Fielding one of their most complete rosters in recent memory, the Charlotte Bobcats have built their roster to be remotely competitive in Steve Clifford's first year at the helm.
Gerald Henderson is back after an uncertain offseason as a restricted free agent, Al Jefferson inked a three-year deal and Kemba Walker is still running things in Charlotte.
*All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
Bobcats 2012-13 Results
- 4th in Southeast Division
- 14th in Eastern Conference
- Did not make playoffs
One of their top scorers from a year ago, Gerald Henderson, followed up a breakout season as a member of the Bobcats with some consistency in regards to scoring. After averaging 2.6 and 9.6 points, respectively, over his first two years in the league, Hendo dropped in 15 points per game in 2012.
He continued his standout performance throughout last season, averaging 15 points a night once again, but it was his shooting from long range that really made the difference. For one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, it should be noted that Henderson shot 33 percent from distance last season, the first time in his career he shot over 23 percent from three-point land.
Off the court, Mike Dunlap's first season in Charlotte proved to be a massive disappointment. After saying all the right things and being praised as a "teacher," via Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the Bobcats fired Dunlap following a 21-61 record. He reportedly had a spat with Ben Gordon, as chronicled by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, and owner Michael Jordan wouldn't commit to Dunlap at a season-ticket holders meeting, discussed by Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. Now Clifford hopes to change the fortunes for Charlotte.
Arguably one of the biggest flaws in last year's team was frontcourt defense, something the Bobcats might have actually gotten worse at. Jefferson demands minutes along with the $40 million he's owed and this was a major talking point for the skeptics of Big Al's big deal. He doesn't have great feet and his primary struggles are in the pick-and-roll game.
Cody Zeller was designated as a soft player for his size upon entering the draft and Josh McRoberts isn't overwhelming at anything, but he's pretty average as a defender.
Brendan Haywood's injury opens the door for Bismack Biyombo to step in immediately and help out behind Jefferson at center and while he's Charlotte's best big defender, his lack of contribution to offense limits his ability to play regular minutes. Whether the 'Cats can succeed at putting together a defensive front line remains something to keep an eye on heading into the regular season.
Charlotte finally gave up on Tyrus Thomas last season, leading the Bobcats to use their amnesty clause and cut their losses now. They also allowed fellow power forward Byron Mullens to walk in free agency, instead opting to build a competitive starting lineup.
First, the Bobcats drafted Zeller with the No. 4 pick in the draft, opting the outside-inside game he possesses despite concerns about his ability to bang inside with NBA-caliber talent. Then, they made a massive splash in free agency, signing Jefferson to be a stabilizing force inside.
It was clear from the first week of free agency that general manager Rich Cho is getting closer to his goal of stepping back to the postseason with what is now a cohesive starting lineup with a solid veteran and numerous talented, young players.
Key Additions: Al Jefferson, C (three years, $40.5 million); Cody Zeller, PF (fourth pick in NBA draft)
Key Losses: Byron Mullens, PF (two years, $2 million with Los Angeles Clippers); Tyrus Thomas, PF (amnestied)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's shot
The only knock on MKG's game is his lack of a jumper. His shot is flawed and he's worked tirelessly with assistant coach Mark Price this offseason in an attempt to alter his technique. It's not something that will be fixed quickly, but some semblance of progress throughout the season would provide insight that Price's routine is working.
Throughout the preseason, Kidd-Gilchrist has shown the confidence to take what the defense gives him. He's shooting the ball and working to get consistency in his rhythm. That's really all you can ask of the young wing as he continues to develop his game.
Ben Gordon or Jeffery Taylor?
Taylor was the easy pick to be Charlotte's sixth man for the upcoming season, but Gordon's three-point shooting has thrown his name into the conversation of who should garner more of the minutes.
In five preseason contests, Gordon knocked down eight treys, including four against Dallas as he dropped in a team-high 22 points. Taylor has only hit two three-pointers in five games, but he's offered more versatility as a complete player.
For Charlotte, they'll have to decide if the spacing is good enough despite Taylor's inability to knock down long-range shots or if they need Gordon not only to hit three-pointers, but to take defenders out to the arc.
Can Bismack Biyombo flourish in his role?
Entering the season Biyombo was stuck behind Jefferson, and likely Haywood as well, on the depth chart, limited to whatever minutes he could scrap up. Now, with Jefferson dealing with a sprained ankle, he's shown growth with his back against the wall.
Since Jefferson went down, Biyombo has knocked down 50 percent of his shots for 28 points and a whopping 52 rebounds in five games, via ESPN.com. While learning from Jefferson and assistant coach Patrick Ewing behind the scenes, it appears Biyombo is beginning to figure his game out.
Once Jefferson returns though, whether Biyombo can remain a consistent option on both ends of the court remains to be seen.
Depth Chart Breakdown and Grades
|PG||Kemba Walker||Ramon Sessions||Jannero Pargo|
|SG||Gerald Henderson||Ben Gordon|
|SF||Michael Kidd-Gilchrist||Jeffery Taylor||James Southerland|
|PF||Cody Zeller||Josh McRoberts||Anthony Tolliver||Jeff Adrien|
|C||Al Jefferson||Bismack Biyombo||Brendan Haywood (injured)|
Head coach Steve Clifford made it a priority to get three point guards on the roster, discussing this need during summer league to the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell.
"You have to have a third point guard. If your team’s not organized in this league, you have no chance to play well,” Clifford said at summer-league practice.
Kemba Walker is developing into a top-notch point guard. In his second season, Walker honed in almost every aspect of his game. He became a more effective shooter and boosted his assist numbers as a true point guard should. Behind their budding guard, Ramon Sessions had one of the best seasons of his career, notching a career-high 14 points per game.
