The Hornet with the Highest Upside

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Three offseasons ago, if you would have asked me to write a piece ranking the Charlotte Bobcats’ top under-25 prospects I would’ve immediately laughed at the notion and then retreated to the fetal position to sob once I gave the topic a few seconds of serious thought.

In their ten year existence, the Bobcats never really had any young players with star potential. Even the most optimistic of early Cats fans (this author included) had 2005 Rookie of the Year Emeka Okafor’s career topping out as a “solid” NBA center. Gerald Wallace was the closest thing to a breakout star the franchise ever produced but his ascendance was gradual, under-the-radar with a peak ever so brief.

Yet here we are today, just two months before the ’14-’15 NBA season begins and Charlotte’s NBA franchise – the same one that had drafted and developed talent so poorly for so long – has over half of its roster made up of 25 and under players; all of whom offer intriguing upsides to various degrees. Yes, it is indeed a NEW HORNETS WORLD ORDER.

Ranking the Hornets Top Prospects

8. Jeff Taylor. Age: 25 – Third Season.

THE GOOD: Taylor’s size and athleticism make him a prototypical defensive wing. His shooting form is sound and he isn’t afraid to launch it from deep; also a very sneaky baseline cutter who can get you easy baskets.
THE BAD: A Moneyball diplomat – both traditional and advanced stats hate him. Taylor is billed as a “shooter” but hasn’t shown anything approaching it over his brief career. He’s very old for a third year player at 25 and is coming off a ruptured Achilles – not great news for a wing who relies on tremendous athleticism.
THE UPSIDE: Solid Rotation Player. It seems inevitable that Taylor ends up on the Spurs someday – where he’ll blossom into a more athletic, dynamic Danny Green.

7. P.J. Hairston. Age: 21 – Rookie.

THE GOOD: Has the size, stroke and confidence to be a formidable bench weapon. Limitless range. Physical attributes suggest he could improve defensively.
THE BAD: Poor defensive habits and effort. Gets tunnel-vision on offense. BIG questions surrounding his commitment to fitness and his off the court decision-making.
THE UPSIDE: Sixth Man. There are very few shooter/scorers with P.J.’s size at the two guard. While you don’t want a gunner like Hairston near the starting lineup, for 18-20 minutes a night while your scorers are resting, P.J. could really help a team flourish.

6. Bismack Biyombo. Age: 22* – Fourth Season.

THE GOOD: Initially billed as a one-trick pony shot-swatter heading into the 2011 Draft, Biz has also developed into a quality rebounder and system defender. His shot blocking numbers have gone down but there are some metrics that rank Biz as an elite rim protector. Occasionally surprises with a 10-15 foot jumper. A better free throw shooter than you’d think. Superhuman 7’6″ wingspan; a physical specimen.
THE BAD: Zero hands; can’t catch a basketball cleanly and has an overall poor feel for the game on offense – which makes him a turnover machine. The Bobcats’ success last season had much to do with minimizing turnovers, thus Biyombo didn’t play much and touch/feel is very difficult to coach up. Also for a “defensive anchor”, Biz isn’t all that vocal on D. Considering his offensive limitations, you’d like for him to become more of a floor general at the other end.
THE UPSIDE: Potential Starter. On the right team/situation, Biyombo could be a Top 15 rebounder and Top 5 shot-blocker. He’s probably older than his listed age of 22 but I doubt it’s by that much. Even if he’s 25, Biz still has room to grow both in technique and knowledge of the game. His attitude and work ethic have never been in question. Those early comparisons to Ben Wallace seem attainable given the right circumstances.

5. Cody Zeller. Age: 21 – Second Season.

THE GOOD: Tremendous athleticism. High hoops IQ. Very skilled. Underrated chase-down shotblocker. Very good contested rebounder. Potentially excellent facilitator out of the post. Improved his perimeter shot after the All-Star break.
THE BAD: Has a tendency to “shrink” with the ball in the paint – combined with short arms, gets his shot blocked often. Can rush things; hasn’t caught up to NBA speed quite yet. Must add lower body strength; gets pushed around by full grown men. Needs to become a consistent perimeter threat.
THE UPSIDE: Starter. Cody not only had to transition to the NBA game last season, he had to do it while learning a new position. Cody played out of the post at center near exclusively for Indiana and rarely operated there as a Bobcat. Wingspan aside, he’s a legit seven footer who moves like a gazelle. He’s smart, skilled, works hard and has a great attitude. Could eventually become a better version of Josh McRoberts (high praise coming from a McBob-junkie).

4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Age: 20 – Third Season.

