OFFSEASON ’08 – Evaluating the Roster – Part One

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Evaluating the Bobcats roster will be a difficult task this offseason as General Manager Rod Higgins and Team President Michael Jordan will have to sort through the wreckage caused by rookie coach Sam Vincent’s mismanagement. How much of the poor performance do you blame on the players? How much do you chalk up to Vincent’s bumbling? Bobcats Baseline attempts to breakdown the current roster going in to the offseason.

PART ONE – THE STARTERS

by Adam S. Chin

JRICH

1. Jason Richardson

After a modest start to the season, Richardson found his groove after the new year and became the Bobcats best player. His 21.8 pts/game set a franchise mark for scoring average and his 243 three pointers made during a season was third most in NBA history. Perhaps more impressive is that Richardson did this in all 82 games while averaging a career high 38.4 minutes a match. He improved his FT% to a respectable 75%, shot a sizzling 40% on all of those three-pointers and played mostly solid defense for a team that desperately needed some throughout the 2007-2008 season.

Richardson became the multi-faceted wing scorer the Bobcats had hoped for when they traded for him last June. Once he hit his stride in the second half of the season–and with his deep jumper falling often–JRICH started driving more and turned into something of a Kobe-lite for the ‘Cats. Richardson also showed leadership qualities, notably when he took the blame for the devastating last second loss vs. Boston in November and then followed it up by almost single-handedly beating the same squad in Boston just a couple of weeks later. Richardson also stepped up his game after sidekick Gerald Wallace went down for 20 games late in the season.

MOVING FORWARD: Jason Richardson is one of the League’s best SG’s and the ‘Cats have him under contract for the next three seasons at an average of $13 million per. At age 27, he’s the closest thing the franchise has ever had to an All-Star and should be a key contributer during the team’s playoff push in 08-09.

STATUS: Essential.

GFORCE

2. Gerald Wallace

The G-Force/JRICH combo certainly worked like it was supposed to on paper as both players averaged around 20pts/game. The reality was that by the time that JRICH meshed with Wallace, Gerald started getting hurt and Bobcats fans were denied a chance to see the dynamic duo at a simultaneous peak.

On the surface, Wallace had his best season as a pro, averaging 19.4 points a contest while upping his assist totals and FT% dramatically. Unfortunately the high point totals came at the cost of Gerald taking and missing more shots (mostly errant three pointers) and ignoring much of the areas in which he excelled at in his three previous seasons with Charlotte. Wallace’s offensive rebounds and blocks both dipped from last season and it was evident that he’d tried to change his style of play. Gerald either consciously or unconsciously decided to transition into a more traditional NBA scorer and all of those three point attempts took him away from the basket on offense and his (legitimate) fear of another serious concussion shied him away from the rim on defense.

Of all of the Bobcats players it seemed that Wallace clashed most with first year coach Sam Vincent. Some subtle references in the local media and post game interviews suggest that Wallace was still loyal to former coach (and seasoned League veteran) Bernie Bickerstaff and didn’t much respect the rookie coach learning on the fly. Still, at age 25, G-FORCE is a team leader and a dynamic wing player. During a stretch in January he torched Denver for 40 points and then followed that up in another win against Orlando with 36. The guy can play.

MOVING FORWARD: Wallace would benefit most from two things next season: 1. A coaching move. 2. The team acquiring a legitimate starting PF. The days of Wallace playing the four are over and he needs to be given the opportunity to start and finish games at his natural SF position. Hopefully that move doesn’t coincide with another season of 32% on 3.5 three pointers per game.

The Bobcats will also need to confront the team’s traffic at SF during the offseason with rookie Jared Dudley showing promise and Adam Morrison returning from knee surgery. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wallace’s name mentioned in trade talks as the team shops for a PF (Elton Brand anyone?).

STATUS: Essential (either as a player or trade-bait).

'Mek

3. Emeka Okafor

A lot of people spent the entire ’07-’08 season ripping Okafor for turning down a reported $12 million dollar a year extension last summer. The cries died down a bit in April as No. 50 averaged 18.4 pts and 11 boards during the month to close out the season.
After all was said and done, Okafor notched his fourth consecutive double-double campaign.

