5 Players Who Must Step Up for Charlotte Bobcats' Remaining Games

Justin HussongContributor IIIFebruary 24, 2014

5 Players Who Must Step Up for Charlotte Bobcats' Remaining Games

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    The Charlotte Bobcats are surprisingly one final strong push away from solidifying just the second playoff appearance in franchise history. For that to happen, the team is going to need a handful of guys to elevate their play another level to make sure the Bobcats don't get caught by any of the teams chasing them.

    A team that was seemingly fighting tooth and nail just to get into the playoffs now may have a legitimate shot at creeping up for home-court advantage.

    At 27-30, Charlotte is three games out of the No. 4 seed while still possessing a 3.5-game lead over the Detroit Pistons, the No. 9 seed at the moment.

    Charlotte is playing extremely well and padding its lead, but it will still require some players to start pulling more weight so the great Al Jefferson can lighten his load. The big man has been playing astoundingly well over the past few months without a ton of help.

    Charlotte did not land any big names at the trade deadline like it had hoped, but there is no time to dwell. These are the guys who have to kick it up a notch or two.

    *All stats accurate as of Feb. 24, 2014 and courtesy of ESPN.com or Basketball-Reference.com.

Gary Neal

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Acquiring Gary Neal was an immensely overlooked under-the-radar move at the trade deadline by the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Charlotte was getting nothing out of Ben Gordon, so little in fact that he is now on the verge of completing a buyout with the team to become a free agent.

    Without the presence of any other three-point specialists on the roster, the time is now for Neal to step up and be a lethal sixth man off the bench.

    Neal has had a subpar season for Milwaukee, shooting a career-worst 36 percent from three-point range to this point. Neal has to get back to his San Antonio days when he was shooting well over 40 percent and give this Bobcats team a shot in the arm.

    Neal likely suffered from the contagious awful brand of basketball that is the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks. A change of scenery and a chance to be back on a playoff team once again is sure to get Neal refocused.

Cody Zeller

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Rookie No. 4 draft pick Cody Zeller has underwhelmed all season for the Bobcats. His invisibility has made Jefferson's life much more difficult.

    Zeller has been such a non-factor that he has propelled Josh McRoberts into a viable starting role. Nothing against McRoberts, but there was never a high level of expectations for the NBA journeyman.

    The Indiana product has not found a way to make his athleticism translate to the NBA. His mid-range jumper was supposed to be a huge asset, but he has struggled mightily to knock it down with any regularity. His ability to leak out in the open floor was supposed to bring him some easy buckets, but he has not been able to make that work either.

    Very little has gone according to plan for Zeller, but no one is stamping him with a bust label just yet. There is plenty of time and more than enough opportunity for him to make a significant impact on this team the rest of the way.

    Scoring 5.2 points per game is not enough from Zeller. On paper, there is a huge role for him on this team with the dearth of bench scoring on the roster, especially from the big guys.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    No one expects Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to be an elite scorer in this league yet, and possibly ever. However, that does not mean he should be disappearing on offense.

    MKG's jump shot is horrid, and that's putting it mildly. He has an ugly hitch in his shot and cannot create his own offense at all.

    What he is is an incredible athlete. MKG is strong and quick and should be able to squeeze 12 points a night based on that alone. He will not be able to have an impact if he just simply takes that end of the floor off.

    MKG rarely even looks for his own shot. He has only attempted more than eight shots in one of his past 18 games, which might be acceptable on a team full of offensive firepower. The Bobcats are far from that, sitting 25th in the NBA in scoring at 95.2 points per game.

    The second-year No. 2 overall pick is not going to become an offensive force at all if he doesn't step out of his comfort zone a bit. A little more scoring from MKG could give his team an added boost.

Gerald Henderson

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Gerald Henderson has hit a bit of a slump in the month of February.

    The guy who can usually roll out of bed and score 15 points a game has averaged just 9.2 over his last five contests.

    Charlotte cannot afford for its third-leading scorer to fall into a slump with such a small amount of reliable scorers on the team. Henderson may not be used to having two good scorers playing alongside him in Kemba Walker and Jefferson. At times it looks as if he gets lost in the shuffle.

    Jefferson and Walker have scored in bunches, but every good team needs a third scorer. Henderson has to find a way to get his even if Walker and Jefferson are hot from the field.

    Henderson is unlikely to improve upon his three-point shooting. At this point in his career, it is widely accepted that he is mostly just pedestrian in that department. Regardless, he has to be scoring more than nine points a night going forward.

Kemba Walker

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Walker makes this slide almost out of common courtesy. By saying he needs to step it up, Walker really just needs to continue on the roll he has been on of late.

    Walker had a slow start to the season, caught fire, then got injured, but lately he has gotten back to his old ways and been passing at an extremely improved rate.

    Walker has also logged over 40 minutes in three of the last four games. The Luke Ridnour and Neal acquisitions should lighten the load on him.

    It is no coincidence how well Charlotte has played with Walker stepping it up of late. This is becoming his team. As Kemba goes, so go the Bobcats.

    Take it as you will, but Charlotte is 5-0 when Walker hits the 30-point plateau this season. His numbers are substantially better in wins as opposed to losses, shooting 45 percent in wins as opposed to 38 percent in losses.

    One area where Walker could afford to improve is from long distance. He has been struggling slightly from three-point land despite posting improved overall play.

    Charlotte's postseason bid is in the hands of its supremely talented point guard. Walker has fit the bill, but he has to keep things going if Charlotte is going to fulfill its goal of reaching the playoffs.