In their first season under Steve Clifford, Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Bobcats will look to take another step toward the playoffs.
With a rebuilt roster of inexperienced talent and veteran competitors, the Bobcats are firmly focused on being competitive for the first time since 2009-10, when Charlotte notched its lone playoff appearance.
Bobcats 2012-13 Results
- 4th in Southeast Division
- 14th in Eastern Conference
- Did not make playoffs
Key Stats: The Good and Bad
Charlotte wasn't great at any of the key areas last season, but it knew how to draw contact and get to the line. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Bobcats, with 1,546 attempts, made the fourth-most free throws in the NBA last season.
As a team with no real threat from beyond the arc, this was a necessary component in order to stay competitive.
On a sour note, it's true that the Bobcats have many flaws in their game. One that they didn't improve upon over the summer is points allowed, where they ranked 29th in the NBA last year, giving up 102.7 per game, per ESPN.com.
By signing offensively-minded players (we'll get to them later) to control the frontcourt, they're giving almost no thought to gaps on the defensive end, especially in the paint.
Biggest Storyline Entering Camp
As the Bobcats enter a new season with heightened expectations, the biggest question mark remains how the frontcourt can attack defensively.
For the most part, Charlotte used some combination of Bismack Biyombo, Josh McRoberts, Byron Mullens and Brendan Haywood last season at the power forward and center positions. With Mullens off to Los Angeles and Biyombo delegated to the bench, the 'Cats focused on upgrading the offense through the draft and free agency over the summer. They inked Al Jefferson to a massive deal, drafted Cody Zeller early in the first round and brought back McRoberts after a strong half of the year in Charlotte.
The problem for the Bobcats remains that whichever duo takes the starting position is defensively flawed. Jefferson is a bad rotational guy, Zeller enters the NBA realm with the "soft" label and McRoberts is simply an ordinary defender who has a pretty average skill set.
Another storyline to keep an eye out for through training camp and into the regular season is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's shot development. We've covered his work with assistant coach Mark Price from the end of last year through this year's summer league and we've seen what appears to be a renewed confidence in his jumper. For the 'Cats, they hope confidence is just the start of things and that he's able to reinvent his jumper.
It won't be an immediate impact, but by the end of the season, management will surely be looking for some semblance of growth in Kidd-Gilchrist's game.
Key Additions and Losses
Key Additions: Al Jefferson, C (three years, $40.5 million); Cody Zeller, PF (fourth pick in NBA Draft); Anthony Tolliver, PF (one year, $1.1 million)
Key Losses: Byron Mullens, PF (two years, $2 million); Tyrus Thomas (amnestied)
Biggest Addition: Al Jefferson
Without a doubt, Big Al legitimizes Charlotte's offensive attack, bringing a steady punch from the low post and giving consistent effort in the paint. He's a strong offensive player who helped lead Utah to a 43-39 record.
Jefferson is a big-time player. While he might have been overpaid a bit, he helps Michael Jordan shed the idea that the former player (now owner) won't spend to build a contender. Charlotte's new center brings a strong veteran presence and he adds the final piece to a roster of complementary players.
Biggest Loss: Byron Mullens
While losing Mullens is technically Charlotte's biggest loss of the offseason, it's relatively easy to overlook this roster move since they upgraded both frontcourt positions.
After two seasons in Oklahoma City, Mullens averaged more than 20 minutes a night with Charlotte, compiling an average of at least nine points and five rebounds, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Jefferson obviously fills this void and Mullens should be successful in a reserve role under Doc Rivers.
2013-14 Depth Chart
|PG||Kemba Walker||Ramon Sessions||Jannero Pargo|
|SG||Gerald Henderson||Ben Gordon||Abdul Gaddy||Troy Daniels|
|SF||Michael Kidd-Gilchrist||Jeffery Taylor||James Southerland|
|PF||Cody Zeller||Bismack Biyombo||Josh McRoberts||Jeff Adrien||Anthony Tolliver|
|C||Al Jefferson||Brendan Haywood||Patrick O'Bryant||Rod Higgins|
*Depth chart includes nonguaranteed players and training camp invites.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Cody Zeller vs. Josh McRoberts
Originally, it looked like Biyombo would at least have the opportunity to fight for his spot in the starting rotation. According to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, it seems Biyombo isn't even in the conversation.
