Are they a mediocre team destined to get 25-30 wins and a solid shot at a top-five pick in a stacked lottery? Or are they better than that? Could they even contend for the playoffs? Many wouldn’t put it past the realm of possibility, especially given the weakness of the Eastern Conference as a whole.
Defining who the Bobcats are, at this point, is pretty difficult. You could say they’re young, improving, energized, inexperienced, poorly coached, unproven, or any other adjective suitable to the rights and wrongs of this team.
As a Charlotte Bobcats fan, I tend to go with caution. I know how bad this team has been, and as I look at a much-improved roster over the past two years, I can’t help but wonder to myself… is this team for real?
I don’t mean championship for real, I don’t even really mean playoff real. But I do mean real enough for the team to win quite a few more games than many are anticipating.
Let’s actually define the team by position.
Point Guards: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, Jannero Pargo
Just looking at the three-deep at point guard screams energy. The Walker-Sessions tandem was one of the better PG duos in the NBA before Sessions was injured. Pargo was a late-season addition who signed a couple of 10-day contracts before officially signing on with the ‘Cats for the rest of the season.
The obvious star of the group is Kemba. His progression between years one and two were absolutely astounding, and with an improved frontcourt that can actually handle pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop plays, expect to see Kemba’s assist total rise. He has the talent to be mentioned in the same sentence as other budding PGs like John Wall and Kyrie Irving, though he still has more room to grow than both of them, obviously.
Sessions is a prototypical back-up PG. He can come in and run the second unit, and the first unit if need be, he can get hot and score the ball, and he’s an adequate playmaker. He’s an athletic point guard, who, similarly to Kemba, thrives on dribble penetration for the vast majority of his points and play starters.
Even Pargo adds some oomph to the line-up when he’s in. He won’t get many minutes, but he has the capability to get hot from outside and become a legitimate three-point scorer. He’s a capable passer, and as solid of a third-string PG as you can find.
Shooting Guards: Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon, Jeff Taylor
Charlotte did the right thing in re-signing Henderson to a multi-year deal. He is currently the longest-tenured Bobcat, a solid, young shooter, and a player with increasing talent as a scorer and defender. Sure, they could have gone with sophomore player Jeff Taylor at the 2 to start the season, but that’s a risk not worth taking when you can get Henderson for $6 million a year.
That being said, Henderson is not an inherent go-to scorer. The same can be said about Gordon. Both of them can get hot on nights (or in Henderson’s case, streaks) and take games over, but neither one will be considered the most dangerous player on the court at any given time.
That is not a knock on either player. Every team needs the guy who can score if the big man is being doubled, and that’s exactly what Henderson will do. Gordon will remain a three-point specialist, but I think he’s going to receive decreased minutes this season with the emergence of Jeff Taylor, who can play both the 2 and the 3.
When Charlotte lost out on the Anthony Davis sweepstakes in 2012, they went with the ultra-athletic, multi-talented small forward, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. I doubt Jeff Taylor was on their draft board when their pick came in the second round, but somehow he hadn’t been drafted yet (bad move, teams who picked in the 20′s), and the Bobcats wasted no time grabbing up the polished athlete, and locking up their small forward position for the foreseeable future.
MKG was always viewed as a project, and he proved to be so in his first season. Showing signs of unbelievable talent in some games, while disappearing in others. A lot of this is attributed to his poor jump shot, which was apparently a major area of work this offseason, but also how Dunlap played him. Dunlap didn’t give MKG consistent minutes, and didn’t really give the team an offense that allowed MKG to develop into more than a hustle player.
Jeff Taylor is coming off a ridiculous summer in which he dominated both in Summer League and in Eurobasket (where he played for Team Sweden, his nation of birth), and proved that he should have gone much higher than he did in the draft. Taylor has a good three point shot, is another uber-athlete, and a great defender. He actually plays more like a 2, but he has the size and lateral quickness to guard small forwards, so he’ll see time at both.
Southerland is an undrafted free agent picked up to add depth at the 3, and to give the Bobcats another three-point shooter. Southerland is also a very gifted athlete on the wing, but his money will be made by shooting from beyond the three-point line. He should be useful in blowouts or if a big three is needed.
All in all, Jeff Taylor is coming into his own as a scorer, and has recently drawn lofty comparisons to Jason Richardson. MKG continues to draw comparisons to Andre Iguodala and Gerald Wallace. If each of them could develop like people think they can, the wing will be deadly in Charlotte for a long time.
Power Forwards: Cody Zeller, Josh McRoberts, Anthony Tolliver
Cody Zeller was a pick despised by many when it happened, but after a very strong Summer League performance, and combine results that broke basically every big-man record in the book, it looks like the Bobcats might have struck gold with the former projected first overall pick.
Zeller will be used as a stretch four, someone who can extend the floor and shoot a mid-to-long range jumper, or put the ball on the floor and drive to the rim. With his sheer athleticism, and the jump shot he proved to have during summer league, the only question left about Zeller is rebounding, where it looks like he’ll do a better job of rebounding off position, instead of banging in the paint for rebounds.
McRoberts was a trade deadline acquisition for the Bobcats last season, and it was expected to be a minor move. It turned out to be an insanely productive move for the Bobcats, as McRoberts instantly made the team better at the 4, where they had been having trouble all season. McRoberts was able to score, rebound, and most importantly, pass. He opened up new doors for the Bobcats, and Charlotte did themselves a favor by signing him again. He’ll be a bench player this go-around with the Bobcats, but he’ll still see solid minutes. Like Zeller, McRoberts will stretch the four with his jumper.
And with one of the more underrated moves of the offseason, the Bobcats added Anthony Tolliver to play as their third PF. Tolliver offers versatility on offense, with solid range, solid defense, and solid all around team play. He’s also a major character guy in the locker room, so his impact will be noticed both on and off the court.
Centers: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood
Al Jefferson is the biggest free agent signing in Bobcats history, and I, unlike many, believe it was a great move. Never before have the Bobcats had a player who can consistently put up 20-10 numbers. Al Jefferson is arguably the best offensive post player in all of basketball, and his brand of scoring is old-school, but highly efficient, especially on the left block. He will command double-teams, and he instantly makes the rest of the starters better by being an offensive force in the paint.
His defense, though… not so good. He might be the worst center in basketball when it comes to guarding the pick-and-roll.
Enter Bismack Biyombo and Brendan Haywood.
Though Biz is certainly still viewed as a project, he has proven to be a solid shot blocker, and is slowly learning how to be a good defender in the paint. Haywood’s career is winding down, but he’s always had a good reputation as a solid defender, and will still put in decent minutes at center, while possibly mentoring both Bismack and Big Al on how to be better defensive centers.
Depending on who is on the court at the 5, it will either be the best scoring position, or one of the best defended positions. That’s diversity.
The Team: Up-and-coming.
The Bobcats will almost definitely not make the playoffs in their final season with that nickname. The Hornets, however, could become a serious threat to make the playoffs in 2015. Charlotte will have caproom, likely a high lottery pick, and as long as Detroit and Portland play decent basketball, two more picks in an incredibly deep draft.
Further, players like MKG, Kemba, Zeller, and Taylor will continue to develop into players that aren’t only solid players, but 4 strong building blocks for the future.
My prediction? Around 28-30 wins. Not good, but not awful, either. And it will be a healthy 28-30 wins, not an anemic set of wins like the previous seasons.
It’s a hard team to define, but when you really stop to look at it, there’s a lot to like, especially if you’re a forward-thinker.