Post-2014 All-Star Break Predictions for the Charlotte Bobcats
The home stretch is beginning with the NBA All-Star game, a game in which the Charlotte Bobcats were the only top-8 Eastern Conference team who did not have a representative, in the rear-view mirror.
At 25-30, Charlotte has already exceeded expectations, having already eclipsed both of the previous two seasons' win totals.
The question remains if the Cats are ready to make the jump from being a laughing stock to a playoff team. It would be a quick turnaround for a team so used to wallowing in the basement of the standings.
What happens over the final 29 games is anybody's guess. However, we do know this team has passed the point of mailing it in. There had been a good handful of significant injuries to marquee players, instances where Charlotte could have gone into tank mode again.
Steve Clifford will not let this team quit in the second half. That much is certain. As for the other variables, what better time to make predictions for the rest of the year than now?
Cody Zeller Will Do Nothing to Shake HIs Current "Bust" Label
Few, if any, players have underperformed more for the Bobcats this year than No. 4 pick Cody Zeller. He has easily been the biggest disappointment in the top ten of this past year's draft aside from possibly Otto Porter with the Washington Wizards.
Zeller has constantly found himself stuck at this level. In college, his athleticism and size trumped everyone in his way, so it was understood that he would have to shoot and run the floor in order to excel in the pros.
His skills have not translated at all. He has shot 38 percent from the field for just five points per game. He has been reasonably effective on the glass, but his mid-range jumper that was supposed to carry him at this level has not shown up at all.
His ineffective jump shot eliminates any chance for him to drive, since defenders are not respecting his shot yet. He has also struggled mightily finishing around the rim due to his short wingspan.
Zeller has shown little to no signs of improving and there is no reason to think that his issues are going to fix themselves before the offseason. It is about time to chalk up Zeller's rookie year as a lost cause.
Prior to the year, his athletic mid-range game was a solid complement to Al Jefferson's surgical low-post game. It just hasn't been there.
Charlotte Will Finish with a Top-5 Defense
The main reason behind Charlotte's much improved 2013-14 campaign is undoubtedly the ferocious defense they play on a nightly basis.
No one drives the ship quite like second-year forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He has struggled to be much of a force on offense to this point, but his defense is so inspiring that no one else on the team can watch him without trying to match his effort. That is exactly the type of player every team needs to be successful.
Charlotte went 7-12 when MKG broke his hand but has gotten back on track since his return. Other members who have stepped up are the two guys starting in the backcourt, Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker. Those two continue to get better and better and do a solid job putting pressure on opposing guards.
There is no reason to think this defense will let up. They are way too invested in Steve Clifford's philosophies and overall attitude. Charlotte is currently sitting in fifth, allowing a meager 97.1 points a game.
One area for improvement would be for Charlotte to find a way to get out more in transition off those turnovers, but one step at a time for these young Cats.
The Bobcats Will Win the Evan Turner Sweepstakes
The rumors of Sixers guard Evan Turner winding up in Charlotte have been kicked around for quite some time now.
Ben Gordon and a first-round pick for the former No. 2 pick seems like a match made in heaven. The trade deadline is rapidly approaching and there are believed to be a number of suitors for Turner. Philly is also a team looking to deal seemingly half its roster.
It is hard to believe this hasn't gone down yet. Turner is having a career year for Philadelphia, averaging 17.5 points. He is exactly the type of multi-faceted talent that Charlotte needs to up its offense to the next level.
Gerald Henderson is a nice player, but he is not a potential go-to scorer. Henderson also has no ability to create open looks for his teammates, nor is he as good of a rebounder. Turner bests him in every department, and relegating Henderson to the bench would help bolster a sub-par unit for the Bobcats.
While we are on the topic of making predictions, I'm going to predict that a deal will get done. If the Bobcats are as serious as it seems about being potential buyers at the deadline this year, then bringing in Turner would make a bold statement.
There aren't many players on the market this year capable of having a major impact. Turner is definitely near the top of that list and would add a very versatile dimension to a stagnant offense.
Al Jefferson Will Average 23 Points and 11 Rebounds in the Second Half
Few big men have been as crucial to their team's success than Al Jefferson has for Charlotte.
Big Al is one of just five players averaging 20 points and ten boards, but that has not told the whole story for Jefferson. He has been an absolute menace since an injury set him off to a slow start to the season.
Jefferson erased what little doubt there was about his gaudy numbers of late being a fluke with his 32-point, 12-rebound, 7-assist drubbing of the Pistons monstrous front line in the Bobcats' first game after the break.
It is difficult to even find a tiny flaw in what Jefferson has done over the past two months. A 23/11 second half is not too outrageous for a guy who averaged those same numbers throughout the month of January. Expect him to perform much more like that Jefferson, as opposed to the one who looked a bit slow and rusty over the first two months.
A trade for one more scorer would only bring out more efficiency in Jefferson. It is hard to believe, but the guy has been around the block in his career, but in his eight seasons as a starter he has never played with a perimeter threat who is even close to what Evan Turner could be (aside from one year with Paul Pierce).
Another guy playing off him and feeding him the rock will propel Jefferson into yet another level of production.
The Bobcats Will Fall Just Short of the Playoffs
I know, I'm sorry. All these predictions and still no playoffs.
I do hope I am wrong, but the teams chasing Charlotte have started to show signs of truly figuring things out. The odds of Charlotte making the playoffs increase exponentially if they can land Evan Turner, but counting on both of those things happening is a lot to ask.
Charlotte has been in the top eight just about all year, but the lead is just two-and-a-half games, and the three teams chasing the Cats are all arguably more talented. The Pistons, Knicks and Cavaliers also happen to be streaky, and all it could take is one solid run from any of those teams and the Bobcats could be history.
It feels like Charlotte is keeping the seat warm temporarily for one of these teams. Currently, that team looks to be the streaking Cavs, who have won six in a row over some solid teams.
Playoffs or no playoffs, the Bobcats have shown an urge to shake their losing mentality this season. That alone is something that will stick with them much longer than a first-round decimation at the hands of the Indiana Pacers.
This is not a prediction I wanted to make, but it is more of a gut feeling. Beyond any stats or metrics, it is very hard to think that these Bobcats can hold off Carmelo Anthony's Knicks, All-Star MVP Kyrie Irving's red-hot Cavs and the monstrous Pistons all at once.
However, I hope they prove me wrong.
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