The power forward spot is up for grabs between rookie Cody Zeller, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, and veteran Josh McRoberts, re-signed this offseason. Clifford wants to see how Zeller and McRoberts fit with the four starters. But he’s not coy in saying sooner or later Zeller has to excel for this team to reach its potential.
Obviously Zeller is the young, up-and-coming rookie, but it's tough to ignore McRoberts' impact on the young Bobcats team last season.
If Charlotte wants to build confidence and ease Zeller along, they'll likely opt to start McRoberts early on. But if Zeller looks even close to comfortable running with the first team, Clifford shouldn't hesitate to insert him alongside Jefferson as an extremely cohesive offensive frontcourt.
Battling for a Roster Spot: James Southerland vs. Patrick O'Bryant vs. Troy Daniels
Realistically, the battle will be between Southerland and Daniels simply because we have no idea what kind of shape O'Bryant is in.
Southerland and Daniels both come from solid three-point careers in college, an area Charlotte really struggles in. Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer broke down Southerland's career stats, noting he was a 40 percent shooter from three-point land during his time at Syracuse.
Daniels, however, is a familiar face. After spending time with the Bobcats summer league team, he earned a training camp invite and brings his solid three-point shooting to the struggling Charlotte squad.
The Bobcats looked at a third center during their summer league stint and they'll potentially do it again during training camp when O'Bryant arrives in Charlotte. The former first-round pick will have a chance to reignite his NBA career after three seasons away from the league.
Biggest X-Factor: Gerald Henderson
As a restricted free agent, Henderson inked a three-year, $18 million deal (salary details provided by HOOPSWORLD.com).
Following his first two seasons of marginal success, Henderson turned into Charlotte's go-to guy. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he's averaged more than 15 points a game while hovering around the 45 percent range. If Henderson can make a similar leap in his three-point percentage as he did last year—hopping from 23 percent to 33 percent in one season—the Bobcats offensive spacing around the elbow won't be an issue.
He's a nice complement to point guard Kemba Walker and must continue to develop following his first big contract to guarantee growth within the Charlotte organization.
Best-case scenario: Henderson is the focal point of the backcourt on offense. Walker develops his game and finds a nice rhythm between himself and Henderson. In his fifth season, Henderson ups his scoring to 18-20 points a night and his three-point percentage skyrockets to 38 percent from the field.
Worst-case scenario: In classic Bobcats fashion, their big money is wasted on Henderson, who reverts to fewer than 10 points a night. His game clashes with Walker's and he puts too much of the offensive load on himself, giving fewer looks to a strong frontcourt of Zeller and Jefferson.
Bobcats Best-Case Scenario in 2013-14
Zeller develops his game at both ends of the floor, MKG debuts his new fluid shooting form and Jefferson fits in nicely, but the Bobcats still find a way to fall into the top 10 in next year's draft, allowing them to hold onto their pick.
Charlotte shows they have the building blocks for a contender and its young players all take a step forward.
Bobcats Worst-Case Scenario in 2013-14
Jefferson struggles with injuries, unable to display his durability expected of the newly-signed center. Zeller fizzles out and can't grasp the NBA defense. Walker takes a step back, along with Henderson. Despite all the talk this summer, MKG's shot is just as bad and he has no confidence in it. The Bobcats hit rock bottom, but somehow land the 11th pick in the NBA draft, forcing them to send it to Chicago.
Charlotte struggles with a tough start to the season, but they get on a roll thanks to the insertion of Zeller into the starting unit and a bench duo of McRoberts and Taylor sustaining leads off the bench. Jefferson is just as good with the Bobcats and Walker develops a nice pick-and-roll game with the big man. Henderson and MKG both take steps forward.
Prediction: 29-53, 12th in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the Southeastern Division.
With training camp and the preseason right around the corner, it's a good time to be a basketball fan. For the Bobcats, they can only go up from here and if the pieces fall in the right places, they could have a good, young nucleus moving forward.