As their third ball-handler, Jannero Pargo represents another veteran presence, but also the ability to knock down the three-point shot. Both Pargo and Sessions are solid options behind Walker, but how the team fares this season and how much of a step forward they take will rely on how Walker steps into his third year.
Hendo is coming off a contract year, where he put on back-to-back seasons of averaging 15 points per night. He'll be out to prove that type of performance isn't a fluke.
Behind him will likely be Ben Gordon of Jeffery Taylor. Taylor has the size and skill set to play shooting guard or small forward, but if Charlotte switches Sessions down the 2, Taylor would likely swing to the 3. Gordon is a bit older, but his ability to shoot from range gives the Bobcats another look at the position.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a do-it-all player who just can't find his shooting stroke. His jumper still has a hitch and Charlotte's spacing really struggles due to his lack of a threat as a shooter.
Taylor could see some time behind MKG as he's a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands, but a bit of a streaky shooter. James Southerland, a camp invitee, is unlikely to make the roster, but he's another solid three-point shooter who went undrafted out of Syracuse.
Zeller is largely unproven after being selected by the Bobcats in the most recent draft. He's shown through summer league and the preseason that he's intelligent enough to find his spots and potentially succeed in the NBA, but the regular season is a much different animal than the games that don't count. He'll be met with much stiffer competition and it's relatively unclear if he truly has the tools to be an everyday starter.
McRoberts provided a spark to the 'Cats last season and will continue to be a stabilizing force for a young team. Tolliver is another three-point threat and he's an efficient rebounder. Adrien saw some time with Charlotte last year, thus he'll likely provide depth and an extra man at practice.
After signing Jefferson during the offseason, the Bobcats front line looks quite competitive. He's an outstanding scorer on the block and will prove to be a leader on and off the court. His instruction to bigs like Zeller and Biyombo already seems to be making an impact in the way they approach and play the game.
Biyombo looks like a much more confident player when receiving the ball and he's still a monster on the boards. He'll provide depth at the position, but will likely slide down to pair with Jefferson as a defensive specialist/power forward. Haywood, when healthy, is also a decent option off the bench at the center position.
* For more detailed player rankings check out B/R's NBA season preview power rankings
What to Watch For
With Jefferson and Walker roaming the court, the Bobcats should be fun to watch in 2013-14. The Bobcats' core is one year older, which means they should begin developing their roles as complementary pieces.
The Bobcats roster is overflowing with young, budding players, where nearly any player on the roster could represent a breakout candidate.
Two seasons ago Henderson stepped out of his shell and had a big year, last season Walker honed his skills as a second-year pro and this year it'll be Taylor. During summer league Taylor developed a confidence about his game that has translated into the preseason and should into the regular season as well.
He's got great size, can handle the ball and take his scoring to the rim. If he gets the minutes he should as a sixth man off the bench, Taylor should move into a scorer's role as a reserve.
Prediction: Jeffery Taylor
Signed to be the focal point of the offense, Al Jefferson will undoubtedly be the MVP of the upcoming season. He's a stout offensive post-up player and his ability to draw double-teams will open the floor for other shooters.
If he can develop more of a defensive presence, pairing his talent alongside Patrick Ewing's mentoring, Jefferson could help the youthful Bobcats turn the corner.
Prediction: Al Jefferson
Most Disappointing Player
With high expectations placed on the team as a whole, any player not stepping up in what is becoming a transitional year could be viewed as having a disappointing season.
MKG is the most likely player to be a disappointment for this reason only. He won't all of a sudden have a jumper and he's not going to turn it on from distance from Day 1, but fans won't have a ton of patience with the second-year player.
Prediction: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Player Most Likely to be Traded
Gordon seems like a good fit in Clifford's system early in the season, but his issues with Dunlap last season cast a dark cloud over an impressionable team. He's played the good guy thus far and is prepared to step into a larger role with the 'Cats offense as a three-point threat.
Prediction: Ben Gordon
Charlotte's inability to build a successful team is one reason they haven't been able to sustain a rivalry. Generally on the wrong side of a game's outcome, the Bobcats currently don't have one go-to rival despite playing in the hotly contested Southeast division.
While the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks are currently much better squads than Charlotte, and the Washington Wizards seem destined for that 8-seed in the East, the Orlando Magic make the most sense as a rival. With Victor Oladipo as their franchise guard opposite of the Bobcats' Walker, these two young teams could build a fierce competition as they grow into potential contenders.
Prediction: Orlando Magic
Best-Case, Worst-Case Scenarios with Predicted W-L Record
For the Bobcats, it's been a long rebuild to get to where they are. On the cusp of building a complete roster, Charlotte can only hope their most recent draft selection (Zeller) can pan out the way Walker, Henderson, MKG and Taylor have thus far. For the first time since 2009, Charlotte fans should have high hopes for a strong season.
Jefferson stays healthy, Biyombo continues his strong offensive play and MKG begins to show signs that Price's coaching is doing the trick. Charlotte still lands a top-5 pick in the draft and their depth is even stronger heading into 2014-15.
Henderson reverts to his old form and MKG's shot actually gets worse. Their bad luck continues when the ping pong balls fall the wrong way, landing them out of the first five picks despite having another lowly sub-20-win season.
If Clifford can truly focus on this team's individual strengths while hiding their weaknesses, the Bobcats could surprise some of their pundits. Jefferson is the real deal with the Bobcats and his presence alone is a game-changer. Henderson should continue his consistent efforts on offense, Walker has all the tools to be a successful NBA point guard and Zeller's basketball I.Q. should make up for his lack of strength inside.
Prediction: 31-51, 11th in the East and fourth in the Southeast division
I'll give the 'Cats a few extra wins than I did in my training camp preview simply because they seem to be jelling better and Biyombo has been a refreshing surprise with his production thus far.