Emeka Okafor played in and started all 82 games for the Bobcats in ’07-’08. It was the first time since his rookie year that he even came close to a full season and he apparently owes this new found durability to a lengthy series of post and pre-game Dirk Nowitzki-inspired stretches. While Oak will probably never challenge A.C. Green for the consecutive games played record, this is a good sign for both the player and the organization that drafted him.
There were also some bad signs. Like many Bobcats players, Okafor was jerked around the court by rookie coach Sam Vincent and was ordered to take on a role that didn’t really suit his talents. Vincent tried playing Okafor at PF only to discover the 6-10/250 pound shot blocker wasn’t really comfortable at the three-point line guarding the Hedo Turkaglus of the world. Vincent then demanded that Emeka take more shots and be more offensively aggressive; apparently not taking into account the last time No. 50 forced shots he wound up shooting 44% from the field during his rookie season. Okafor’s problems on offense aren’t going to be solved with more shots but with a better running mate at PF to open up the paint and with Oak himself shooting a higher FT%. Emeka shot just 57% from the line in ’07-’08 and would likely see a scoring bump of around 2-3pts/game if he could just get that number up to the high 70s. Okafor’s blocks per game were down big during the season as well and on occasion he seemed to back down from block attempts where he would have been much more aggressive last season. In his defense, it is a little difficult blocking shots out at the three point line.

MOVING FORWARD: Why would someone pay Emeka Okafor $12 million per? It’s a legitimate question. Okafor is not a gifted scorer like Al Jefferson and he’s nowhere near as explosive as Dwight Howard but he is a very good NBA center who cannot be completely ignored on offense and who must be respected on defense. He’s also a solid member of the community and a nice face for the organization. Centers with a pulse are hard to come by in the NBA and my guess is the Oak will still get something like the $12 mil contract from the ‘Cats in the offseason. If Emeka can improve his free throw percentage and concentrate his playing time at center, then there is no reason to believe that he can’t average 16 and 12 for the rest of his career.

STATUS: Essential.

Ray

4. Raymond Felton

Statistically, Raymond Felton built incrementally on his young NBA career by ranking 7th in the NBA with 7.4 assist/game and adding 14.4 points a contest. He even built upon his biggest weakness, shooting percentage, by upping it to just above 40%.

Raymond had two major problems in ’07-’08: his coach and his three point shot. This was the season in which Felton was to take control of the PG position after serving two years part-time there learning from Brevin Knight. But for some reason coach Vincent decided that it was a good idea to start journeyman Jeff McInnis (he of the League’s lowest PER) ahead of him at the one and then shuffling all of the starters around in order to do this. (Think about it for a second: Vincent played Felton, Richardson, and Wallace out of position for much of the season just to get Jeff McInnis on the floor! If this isn’t grounds for termination, I’m not sure what is.) Because of this, Felton found half of his minutes running around the court spotting up for three pointers and trying to shoot them over defenders who had at least five inches on him. Felton never really excelled at the long ball in his first two seasons–shooting 35% and 33% respectively–but in ’07-’08 he only managed 28% of them. Eventually Vincent wised up and released McInnis and Raymond followed suit by having a solid March and an All-Star caliber April.

MOVING FORWARD: Felton takes a lot of heat because of his relatively high draft selection in a class that featured Chris Paul and Deron Williams AND because of the alleged pandering to UNC fans for which that pick was made. But those fans need to wake up. Raymond Felton at PG for a full season is a top 10 player at that position and a potential All-Star. If he can work on his deep shooting (or just shut it down altogether) and figure out how to actually finish when he gets to the rim (which he does with ease) he’s going to average 18/10 someday. Felton is a very good free throw shooter, a vocal floor leader, and a very solid defender.

STATUS: Essential.

Nazr

5. Nazr Mohammed

Mohammed arrived in Charlotte on December 15th in a trade with Detroit for Primoz Brezec and Walter Herrmann. The trade was (and still is) a little controversial for two reasons:
1. Mohammed will be 31 next season and still has 3 years and around $18 million left on his contract.
2. In order to get him the Bobcats had to give up a potential prospect in Walter Herrmann.

Both of the players dealt for Mohammed had expiring contracts which would have allowed the team to be a bigger player during the ’08 offseason if the they’d simply stayed put. Fans also felt that Herrmann was given up on because of Vincent’s inability to either communicate with or play him. In the end, it’s not really the doomsday scenario that anyone painted simply because Mohammed can play.

Mohammed’s PER puts him in the top half of centers in the league. Once in Charlotte, Nazr averaged 9.3 pts and 6.9 rebounds a game while playing a little over 20 minutes a contest. No. 6 can rebound, score in a variety of ways, and block the occasional shot. Because he tends to foul a lot, he doesn’t log a lot of time on the court which is fine because this tends to keep his minutes down and his health up.

MOVING FORWARD: Nazr’s game isn’t about athleticism and this is a good thing. He’s a veteran who can provide a solid 20 minutes a night on a playoff team and my guess is that is what he’ll be doing for the next two/three years for the Bobcats. Sure, he’s slightly overpaid but the Bobcats are fortunate not to be in a cap position where this is a big problem.

STATUS: Solid Contributer.

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