Biggest Needs for Charlotte Bobcats During 2014 Offseason
The Charlotte Bobcats showed incredible progress in their final season under that name and first season under the direction of Steve Clifford.
In just a few months, this team will be known as the Hornets again, and the name change isn't the only thing causing a buzz in Charlotte.
The Bobcats went from dead last in defensive rating in 2012-13 to sixth in 2013-14. They gave up just 101.2 points per 100 possessions, and went 20-9 after the All-Star break behind their stingy defense. Posting the league's sixth-best record over that span helped Charlotte secure a playoff berth with the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
According to the Associated Press (via NBA.com), point guard Kemba Walker said of helping his team return to the postseason, "It's exciting. It's different. This is what I have been dreaming of my whole life. I've been waiting for this opportunity."
After being swept in the first round by the defending champion Miami Heat, Walker and his teammates will have to wait until next year for that opportunity again.
They can ensure getting it if they address their biggest needs this offseason.
The addition of Al Jefferson did wonders for Charlotte's offense. In 2012-13, the Bobcats scored 98.3 points per 100 possessions, ranking them 28th in offensive rating. With Jefferson in the middle, the rating jumped up to 101.2 and 105.8 after the break.
To take the next step and get into the upper half of the league in terms of offensive efficiency, the Bobcats need more balance.
They were 23rd in the league in three-point percentage, hitting just 35.1 percent of their attempts. The league average is 36 percent. They were also 25th in threes made per game at 6.3.
A lot of the responsibility for the team's struggles from behind the arc has to fall to Walker. He led the team in three-point attempts per game at 4.5 but made just 33.3 percent.
Improvement in his shooting (and shot selection) would help the entire offense run smoother. If defenders have to play his outside shot closer, he'll have more driving lanes, and Jefferson will feel less pressure inside.
Another factor will be Gary Neal. The Bobcats acquired him on Feb. 20. Prior to that deal, the team's offensive rating was 99.4. With him in the rotation, it was 105.1.
He averaged just 23 minutes for the Bobcats, but hitting 40.6 percent of his threes made it critical for opposing defenses to pay attention to him when he was on the floor.
With an entire offseason to spend time with his teammates and develop chemistry, Neal could do even more damage next season.
Development of Lottery Picks
The Bobcats have had at least one lottery pick in each of the nine drafts since the team's inaugural year in 2004.
The last four—Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson—are all still with the team. Each one has things to work on this offseason.
Walker's biggest weakness was addressed in the previous slide. In addition to his below-average three-point percentage, Walker shot just 39.3 percent from the field. That ranked him dead last among players who averaged as many field-goal attempts as him.
If he can become a consistent jump-shooter, Walker will establish himself as one of the league's best young guards.
His challenge is similar to the one that Henderson, Kidd-Gilchrist and Zeller face as well. They can all improve their shooting, especially the latter two.
Prior to the season, Zeller was billed as a big man who would be able to stretch the defense. According to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:
Based on the drills the Charlotte Bobcats are running in these summer-league practices, it’s apparent the coaches hope to fast-track first-rounder Cody Zeller into a high-post shooter and facilitator.
Neither one of those objectives panned out.
Zeller shot 36.8 percent from 10-16 feet, and 27.3 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line.
As for the facilitating part, he averaged as many turnovers (1.1) as assists.
Perhaps more of those drills over the offseason will help Zeller be able to become that kind of player next season. If not, Charlotte may need to adjust and use him as more of a pure post-player.
Kidd-Gilchrist needs a ton of work on his mid-range shot as well. Don't believe me?
|FG% by Distance|
He may never be a major offensive weapon—which is fine since he's already a defensive specialist—but MKG should want to be at least moderately threatening on that end.
He has plenty of time to make that leap. He's only 20 years old and the youngest player on the team. Walker and Zeller both have upside as well and are just 23 and 21, respectively.
Depth, Particularly at the Wing
They got better as the season went on, but the Bobcats still finished in the bottom half of the league in bench scoring. According to hoopsstats.com, the reserves put up 29.9 points per game, good for 19th overall.
Many of those points came from backup point guard Ramon Sessions—who's no longer with the team thanks to the Neal trade—and backup big Zeller. Those two were fifth and sixth on the team in total points behind starters Jefferson, Walker, Henderson and Josh McRoberts.
The Bobcats could use more of a punch off the bench behind starting wings Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist. They'll look to find it in either the draft or free agency.
They may have to look a bit harder then they're used to in the draft since they're set to make their first pick at No. 24.
So free agency could be a better option, and the Bobcats will have some cap space with which to work. We'll explore a great option they should pursue there later.
As laid out in the intro, the Bobcats had one of the best defenses in the NBA this season due in large part to their stellar rebounding on that end. They were first in the NBA with a defensive rebounding percentage of 77.6.
But that prowess on the boards didn't translate to both sides of the floor. Charlotte's offensive rebounding percentage of 21.9 was 26th in the league. That dragged its overall percentage down to 49.6, which was 20th.
Forwards and big men like Zeller, Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo—who struggle in the mid-range—should strive to get more buckets from offensive rebounds and putbacks.
That will lead to better efficiency numbers for both the players and the team.
According to Sham Sports, the Bobcats will have nearly $20 million in cap space heading into this offseason. They should spend it on a player who can help them offensively.
One option that will likely be one of the most sought-after players on the market is restricted free agent Gordon Hayward.
He was one of just four players in 2013-14 to average at least 16 points, five rebounds and five assists, joining Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Michael Carter-Williams.
He showed the ability to be a legitimate point forward in his first season as a No. 1 option, but his efficiency suffered against added defensive pressure.
A reunion with Jefferson could be exactly what both parties need.
Hayward posted a career-best player efficiency rating of 16.8 in 2012-13, playing off the ball and alongside Jefferson. He got plenty of open looks outside thanks to the double-teams Jefferson faced, and he hit 41.5 percent of his three-point attempts.
That kind of shooting would create space for Charlotte all over the floor. Jefferson would have more room in the post, and Walker and Henderson would have more driving lanes.
If they don't go for Hayward or fail to secure him—Utah can match any offer he signs—other options will be available. Lance Stephenson, Trevor Ariza or Xavier Henry are just a few who might make sense.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.