Charlotte Hornets

Final 1st-Half Player Power Rankings for Charlotte Bobcats

Justin HussongContributor IIIJanuary 9, 2014

Final 1st-Half Player Power Rankings for Charlotte Bobcats

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    The Charlotte Bobcats' hold on their playoff spot as we near the halfway point of the season seems anything but convincing.

    Prior to this campaign, as a Bobcats fan, you would likely be satisfied—dare I say ecstaticto be in the seventh slot in the Eastern Conference past the new year, right? The only problem is that a playoff spot in the East right now is basically a participation trophy.

    Nevertheless, Charlotte has displayed inspiring defense and endured some crippling injuries and offensive ineptitude. However, the bricks are starting to mount, and the defense is starting to revert back to the norm without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

    Teams like Brooklyn, New York, Detroit and Cleveland are on the Bobcats' heels and have more overall talent. The law of averages would suggest that at least one or two of those teams will put it together and make a second-half run to steal Charlotte's honor of being a first-round playoff appetizer for LeBron James.

    The Bobcats have lost six of seven games and have surrendered an average of 111.5 points in the new year, a far cry from the No. 2 defense they were sporting in 2013. It would be great for basketball and for owner Michael Jordan if this young group could get back to playing like it was early on and hang onto this playoff spot down the stretch, but it will become increasingly more difficult over time.

    Charlotte is still very much in limbo. An all-out tank is never out of the question with these guys, but for the time being, the Cats are still holding their ground at 15-21.

    Maybe that is what management was hoping for. What's one more gut-wrenching season anyway? The fanbase is immune to it at this point, and most people are probably still hoping for the team to land a young star in the draft to usher in the return of the Hornets era next season.

    Nevertheless, Charlotte's gritty hodgepodge of budding young stars and middling veteran castoffs has put together an admirable season so far. Steve Clifford will not let this bunch quit on the season like previous coaches have.

    Here are the final first-half player power rankings for the Bobcats.

     

    Note: All statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com, accurate as of Thursday, January 9.

15-11

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    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    15. James Southerland

    2013-14 Stats: Three minutes

    He played three minutes in one game. He took three shots. He didn't make any of them.

    That's pretty much it for James Southerland.

     

    14. Jannero Pargo

    2013-14 Stats: 3.0 points, 0.3 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 rebounds

    Pargo has seen the floor in a whopping six games this year for just 27 total minutes. He remains buried deep on Clifford's depth chart and holds little value outside of being an emergency point guard.

     

    13. Chris Douglas-Roberts

    2013-14 Stats: 5.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.3 steals

    CDR was called up from the D-League around mid-December to infuse a little offense into a team lacking firepower. For the most part, he has done that in his brief 10-game stint up to this point.

    Douglas-Roberts has seen an uptick in minutes due to his scoring ability. He has made 48.7 percent of his shots through 10 games, including a 20-point outburst against Portland on just eight attempts.

    For a team so devoid of offensive punch, he is a strong candidate to continue fighting his way into more minutes. The team needs a guy like him.

     

    12. Jeff Adrien

    2013-14 Stats: 2.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.7 blocks

    Adrien has seen a decreased role with Al Jefferson's return to health and with Josh McRoberts establishing himself more and more. He rarely gets off the pine now, but he produced with regularity early on when his number was called.

    With young and inexperienced guys down low like Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo, Adrien is the perfect complement to have in the wings, should any situation prove to be too far beyond their pedigree. Adrien is tough as nails and a stout defender on the block.

    He actually ranks fourth on the team with a player efficiency rating of 16.0, despite playing just 12 minutes a game.

     

    11. Jeffrey Taylor

    2013-14 Stats: 8.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals

    Jeff Taylor's ruptured Achilles put a damper on the Cats' positive start to the season. He didn't light up the stat sheets, but he was a pivotal role player whom the team has missed dearly.

    The team is 2-7 without the pleasure of his services since the injury. Since he has gone down, no one has stepped up to fill his slot. The Bobcats are weak on the perimeter even with him in the lineup, so without him, they are ailing.

10. Ben Gordon

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    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 5.6 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.1 rebounds, 0.6 steals

    It is nothing we haven't heard before, but Ben Gordon may finally have worn out his welcome in Charlotte.

    Hoopsworld.com's Alex Kennedy has pegged him as being on the trading block once again, via Sulia.

    The Gordon-Bobcats marriage has been shaky from the start. It is hard to even make sense of at this point. The blame could be placed on either party, as Gordon has a long track record as a top-notch scorer, yet he is playing horribly this season.

    Is he underperforming due to a decline in skill, or is he just going through the motions and waiting for a trade? Has Steve Clifford just not figured out a way to make him a pivotal part of the offense?

    For a team that is last in the NBA in three-point shooting, it is puzzling that a career 40 percent long-range shooter is just rotting away on the end of the bench. Gordon has attempted 23 threes this entire season and has put up just 1.4 per game, less than half of any other season in his career.

    His biggest trade asset is his expiring $13.2 million contract. That being said, it is disheartening to see such a promising player turn into an afterthought. There is a Gordon-sized vacancy on this roster just begging to be filled, and yet he hasn't shown the willingness or ability to fill it.