THE GOOD: Has the potential to become the league’s best perimeter defender. Blocks shots in half-court and transition. Long arms to pester ball-handlers. One of the best rebounding wings in the game already. Aggressive driver on offense.
THE BAD: Undergoing a full-on shot reconstruction; had the worst perimeter shot of any wing in the NBA last season and teams lay off him. Can throw down an occasional spectacular dunk but lacks an explosive first step. Hesitates in transition opportunities and doesn’t finish as well as you’d think. Gets in foul trouble often.
THE UPSIDE: ??? The narrative hasn’t changed. It all hinges on the jumpshot. If he can sort the perimeter game out, he could be Charlotte’s answer to Paul George and a potential All-Star. If not, he’s a specialist and role player.

3. Kemba Walker. Age: 24 – Fourth Season.

THE GOOD: Elite speed and quickness. Barely six feet tall but can get his shot off against anyone AND (most importantly for a small guard) can finish in the paint. Improved passer. A good defender for his size. Intangibles galore. Fantastic leader and clutch player.
THE BAD: Field goal percentage a major concern; needs to become a more efficient shooter from the perimeter. Now that he’s surrounded with offensive talent, will need to become more of a traditional PG and lower the turnover rate.
THE UPSIDE: All-Star. Given the crowd of fantastic PGs in today’s game, actually making an All-Star team will be a challenge but Kemba should at least be in the conversation. If Walker can transition his game away from Monta Ellis and more towards Tony Parker, he could become a multiple selection.

2. Lance Stephenson. Age: 23 – Fifth Season.

THE GOOD: Offensive versatility; can score in a variety of ways – off the dribble, spot-up, transition, etc. Recorded more triple doubles last season than the Bobcats had in their entire ten year history. Very good facilitator; especially for a SG. A bulldog on defense. Was the second best player on a 50+ win team last season and should have made All-Star at just 22 years of age. Confidence never a problem; loves the big games.
THE BAD: Big questions surrounding his personality. Outsized confidence blurs into arrogance at times. Has the reputation of being disruptive to both opponents and his own team. “Steals” rebounds on defense and can stop the ball on offense. Lacks explosiveness. A middling three point shooter. Can take bad shots. Not a universally great defender; Bradley Beal abused him at times during last year’s Conference Semis.
THE UPSIDE: All-Star. Lance’s trajectory has him in the league’s Top 3-4 SGs by this time next season. He’s controversial and by all accounts an eccentric but he’s a virtuoso on the court and, at just 23, has already played a major role in dozens of meaningful Playoff games. If all goes reasonably well, Lance and Big Al Jefferson will represent the Hornets in Stephenson’s home town Madison Square Garden come February.

1. Noah Vonleh. Age: 19 – Rookie.

THE GOOD: Solid jump shot out to the three point line. Surprising handle for a player his size. Was a fantastic rebounder in college due to some ridiculous attributes: a Biyombo-esque wingspan and Kawhi Leonard-sized hands. Very intriguing pick & pop/roll player due to mobility, size and skill level. Already very physically mature; a proto-beast.
THE BAD: A mechanical, grounded player. Post moves are raw. Spent much of his high school career at the wing; still learning the 4/5 spot. Vonleh turned 19 in August and while that’s a major plus for his upside, he’ll struggle learning the game in the meantime. In Summer League Noah was the king of hundred dollar moves with ten cent finishes – and that was going against sub-par competition. Set expectations accordingly for Vonleh this season and next.
THE UPSIDE: Perennial All-Star. Given all the intriguing talent on the Hornets roster and how good they should end up being this season, it’s somewhat ironic that the closest thing the franchise has to a superstar might not even make an impact this season.
Is Vonleh a center? A stretch power forward? He measured 6’9″ 247lbs at the Draft Combine (when he was still 18) and there’s a reasonable chance that he’s still growing. We know he’ll end up putting on more weight – all young players eventually go through a mansformation – but how tall will he end up being? 6’10″? 6’11″? 7ft? A six-eleven guy at 265-275 can play center in this league; especially one with that type of wingspan and posterior.

The big backside is key point, if Anthony Davis is the second coming of Kevin Garnett, Vonleh has the Kevin Love/Lamarcus Aldridge lower body leverage and strength that will allow him to create space on the block. Combine this physical advantage with Noah’s handle and shooting ability and we’re looking at a player who could be both genuinely disruptive on the perimeter AND in the paint. Opposing bigs will have to guard him all the way out to the three point line. Very few, if any NBA big men have that sort of potential.

