Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Charlotte Bobcats

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Most Important Player: Al Jefferson
Probably the closest thing the Bobcats have ever had to a franchise player (with apologies to Gerald Wallace, less so to Stephen Jackson).

X-Factor: Bismack Biyombo
Jefferson is in town to inject life into the offense. If new head coach Steve Clifford aims to make any impact on the other end of the floor (which is seemingly why he was hired), focus should turn to the anchor, where major improvement from the 2011 NBA Draft lottery selection could be the key to transforming Charlotte’s defense from awful to just mediocre.

Rotations: It would seem wise for Jefferson to step into the shared Byron Mullens/Josh McRoberts role, starting alongside Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Biyombo. These lineups were largely ineffective last season but did play slow, Jefferson’s preferred pace, so the transition would be relatively seamless. Lottery selection Cody Zeller is projected to start, however, setting up a Jefferson/Zeller front line that figures to be amongst the NBA’s worst defensive front lines. The wing remains crowded, with Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions, Jeff Taylor and Jannero Pargo all returning to the bench.

What Needs To Go Right: The unexpected and unlikely maturation of several of the team’s prospects. Walker is the most likely, making a giant leap from his first to second seasons, but the evolution of Kidd-Gilchrist, Taylor, and Biyombo (also first-round picks from the last two years), and even Henderson, is key to any chance the franchise has of climbing out of the basement.

It’s Really Bad If: How could it get worse? The Bobcats should probably aspire to wind up in the top 10 in the 2014 NBA Draft, otherwise the pick is owed to Chicago, and maybe hope that protected picks from the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers get shipped in 2014 as well. But given the team’s track record in the draft this almost seems beside the point. How about instead: It’s really bad if Clifford struggles. Six coaches in nine years is quite enough.

Bold Prediction: Clifford institutes a real defensive culture and, in showing strides on that side of the ball, Charlotte is no longer the undeniable worst team in the NBA. And yes, contrary to its appearance, this is indeed a bold prediction.


Jeff Adrien, PF
Strengths: A gritty, solid defender.
Weaknesses: Extremely undersized for his position.
Season Prediction: With the overdue removal of Tyrus Thomas from the roster, Adrien will back up Jefferson along with Josh McRoberts, depending on the lineup’s needs. His capacity in that role will resemble last year’s: defensive competency, offensive non-entity.

Bismack Biyombo, C
Strengths: Shot blocking.
Weaknesses: All things offense. Overall just an extremely raw player.
Season Prediction: If anything, Biyombo regressed a little in his second season, and is starting to look like he might be nothing more than a shot-blocking specialist. Biyombo will get plenty of playing time for this young, non-competitive squad, and under what should be a steadier hand in Clifford, will be given the opportunity to evolve into something more.

Ben Gordon, SG
Strengths: High volume scorer.
Weaknesses: Not an efficient player and a lousy defender.
Season Prediction: In a contract year, and likely playing for his last sizable payday (or so he’ll believe), Gordon will post a high usage rate and low shooting percentages in his role as second-unit sparkplug.

Brendan Haywood, C
Strengths: Size and experience.
Weaknesses: Declining in most areas.
Season Prediction: After a decent start, Haywood had his worst professional season last year, by far. His best years behind him, expect Haywood to see limited run, given the team’s investment in Biyombo (and for that matter, Cody Zeller) and the temptation to run small lineups with Jefferson at center.

Gerald Henderson, SG/SF
Strengths: Good teammate and a competent two-way player.
Weaknesses: A little undersized for the 3, but can’t handle the rock/shoot well enough to be ideal for the 2.
Season Prediction: With a lack of decent perimeter scoring options, the Bobcats will rely on Henderson to gun a bit, forcing him into a third-option type role.

Al Jefferson, PF/C
Strengths: Offensive centerpiece who can draw double teams.
Weaknesses: Slow, poor defender.
Season Prediction: With Jefferson as the new face of the franchise, Charlotte wins an extra five or six games, and best-case scenario, will make the city attractive to a decent free agent next summer. Rudy Gay, maybe.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF
Strengths: Versatile defender and very strong rebounder.
Weaknesses: Shooting.
Season Prediction: Kidd-Gilchrist had what appeared on paper to be a lackluster rookie season, but for a 19-year-old who does his best work off-the-ball, there were some promising signs. With a new head coach and (one would assume) a consistent role, expect major improvement from MKG this season.

Josh McRoberts, PF
Strengths: A versatile player who can facilitate an offense from the forward spot.
Weaknesses: Can’t shoot more than a few feet away from the rim.
Season Prediction: McRoberts will likely experience some fluctuation in his minutes depending on roster health and the team’s approach with Zeller. McRoberts is much more likely to play alongside Biyombo or Haywood than he is Jefferson or Charlotte’s 2013 lottery selection.

Jannero Pargo, PG
Strengths: Capable three-point shooter and playmaker.
Weaknesses: Inefficient and draws far too few fouls.
Season Prediction: Pargo’s role in Charlotte is presumably that of a strong veteran influence in the locker room. Unless Gordon is either injured or squanders his PT due to a questionable attitude, it’s hard to imagine Pargo seeing many minutes.

Ramon Sessions, PG
Strengths: Exceptionally good at getting to the line and competent to run the point.
Weaknesses: Not much of a distance shooter.
Season Prediction: Sessions is likely playing his last season in Charlotte, and very well might get flipped at the deadline for another asset.

Jeff Taylor, SF
Strengths: Strong enough three-point shooter.
Weaknesses: Raw still and seemed overwhelmed as a rookie.
Season Prediction: With a reputation for a strong work ethic, and a clear understanding of his role (the Shane Battier type – strong perimeter defense, spot-up shooter), there is some cause for cautious optimism here. Expect Taylor to be given the opportunity to grow into this role and perhaps get improved spot-up chances with Jefferson drawing double teams.

Anthony Tolliver, PF
Strengths: Forward capable of stretching a defense.
Weaknesses: Undersized for a power forward, and only a decent rebounder.
Season Prediction: Tolliver has struggled badly with his shot these last two years, but with the anticipated return to the 4 after playing small forward in his last two NBA stops, we may see the return of the Tolliver of old. He was a late summer addition for the Bobcats, so he doesn’t figure to be a big part of Charlotte’s plans, but if one pre-season game is any indication he may back up Zeller and get a real shot to play.

Kemba Walker, PG
Strengths: Surprisingly efficient ball-handling guard and a leader.
Weaknesses: Not a strong defender.
Season Prediction: In an increased role in his second season, Walker conquered the sophomore slump with a bullet, becoming a much more efficient player. A stride this big from his second to third season is not likely, but he’ll continue to grow into his role as Charlotte’s point guard for the future.

Cody Zeller, PF
Strengths: Good character guy with a real knack for the game.
Weaknesses: Jumping ability, strength, defense.
Season Prediction: Zeller’s offensive versatility may serve him well in a bench role, but he’s likely to experience considerable struggles adapting to the NBA. Expect Zeller to see limited burn as a rookie until he’s become more acclimated to the size and speed of the pros.

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