    Put a vintage 2006 Gordon on this team, and the Cats would be a threat in the East. There has to still be a large portion of that talent in his 30-year-old body, but the chances of it resurfacing in Charlotte grow smaller by the day.

9. Anthony Tolliver

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    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 4.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists

    If Anthony Tolliver is your starting small forward on any given night, you need help.

    Sadly, a broken hand and a ruptured Achilles have made that a harsh reality in Charlotte.

    To his credit, Tolliver has done a solid job this season. His biggest contribution has been his uncharacteristic 42 percent three-point shooting. Since he has seen a bigger role due to injuries, he has started knocking down outside shots with regularity.

    He shot 48.6 percent from deep in December and has kept it rolling into the new year. He does not get enough credit for keeping this ship afloat. There is no telling where the Cats would be without his unheralded performances in lieu of Kidd-Gilchrist's and Taylor's injuries.

    What Tolliver has done this year in Charlotte has been a reinvention of sorts. He has always been a guy who is willing to do the little things for a team. He has never been a star, but he is that guy who gives the team what it needs, and this team needs threes.

    That is why 77 percent of his overall shot attempts this year have been from beyond the arc. He knows his strengths as well, as the majority of those attempts have come from the right wing and corner, where he cans over 50 percent of his treys.

    Few players represent Clifford's mentality more so than Tolliver. He is what he is, and even though his numbers don't jump off the page, he has been a critical member of this team and will continue to be exactly that.

8. Cody Zeller

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 5.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.5 steals

    Inconsistency is the name of the game so far for the No. 4 draft pick. Jordan turned heads by drafting Zeller that high, and so far he has not brought back a return on that investment.

    No 7-footer should be shooting 36 percent. He showed some signs of life during December, when it looked like he was turning a corner, but his solid performances are typically followed by clunkers.

    Zeller's best game so far came in late December against Milwaukee, where he logged 12 points, seven boards and four assists. He followed it up with an 0-of-5 effort with four turnovers.

    Ideally, he should be filling a lot of the scoring void. The power forward position is just begging for him to break out right alongside Al Jefferson. Charlotte will not see a bright future as long as Josh McRoberts is bombing up three triples a game.

    Fast-break buckets and scoring from the power forward position are two huge weaknesses in Charlotte. Zeller has to fill those holes.

    If Charlotte needs anyone to step up, it is the rookie. He has the most potential for a breakout of anybody on the roster and is leaving fans pleading for more.

7. Bismack Biyombo

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 3.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks

    Bismack Biyombo has left much to be desired this season. On one hand, he is shooting 63.4 percent from the field, but on the other hand, he has attempted just seven shots outside of the paint all season.

    Has he taken the easy route and just avoided being an offensive threat? The percentages are nice, but he hasn't shown any offensive development from years past.

    On the bright side, he is still just 21. He has plenty of room to develop, but he has shown almost no offensive improvement at all, and there is little reason to believe that will change.

    Additionally, he has regressed on defense this year as well. Biyombo has been a subpar one-on-one defender and has seen a decline in his blocks. He has not given Clifford much of a reason to find more minutes for him.

    Clifford has been more inclined to squeeze what he can out of Zeller and McRoberts since they offer much more offensive prowess than Biyombo, who is limited to garbage buckets and little else.

6. Josh McRoberts

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 7.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.9 steals

    McRoberts has put together an underrated season for a team very much in need of one. He has been the jack-of-all-trades player that Clifford has craved.

    Charlotte struggles with ball movement, perimeter shooting and ball security. Without McBob, who knows just how bad they would be at those things?

    McRoberts is just 0.6 assists per game away from leading the team. How crazy is that? His overall numbers could be better if he was not playing so far out of his element, but for what Clifford has him doing, his production has been impressive so far.

    The Duke product has shot more threes than one would like, but he has at least been respectable at 33 percent. Someone on the roster has to shoot them, especially since Gordon has been glued to the bench.

    While he is second on the team in assists, he is eighth in turnovers. He is playing so far out of his comfort zone for the benefit of the team by handling the ball so much, yet he is doing it with incredible efficiency.

    For Charlotte to continue its eye-opening start to the season, McRoberts must remain involved in the offense at a high usage rate.

5. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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    Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Stats: 9.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.6 steals

    It was impressive how long Charlotte kept it together in wake of MKG's injury, but once Taylor went down as well, it was just too many bullets to dodge. Luckily, good news is on the horizon, and MKG may finally be on his way back.

    With their recent swoon, the Bobcats are desperate for his return. They are not the same defensive team without him. MKG even at the ripe young age of 20 is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He has the nightly challenge of stopping every team's best wing player, and he embraces the role with joy.

    Even if MKG never scores more than his current nine points a night, he will always have a big spot in this team.

    He has been sticking to what he knows on offense. The team would benefit from another outside scorer, but he can't provide that yet at this point in his career. He takes more than 83 percent of his shots at the rim.

    It is just enjoyable to watch MKG play defense. He is so old school, and his return can't come soon enough.

