The Charlotte Bobcats are a much-improved team, but the fact is their improvement came in a season after owner Michael Jordan's team finished with the worst win percentage in NBA history in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, winning just seven of 66 games.
The Bobcats closed last season by losing their final 23 games, and the team wasn't even fortunate enough to have that disaster aid them in landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Instead, Jordan was forced to select second after Anthony Davis was off the board.
Prior to the start of this season, Davis was thought to be the only franchise talent of the 2012 class, and the fact that No. 6 overall pick Damian Lillard has proven to be another such talent has only increased the pain for a Bobcats team that just can't seem to ever nab the right guy.
What did the Charlotte Bobcats walk away with from 2012 NBA Draft?
A lot of Bobcat fans are hoping that the guy they did opt for is at least a player who can be featured in the rebuilding effort. Given Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's versatility, length and high basketball IQ/instincts, he should be able to be an effective starter at the very minimum.
MKG's supreme upside could be similar to that of Scottie Pippen, but the Bobcats aren't banking on the former Kentucky Wildcat on ever eclipsing Pippen's stature.
More realistically, the hope is that Kidd-Gilchrist continues to progress and become at least a No. 3 option when Charlotte reaches its fruition, whenever that may be.
MKG has averaged modest numbers in his first full pro season, but he is just 19. He is averaging 12.5 points, eight rebounds, one steal and one block in 36 minutes per game. The Bobcats he he can become a more prolific scorer, and that he can extend his range to the three-point arc.
Kidd-Gilchrist's 45.5 percent field goal shooting is about average for an NBA two-guard, but his 22-percent shooting from three-point range is inexcusable, and because today's era has become so heavily dependent on the three-pointer, it's a weapon MKG will be wise to develop and hone.
His potential to be a defensive stopper is fairly well established already, but his attention to detail and his work ethic is what could potentially make the selection of Kidd-Gilchrist pay off.
The Bobcats would take Lillard without blinking if the draft were done again today, but the Blazers' floor general heralded from a mid-major NCAA program in Weber State.
Jordan has not proven himself to be a very good talent scout and the concept of striking gold with Lillard would have run contrary to his past track record considering that Jordan has selected the likes of Kwame Brown, who is widely considered to be one of the worst No. 1 overall selections in league history.
Jordan will have to put his resources to full use this summer because the 2013 draft class is said to be one of the weakest "in decades", according to what Ric Bucher, the NBA Insider for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, told me that NBA GMs had told him.
Fortunately for the Bobcats and other rebuilding teams, the 2014 draft crop will be the exact inverse of that and could be as top-heavy in talent as the 2003 class, which produced the Big Three for the Miami Heat as well as former Denver Nuggets' top pick, Carmelo Anthony, within the first five selections of the draft.
However, the Bobcats have to look at ways of improving beyond striking draft-lottery gold. Their 2011 first-round selections of Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo are both coming along nicely, but there are fears that Walker could potentially be nothing more than an updated version of Ben Gordon, who the 'Cats are trying to rid themselves of as soon as possible.
What Does Kemba Walker Bring to the Table?
At just 6'1", Walker has no choice but to develop as a point guard in the league. At UConn, he was able to get away with playing either backcourt slot because it was the NCAA and physical shooting guards are small forwards or power forwards.
The NBA presents an entire host of defensive problems for guys like Walker who are accustomed to covering players of similar stature.
Walker's playmaking abilities are merely average, too, and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.36-to-1 leaves a lot to be desired if the Bobcats are going to make him their starting point guard of the future.
With the trends the league has seen over the last several seasons, though, the emphasis on perimeter play puts a guy like Walker at a premium.
Walker can create off the dribble very well and he scores in bunches. He averages 18.3 points and 36 minutes per game, indicating that even on a bad Bobcats team, Walker is capable of getting quality shots, hitting them and posting decent scoring numbers in lopsided Bobcats' losses.
The infamously bad Bobcats provid an odd looking glass for evaluating talents like those of Walker. Would Walker ultimately perform better on a good team as a sixth/seventh man type, or is he really showing the best he's capable of by serving as the primary option on one of the league's worst two teams?
Can Bismack Biyombo develop his offense to mirror his talents as a defensive stopper?
Bismack Biyomobo was Jordan's attempt to hit a home run, and the jury is still out on whether his effort will ultimately be successful.
The African-born centers who come into the league are typically raw and they end up going one of two ways—either ending up as legendary defensive presences like Dikembe Mutombo or failing to develop and out of the league or entirely irrelevant after a few seasons like former Supersonics' lottery pick Saer Sene or the Bobcats' DeSagana Diop.
So far, Biyombo appears to be on course to become a very good defensive fourth or fifth man. He has blocked 1.8 shots per game over 142 NBA games and has had 21 games with three blocks or more. Biyombo changes shots and protects the rim, which is one of the few areas in which the Bobcats excelled this season.
Charlotte finished No. 6 in the league in blocked shots per game (5.9), and the 6'9" Biyombo is the primary reason, blocking nearly a third of the team's rejections.
It's Biyombo's offense that has lingered far behind. He averages 51.9 percent on his field goal attempts from five feet and within, but shoots a dreadful 28.8 percent from five-to-nine feet out. It only gets worse as the distance increases as BB hit just 25 percent from 10-14 feet, though he hasn't stepped out of his comfort zone much.
He has attempted just 36 field goals from 10-feet and further, and he's 10-of-36 on those shots. It's going to take a while before he's comfortable casually banging mid-range jumpers. Biyombo still must improve his footwork, confidence and achieve a higher level of comfort with the ball in his hands.
