven of the players on the roster are under the age of 25, it’s going to be a familiar situation for the former Johnnies assistant.

    The other glaring weakness for Charlotte is its big men. Biyombo is a great defender, shot-blocker and rebounder, but can’t score to save his life. Mullens is the exact opposite, possessing a wide array of moves and a deft shooting touch, but plays matador defense. Haywood can body up most centers, but he’s not going to be calling for many entry passes against them. Thomas is a malcontent who never seems happy or healthy.

    The Bobcats are going to have to overhaul their frontcourt eventually if they want to become a competitive contender in the NBA. They didn’t do it this season, and it will be their Achilles' heel. 

Storylines to Watch

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    Many 'Cats fans are going to keep a close eye on how Anthony Davis does during his rookie season with the New Orleans Hornets, and compare and contrast it with MKG’s success—or lack thereof—in Charlotte.

    The former teammates went No. 1 and 2 in the class and are widely different types of players, but it won’t stop fans from cursing the lottery gods if Davis turns into a Rookie of the Year candidate and Kidd-Gilchrist slumps.

    It’s also worth watching Henderson and how he improves now that he is entering his fourth year in the NBA. It usually takes about three seasons for a player to truly emerge, and Henderson proved that theory correct, despite hardly playing in his rookie year. He’s got a lot of potential and could be a big part of the rebuilding effort in Charlotte.

    Finally, Mike Dunlap’s transition to a first-time NBA head coach should be interesting to follow, especially since he’s taking over an inexperienced roster. Will these young millionaires respond to him the same way that unpaid NCAA athletes do, or will he become another laughingstock 'Cats coach?

    Let’s hope for the former as he attempts to bring this franchise back to respectability. 

Best-Case Scenario

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    If everything goes right for the Bobcats, they could actually be a competitive team in 2012-13. For that to happen, a number of things would have to occur.

    First and foremost, the young guns on this roster need to start stepping up and making an impact immediately. Walker needs to prove he can facilitate and score at the PG position, MKG has to emerge as a ROY front-runner, Biyombo needs to develop some semblance of an offensive game and Henderson has to continue his steady improvement.

    Then, more established players like Gordon would need to step up and come to play every night. The 'Cats would much rather Gordon score a consistent 18-20 points per game than seven most nights and 40 every now and then. Dunlap has to figure a way to utilize Haywood and Mullens in a way that emphasizes their strengths and hides their weaknesses. Even deep role players like Matt Carroll and DeSagana Diop must step up and shine when their number is called.

    If they can do this, the Bobcats would have a small shot of actually competing for an eighth seed in the East. However, it’s much easier said than done. Hopefully Charlotte shows enough flash to give real hope and provide something to build on for the 2013-14 campaign. 

Worst-Case Scenario

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    It’s not hard to imagine another doomsday scenario in Charlotte. However, after last season’s debacle, the only place for this team to go is up.

    Regardless, the fans of this Carolina-based franchise would be extremely disappointed if this team suffers through another miserable year and continues to deal with drama, injuries and overall poor play.

    There has been talk of relocating NBA franchises, and even whispers of contraction have been popping up every once in a while. If the 'Cats keep struggling, there is no way that fans will pay to see this team. It makes them an ideal candidate to be one of the first teams to move or fold should the NBA abandon professional basketball in the city for the second time in history.

    Fortunately, the odds of that are very slim, but not improving their play on the court won't help the Bobcats' cause either. 

Season Prediction

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    22-60, fifth place in Southeastern Division, missing postseason (worst record in NBA, 25 percent chance to win draft lottery).

    While it’s going to be another tough season for the Bobcats, their winning percentage will jump considerably from last year’s all-time low.

    There are going to be plenty of growing pains and awful performances over the course of this 82-game campaign, but there will also be some exciting wins and plenty of reasons to believe in this team’s future.

    As long as this young nucleus keeps improving and earning high draft picks, they are eventually going to make it back to the postseason.

    Assuming Charlotte picks up another top-five pick in the 2013 draft, there is a great chance it adds another key contributor (hopefully a big man) that will have this team back on its feet sooner than later.

    Don’t expect much from the Bobcats this season, but count on them being relevant in the near future.