If a documentary was made concerning the Charlotte Bobcats' first 10 years of existence, it might be titled A Decade of Misery or, perhaps, The Un-Luck of the Draw.
Through this year, the Bobcats have had nine picks in the NBA draft lottery. Unfortunately for them, they have not yet been rewarded with the top overall pick. And, of the 19 players drafted by Charlotte since the franchise's inception, seven—including three first-round picks—are no longer in the league.
The Bobcats are a paradox. They are one of the few teams who believe strongly in building success through the draft but fail to demonstrate great skill or intuition when making draft selections.
This year, Charlotte's options are limited, having only one, the No. 4 overall, draft pick.
The team believes in its young core of Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. However, the Bobcats are in dire need of consistency from three-point range. The most consistent long-range shooter on the team is Ben Gordon (38.7 percent), who is 30 years old and entering the final year of his contract.
The Bobcats are also desperate for quality post play. Theirs is a group of effective low-post role players, none of whom jump off the page.
Bobcats president of basketball operations Rod Higgins addressed the team's needs, "Our defense has got to get better. Perimeter shooting has to get better."
General manager Rich Cho also added, "Shooting, rebounding and we need to add depth."
Higgins and Cho have narrowed their list of candidates down to seven players: Nerlens Noel, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Jr., Ben McLemore, Alex Len, Anthony Bennett and Cody Zeller.
Given Charlotte's needs and the players who may potentially be available, we're going to look at the three best options for the No. 4 pick.
No. 1 - Nerlens Noel (Kentucky)
The possibility still exists, if only slight, that Nerlens Noel could slip to No. 4. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been sending out mixed signals for weeks, so it's hard to get a good feel for who they may draft at No. 1.
Some, like ESPN's Chad Ford, believe that Noel is the pick. However, if Cleveland takes either Len or Porter, both of whom have been tied to the Cavs and the No. 1 pick at some point in time this offseason, that could trigger a chain of events that would leave Noel still available.
Noel projects as the top prospect in this class based on analytics. His WARP (wins against replacement player) rating is highest among all incoming prospects.
At 6'11" in shoes with a 9'2" standing reach, Noel averaged nearly 10 rebounds (about seven defensive) and over four blocks and two steals per game, making him a defensive force to be reckoned with. Aside from his natural athleticism, at 19, he is the third-youngest player in the draft, leaving him plenty of time to grow into his full potential.
At present, he projects as a Larry Sanders type of defensive specialist to start. However, once healthy, he has the kind of athleticism that could allow him to become an offensive threat should he develop some post moves and a jump shot.
That being said, ESPN's Kevin Pelton used the SCHOENE projection system to calculate the best comparisons between this year's draft prospects and former college athletes. Noel draws favorable comparisons to Derrick Favors and Chris Bosh.
If he is, for some reason, available when the Bobcats are on the clock, there is no reason why they should pass on him.
No. 2 - Ben McLemore (Kansas)
In the likelihood that Noel is taken first, the odds that Indiana guard Victor Oladipo is taken soon thereafter increase—particularly because many coaches and GMs around the league are high on him due to his high motor and dedicated work ethic. That would leave Ben McLemore as the next best available shooting guard.
If available, McLemore would address one of the team's most urgent needs: perimeter shooting.
At 6'5", he has prototypical size for a scoring 2-guard. He has the best three-point shot in the draft, but he has yet to live up to his potential as a scorer, often struggling to create efficient shots for himself in one-on-one situations.
His less-than-stellar team workouts have caused some teams to approach him with caution, but the Bobcats' new head coach, Steve Clifford, who is a branch off of the Jeff Van Gundy coaching tree, might be just the guy capable of helping McLemore reach his potential.
McLemore's comparisons, by the same standard, are less encouraging: Daniel Gibson and Rashad McCants, among others.
No. 3 - Cody Zeller (Indiana)
In the event that Noel, Oladipo and McLemore are all gone, Zeller could be the pick.
Charlotte GM Cho is very high on Zeller.
That may be, in part, because he was the only prospect—among the seven on the Bobcats' list—who actually worked out for them. It could be because he has an NBA pedigree (his brother Tyler plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and his eldest brother Luke played a short stint with the Phoenix Suns, and their uncle, Al Eberhard, played four seasons with the Detroit Pistons).
However, in all reality, Cody Zeller has a great combination of size and athleticism that contribute to an overall excellent finesse post game.
Zeller's comparisons check out, too—both by the SCHOENE system and in the view of NBA scouts, most commonly being equated with a young Chris Bosh or LaMarcus Aldridge. Chad Ford has detailed some ways in which he may be better than the two NBA All-Star power forwards (subscription required).
Zeller actually has some advantages on Bosh and Aldridge. He's taller than both. His standing and max verticals (35.5 and 37.5 inches) are both considerably higher (Bosh 30 and 33 -- Aldridge 26.5 and 34). He was much faster in his lane agility (10.82 seconds) and sprint testing (3.15 seconds) at the combine (Bosh 11.8 and 3.3 seconds -- Aldridge 12.02 and 3.43 seconds). In short, he's taller and a quicker, a more explosive athlete than either player.
That being said, Zeller may be Charlotte's guy. It's just a matter of when and where they take him. While it may seem a bit high to take him at No. 4, there are a number of teams trying to trade up into the top five, including the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have the No. 9 pick.
Were I to rank these players in order by which is most likely, the list would go in reverse: Zeller, McLemore and then Noel.
It will be interesting to see how the draft plays out for Charlotte. Even with this being considered a relatively down year for the draft; this may be the year that the Bobcats walk away with a player with star potential.
Only time will tell which player is actually the one.
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