There isn't going to be a vast scoring increase without a lot work on his game. Biyombo averages just six points per 36 minutes, a rate of scoring production actually down from his rookie season when he averaged eight points.
What path will the careers of Walker and Biyombo go?
The Bobcats have three pretty good young players, but none of them are guys that GMs would say are players who could, and should, be considered franchise cornerstones.
Walker is a very good scorer and shooter with instincts that could enable him to average 20 points per game in the future, but what does he bring outside of his scoring and average playmaking abilities?
Is Walker the kind of player who could ever lead a team to a title as their starting point guard? That is still unclear, but if Walker fails to improve in his decision-making and learn from his rookie mistakes (he hasn't been any more immune to them than any other rookie) he'll find himself following a similar fate to his Connecticut predecessor, Ben Gordon.
Gordon started out hot in his first few seasons in the league, but he never expanded his game and eventually became just a specialist. Avoiding that fate is something that could help Walker take Charlotte to the playoffs at some point.
However, the idea of starting a 6'1" shooting guard at the point just never seems to equate to a championship daydream when entertained, although it does when Allen Iverson dances into the picture, but maybe it shouldn't then either because Iverson never won a ring.
Charlotte has a lot of question marks like that surrounding Walker, and Biyombo's label as a project player makes him an enigma and talent that even the best scouts could never accurately project as an NBA player. African-born big men are often worth rolling the dice on, but it's too early at this point to say that the Congo native is anything more than a very poor man's Ben Wallace.
The noticeable detail is that Biyombo was a high lottery pick (No. 7 overall) while Wallace went undrafted and had to work to earn the minutes Biyombo has just been given.
While Biyombo's path is exponentially easier than the one Big Ben forged for himself, that doesn't ultimately ensure that he'll be any better or worse than the Pistons' legend. The similarities between their defensive styles and their physiques are clear, but a topical comparison between Biyombo and Wallace isn't going to quickly explain what Charlotte's true hope for Biyombo is anyway.
Jordan and his panel would love to believe that he's going to be a solid double-double guy who is capable of functioning well within any given NBA offense. That adjustment period, however, is always longer for foreign-born players so Bobcat fans will hear the same "remain patient" refrain that has become nauseating for those fans of rebuilding teams.
As laconic and simple as that dictum may seem, staying patient is really all 'Cats fans have at this point. They've witnessed their squad go from being one of the worst in NBA history to just one of the worst in a single given season.
Really, how poor are these Bobcats?
The Bobcats have ranked third-to-last in offensive rating (101.4) and were last in defensive rating (111.6) this season.
If a team is playing horribly on both ends of the court, common logic dictates that they'll amass a record similar to Charlotte's 2012-13 season, which will be either a 20-win campaign or a 21-win one.
The Cats close out the season on April 17 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Charlotte has won two straight for only the fourth time this season.
A win over Kyrie Irving's Cavs would close the season on a good note for Charlotte as a third consecutive win would tie their season-high win streak of three games.
It's small victories like these that fans and players alike begin to play for with the postseason an impossibility.
Winning quarters, perfecting certain plays and sets are all things that coaches of rebuilding teams tend to focus on. Bobcats fans are vexed by the team's ongoing struggles need to realize that it's all one step at a time.
The Cats have MKG, Biyombo and Walker, and by the time the elite crop of rookie struts out in 2014, Charlotte will hope to add one of the best to its fold to complement the three Bobcats who hold trade value.
This Bobcats features memorable players like Jeff Adrien, Diop, Brendan Haywood, Josh McRoberts, Tyrus Thomas, B.J. Mullens and a few other guys whose names would only be recognized by devoted hoops freaks. Of that exclusive list of players, not one could be a rotation player on a playoff contending team.
The fact that all of those guys are on the Bobcats is all you need to know about why this team has been the league's worst over the last two seasons.
Gerald Henderson and Ramon Sessions are both quality guards, but Henderson is an unrestricted free agent this summer after MJ declined to offer Henderson the team option. They're rotation players on even good teams, but neither is the kind of player who Jordan is going to sit back and consider himself blessed to have been able to obtain.
"Tell us there is a light at the end of the tunnel..."
All it really takes is one big hit by a GM to turn a team around and the no-brainer decisions that will await the top teams selecting in the 2014 draft could potentially change the perception of Jordan as a poor talent scout and inept GM.
Just being able to say he drafted Andrew Wiggins and he became the closest thing to MJ's own sidekick in Pippen would be enough of an accomplishment to erase the disappointment and humiliation of the Kwame debacle over a decade ago (Yes, it's clear to me that Pippen has been used twice as a player comparison for both Kidd-Gilchrist and Wiggins. It happens).
The Canadian-born Wiggins is just one of a host of players in the class who are said to have franchise talent. Wiggins and Chicago native Jabari Parker are the two frontrunners to be taken No. 1 overall, and the young swingmen are prototypical forwards of today's era.
The Bobcats will be fulfilled if they can snag Wiggins or Parker in 2014, and even if they don't, there may be five to eight more players in the draft who are all capable of making huge, and even immediate, impacts.
Jordan's decisions haven't yielded the best results to say the least, but he could have done a lot worse than his selections of Walker, Biyombo and Kidd-Gilchrist. The trio will give Charlotte the skeleton of a blueprint for their rebuilding plans, but the major pillars in the effort likely have yet to arrive.