Given the Bobcats’ decade long struggle developing young prospects, it’s a little strange to write the following statement: Vonleh was extremely fortunate to have been drafted by Charlotte. The team is already good and the fans are too focused on the addition of Stephenson and the rebrand to pay much attention to the uber-raw Lottery prospect taking mental notes at the end of the bench. Noah will apprentice under one of the league’s best post-scorers (Jefferson) and a coaching staff perfectly tailored to develop him. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when Steve Clifford and Patrick Ewing helped develop a raw Atlanta high schooler into a perennial All-NBA center.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

How To Rule the Court In Your Gerald Wallace T-Shirt

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Gerald Wallace Shirt in Action

Disclaimer: The sweet skills displayed in the video below are not guaranteed when wearing this shirt. Actual on-court results may vary.

Music by Ryythm N Bluz

The Bobcats Baseline Exclusive “SarcophaCrash” Gerald Wallace T Shirts Have Arrived and Are Now Shipping.

Thanks to all of the Baseliners for their pre-orders.

The All-Star game is just days away and the Dunk Contest is gonna be insane! You know it’s time to show some support for the ruler of the court . This Gerald Wallace t shirt features the mythical pharoah-style design in blue on a black, 100% (American Apparel) cotton tee.

Click here to buy a shirt

He Earned It

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Young Gerald Wallace © SlamOnline

The inaugural Bobcat is the team’s inaugural All-Star.

Six years ago the Sacramento Kings thought so little of Gerald Wallace that they let him walk via the 2004 Expansion draft.  The Bobcats received a player who couldn’t shoot from the field or from the line and whose lone defensive skill was to overplay the passing lanes and steal the ball before his man could score on him.  Young Gerald was Raw.

Some fans might not remember that the ‘Cats almost let Wallace leave via Free Agency twice before signing him to his current long term deal.  Somehow it all worked out and even though Gerald had to weather the incompetent storm that was the Sam Vincent Mistake, he never stopped improving his game, adding wrinkles every season: blocked shots in Year 2, then a long range jumper in Year 4, free throw shooting in Year 5 and – this seasonElite rebounding.

The old Charlotte Hornets told us to “Bee-Lieve.”  Gerald Wallace Bee-Lieved when nobody else did and now he’s making his first All-Star game in his 9th season at the age of 27.
Thanks Crash.  Thanks for working your tail off for five and a half years on a nobody team in a nobody city and showing us that if you keep Playing the Game the Right Way, eventually you become a Star.

-ASChin

UPDATE :

Gerald Wallace comments on his All-Star selection over at the official BobcatsBreak.com

Gerald Wallace Gains Respect and Recognition

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The Basketball Media Has Discovered Gerald Wallace

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For over five years, the Bobcats faithful have watched Gerald Wallace throw his body across the court, attempting to make the effort plays that few are willing to risk.  Anyone that’s ever played basketball understands how hard it is to run end-to-end on every play.  Imagine sprinting, leaping, sliding, diving and picking yourself up to do it all over again for the length of an NBA game.  Wallace’s athletic abilities should catch any basketball fan’s attention, but the effort he exhibits each game is hard not to admire.  “Crash” is finally starting to build a following outside of the small Bobcats cult.  This past week we’ve seen several major sports news outlets share some love for Gerald and his impressive play this season.

NBA Fanhouse’s Tim Povtak has helped to spread the word about #3 with an article about the small-forward’s uncanny rebounding streak.

“Gerald Wallace doesn’t see this as unusual. He just sees it as a necessity for the Charlotte Bobcats.
Wallace, 6-7, 215 pounds, is bidding to become the smallest rebounding champion in NBA history, an athletic small forward who has ventured into the land of the giants.”

“Gerald Wallace doesn’t see this as unusual. He just sees it as a necessity for the Charlotte Bobcats.

Wallace, 6-7, 215 pounds, is bidding to become the smallest rebounding champion in NBA history, an athletic small forward who has ventured into the land of the giants.”

More good vibes followed from Sekou Smith of NBA.com

“Charlotte small forward Gerald Wallace plays with a relentless force that cannot be matched by any of his peers. He’s not celebrated the way he should be. And Hang Time’s here to change that today.

We don’t need a straw poll, secret ballots or any other of clandestine method to determine the hardest working man in basketball.”

ESPN.com has another bit of praise from Matt Moore (of the True Hoop Network, not the Carolina Panthers)

“I’m not going to sit here and say with 100 percent certainty, “Gerald Wallace is a robot sent from the future to save mankind from opposing teams’ offenses.” I’m just saying I would be very interested to see the results of an X-ray. I’m beginning to think his missing time for a collapsed lung was just factory maintenance.”