4. Ramon Sessions

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    Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Stats: 10.7 points, 2.9 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 0.7 steals

    Ramon Sessions has been an unheralded glue guy who has kept this team from ripping apart at the seams. He gets little recognition, but he is No. 4 in the power rankings because he is this team's best bench player and most reliable veteran backcourt presence.

    There is no better complement to Kemba Walker than Sessions. In his two-year Bobcats tenure, he has remolded himself into more of a score-first point guard as opposed to the unselfish assisting machine he once was.

    It is up for debate as to whether or not the player who averaged 7.5 assists as a rookie would be helping this team more than a score-first Sessions. Like many others on the team, he has been forced into a role where he has to look for his own shot more due to the dearth of scoring up and down the roster.

    His biggest value to the team has been his ball control. He has only turned over the ball more than three times in three of his 36 games so far this season, largely contributing to Charlotte being second in the league in fewest turnovers. The Cats do not beat themselves, and Sessions is a huge part of that.

    His scoring has been mostly consistent, but Sessions is the best passer on this team. He does need to get his teammates involved more and help them take a step forward offensively. He would help this team out more by being more of a change-of-pace backup to Walker as opposed to a scorer.

3. Gerald Henderson

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    Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Stats: 15.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals

    Henderson has dialed up his scoring at the perfect time after an inauspicious start to his season. He increased his field-goal percentage from 39 percent in November to 46.4 in December, and he has raised that number in January while supporting his 18 points per game for the month.

    Sadly, he is the only  legitimate scoring threat on the wing for the Bobcats. Until help arrives, he is going to continue to carry the torch, and he cannot afford to let up one bit if the team wants to keep winning.

    Also not to be forgotten, he has played a role in protecting the ball as well. He has just seven turnovers in his last 11 games, which is stellar for a shooting guard.

    Besides being great for the team, his ball security is even better for the safety of the fans. Fear not, Bobcats fans: Henderson has got your backs.

    He is also another player who just needs to listen to his shot chart. Stick to the corners, Henderson!

    The shooting guard has been his usual self this season. As always, he needs to keep working on that jumper, especially on this team.

2. Al Jefferson

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Stats: 17.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 blocks

    Jefferson took awhile to get his feet under him this season after the early injury, but he is starting to resemble the guy that we all grew accustomed to in seasons past.

    He is by far the Bobcats' most established and recognizable player, and it is good for the league that a player of his stature went to a small market instead of Miami or Los Angeles.

    This man needs shooters! It is basketball 101 that you surround a great low-post scorer with shooters, and frankly this team is just awful at doing that. Seeing defenses continue to collapse on him and shift weak-side help over with no hesitation makes me want to suit up and launch a few threes myself.

    The young guys are still adjusting to their new toy. Charlotte has never had a player who can score with such ease in the post. Well, unless you count Kwame Brown.

    Too soon?

    Jefferson has been good, but he has been great before and has to be great more often now that he is the go-to guy. Some more free throws would be nice as well, as he is averaging just 3.3 attempts a night and converting an uncharacteristically low percentage of them.

    I am anticipating some beautiful basketball in the near future from this team centered on Jefferson. He has improved his passing out of the post in recent years, and he has untapped potential there. He is not the offensive black hole that he used to be where every entry pass would result in a shot attempt.

    The onus is on the surrounding guys like Zeller and McRoberts as much as it is on Jefferson. More attention has to be drawn elsewhere in order to see a spike in Jefferson's numbers, which will happen as the season progresses.

1. Kemba Walker

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    Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Stats: 18.4 points, 4.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks

    December was Walker's coming-out party. He became a man last month.

    He averaged 21.5 points on 46 percent shooting, including 42.6 percent from downtown. He is becoming the dynamic scoring guard that this team pines for, and he is the main reason for the team's success in the East.

    He has also hit his fair share of huge shots and is starting to show glimpses of becoming this team's closer.

    In that department, he could still use a bit of work. He has a flair for the dramatic, but the Bobcats offense has stalled too many times because of Walker trying to take over. It is a double-edged sword, since we all know when things go stagnant that he is the only one who can shoot them out of it.

    This stat sheet also sheds light on his inconsistencies during games. His outside shooting percentages are drastically better in first and third quarters than they are in the second and the fourth. Improving little things like this will go a long way toward making him a true star.

    Another way Clifford could get more out of him would be to use his bigs to draw more attention away from the rim in the pick-and-roll game. Walker is shooting only 49 percent at the rim this season due to an overall lack of outside shooting on the team and because Jefferson is the only big man capable of throwing a basketball into an ocean.

    Aside from the small things he must work on, Walker has been the exact type of player that the Bobcats have needed. He has embraced Clifford's defensive mentality and has been much more of a pest on that side of the ball. Defense starts at the top, and once the point guard buys into the schemes, it has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the lineup.

    Once the team has more shooters and other scorers in place, you could see Walker's assists climb for sure. The reality is that it isn't going to happen for the time being, and Clifford has shown unrelenting faith in putting the team's fate in the hands of his young point guard.

    It is working better than expected so far.

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