There's no point in denying that the Charlotte Bobcats aren't going to be a great team in 2012-13. Too many teams in the NBA have far more advanced, experienced talent. But the Bobcats are going to be better. Much better.
By now you've heard of all the acquisitions that have been made by the Bobcats this offseason, via the draft, through free agency or by trade.
Mix in the fact that many players—including the infamously out of shape DeSagana Diop and the tantrum-prone Tyrus Thomas—have come to camp in the best shape and spirits of their lives, and the Bobcats could at least make things interesting in 2012-13.
What we're getting is essentially an entirely new lineup, which is exactly what the Bobcats needed.
Still, there are five clear players that are going to play pivotal roles for Charlotte this season, and not all of them will be starters.
Let's take a look at the five Bobcats who will hopefully lead this team to a much improved season.
Ben Gordon starts our list of pivotal players for the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2012-13 season.
Acquired in a trade that sent the useless Corey Maggette (albeit with an expiring contract) to the Detroit Pistons, Gordon brings something no other Bobcat was able to boast last year—a consistent three-point shot.
The 'Cats also received a future first round pick from Detroit, so that's another win in my book for the Bobcats, despite Gordon's hefty contract.
Gordon was paid to be a scorer in Detroit, where he ended up being the sixth man, similar to the position he'll play in Charlotte. The difference between the Pistons and the Bobcats will be how Gordon is utilized.
The reason Gordon's production dipped (aside from decreased playing time) wasn't because he's lost his ability to score. He can still blow the scoreboard up when he takes shots. The problem with Gordon in Detroit was that it seemed like the Pistons didn't want him to take many shots.
Gordon shoots well from the field, especially from three-point land. Coming off the bench, giving the Bobcats anywhere from 26-30 minutes (on top of occasional starts), he could become a huge asset and a major scorer.
The Bobcats will encourage Gordon to shoot. They want to open the court up for players like Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and others who do their best work by driving to the rim and shooting from mid-range.
Gordon will be a massive addition for the Bobcats this season.
Byron Mullens is one of my favorite players on this squad.
I'm a pretty intense NBA 2K13 fan, and I was sorely disappointed that that the good folks at 2K Sports don't agree that Mullens is poised for a fantastic year.
Mullens will almost definitely split time between center and power forward, though from what I've seen he's better suited for the latter.
His play in summer league, training camp and preseason has been remarkable—easily the brightest spot in the frontcourt. He's bulked up, which was his major issue as a big man in the NBA.
Mullens maintains a soft jumper, including from three-point land, but is a soft rebounder and not physical enough to get in on the boards.
Most of his stats in the preseason and summer league seem to prove that he's worked hard on his post game, his rebounding and his three-point shot, making him one of the most dangerous weapons on the floor for the Bobcats.
I'm not saying he's the next Dirk Nowitzki, but I am saying that the Bobcats only had to surrender a second round pick for a talent that was being wildly underutilized with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Don't be surprised to see Mullens leading the way in scoring for the 'Cats if he's given the appropriate minutes.
Gerald Henderson was named co-captain of the team (along with the "coach in a jersey" Matt Carroll), and I think he should be the starting shooting guard despite the acquisition of the aforementioned Ben Gordon.
Henderson was Charlotte's best player last year, which on such a bad team might not be saying much, but when you take away the overall disaster of the Bobcats' season, Henderson really shone. He would have been great wherever he played.
Henderson is extremely athletic, thrives on cutting to the rim and taking mid-range jumpers. He plays excellent (and often overlooked) defense on the other side of the court, and he is a motivational leader.
Henderson could have given in to the overwhelming disaster of 2011-12, but he kept his head held high, and proved that he wasn't the lottery bust everyone thought he was.
As captain, Hendo is now the leader. He's going to be the guy they go to in tough situations. He's going to shoulder the blame for bad losses. He is responsible for leading a young bunch of rascals to a decent season.
And he can do it.
I know I just said Mullens might lead the way in scoring for the 'Cats, but if Hendo's three-point shot has improved like he says it has, then he suddenly becomes a player capable of 20+ points per game, not to mention solid rebounding and defense.
He is a huge asset, and I really hope the Bobcats stick with him to start this season.
NBA 2K13 absolutely loves Kemba Walker. At my last save he was averaging over 20 points and 8 assists per game, and was the run away favorite to win Most Improved Player of the Year.
We can only hope that 2K's love for Kemba translates to real life success.
So far, after extensive analysis from summer league, training camp and preseason basketball, I must say that Kemba is definitely improving. Most notably, and probably most importantly as a point guard, his court vision is significantly better than it was last season.
After being thrust into a starting role far too early, Walker was forced to pick up the ball and go. He had no court vision, he didn't know when to pass, and he didn't know how to create plays. His field goal percentage of 36.6 percent is not proof that he is a bad shooter, just proof that he needs to take better shots.
And from what I've seen—so far, so good.
With Ramon Sessions waiting to pounce on the starting job, Kemba will need to be on top of his game unless he wants to start every game coming off the bench.
If that is the case, and if Walker's improvements don't translate to the regular season, this is going to be a much more difficult year than we'd like.
But I am an optimistic Bobcats fan, and I love what I've seen from Kemba so far. It all starts with the point guard, and I think the 'Cats have found a long term solution for the first time in franchise history.
This was the obvious choice at No. 1.
The Bobcats drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to have someone to build around. It remains to be seen if the young man of only 19 years can become a franchise player. But what is obvious is that MKG has the work ethic and raw talent to be what the Bobcats need.
Sure, his jumper needs work. We've heard it a thousand times. We know that he scores most of his points at the rim, and we know he prefers to make plays rather than finish them.
But is that so bad? On a team that has become much more dangerous offensively, I say no.
MKG will not lead the Bobcats in any statistical category, but he will do well in all of them. You can expect him to score around 15 points, grab six to eight rebounds, dish out three or four assists and steal the ball twice a game.
He will play relentless, non-stop defense to prevent opponents from scoring, and you'd better believe that whoever is matched up against MKG at small forward will have a hard time offensively. MKG's intensity on the defensive end should help balance out his perceived difficulties on offense.
Head coach Mike Dunlap's new up-tempo, aggressive style of play should fit Kidd-Gilchrist well, as he can finish in transition as good or better than anyone. MKG is going to provide some incredibly exciting moments at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Kidd-Gilchrist will prove to be the glue that holds this team together. He will be the cornerstone around which this team builds to work their way out from the depths of the conference.
And while he probably won't win Rookie of the Year, MKG is exactly what Charlotte needed in the draft, and exactly what they need for the future.