Ultimately, we don’t know what it will take for Wallace to become an All-Star.  For three seasons, he’s been the most exciting and visible member of the Bobcats. Still, there’s just about zero chance that the fans will vote Gerald into the game as a starter.  Can the coaches (who vote for reserves) find a better option than a player that sacrifices himself on the court, continually improves each year, and won’t let bumps, bruises, tweaked knees, dislocated shoulders, concussions, or a collapsed lung keep him on the bench?

Oddly, each off-season we hear rumblings about possible trades that will dump Gerald’s contract.  It’s been hard to believe some of those trade rumors we’ve read from “insiders” over the years. There are plenty of bad contracts in the NBA, and Wallace is as good of a value as you’ll find in any pro league.  Earlier this season, when the Cats were scoring 30 pts. a half, I felt horrible for Gerald.  As much as I follow the Bobcats, I couldn’t help but think that Crash deserved more.  Finally, Charlotte has found their identity and begun to show consistent success.  Despite their early failures, Wallace never gave up.  Now, try to imagine the way Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady, or Joe Johnson would conduct themselves on a team doing as bad as the Bobcats were in October/November.  The Bobcats have a gem in Wallace and if he does receive a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad, those trade rumors will likely settle down this off-season.

-Mike

Charlotte Bobcats vs. Wizards 12/23/08

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1. The Bobcats pull out a win against the Wizards tonight, 80-72, at the Cable Box.  AP story here, box score here.  Cats improve to 10-19, the Wiz fall to a miserable 4-22.

2. This was a matchup of the two worst teams in the East, and it was accordingly brutal to watch.  How brutal was it?  The two teams shot a combined 36% from the field.  The Wizards never scored 20 points in any quarter.  The Bobcats had a 10 point second quarter.  The score at halftime was 36-36 — seriously.

3. Thankfully, the Bobcats were less brutal than the Wizards, and were able to separate themselves just enough down the stretch.  With the Bobcats struggling mightily to put points up on the board, I was surprised that Larry Brown didn’t experiment with his bench in an effort to jumpstart the offense.

But it seems like the time for that has passed, and Brown has tightened the rotations up.  In the second half, he stuck mostly with DJ, Raymond, Carroll, Diaw and Okafor.  Adam Morrison and Alexis Ajinca recorded DNP-CDs again, while Ryan Hollins and Juwan Howard only got 5 and 4 first half minutes, respectively.

4. If you’re looking for bright spots for the Bobcats, it has to be Emeka Okafor.  Mek went for 29 points (10-15 FG), 18 rebounds (6 offensive), 4 assists and 3 blocks tonight.  He was easily the Bobcats best option on offense tonight, again looking confident and aggressive.  He went to the line an amazing 17 times, reflecting said aggression.  The only downside to his game tonight was that he hit only 9 of those 17 free throw attempts.

Oh, and that attempted monster jam that he came up a bit short on.  That was pretty embarrassing.

But anyways, have you looked at Mek’s game log for December?  I was thinking that he’d been on fire since Diaw got here, but in fact he’s been playing strong all month.  Does Okafor deserve to be in the conversation for backup All-Star center in the East?

5. Gerald Wallace was also able to buck the trend of poor shooting on the night; he had an efficient 16 points on 6-7 FGs to go with 8 rebounds.  He also had a monster alley-oop jam late in the fourth to help the Bobcats pull away and send the crowd home happy.

Love the look on his face in the pic above; like he’s sneaking onto the floor from the stands.  It’s from a moment in the first half when he chased a loose ball up in the stands — he ended up all the way up by the dude in the bright orange sports coat.

6. The Wizards are bad.  As their record suggests, they are like T-Wolves/Thunder-level bad.  Jamison: 5-18 FG, Mike James 4-16 FG, Andray Blatche 2-10 FG.  Ouch.

On the other hand, Caron Butler is good (31 points on 12-21 FG).  If the Wizards care to go in full-on rebuilding mode, I’d gladly take him off their hands.  He’s the kind of fringe superstar that a small-market team might actually be able to build a competitive team around.

7. Merry Christmas, Bobcats fans.  The Cats are off until Friday night, when they travel to New Jersey to take on the Nets and their red-hot, newly minted star, Devin Harris.

-E

Charlotte Bobcats Christmas Wishlist

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Bobcats Fans Wishlist

 

The Charlotte Bobcats Fans’ Wishlist:

Wish #1: The Bobcats will soon find their identity as a team.

Wish #2: Win games on the road

Wish #3: Win games at home

Wish #4: Season Ticket Books that resemble the quality of other NBA season tickets.

Wish #5: Less Racists on the Charlotte Observer’s NBA blog comments

Wish #6: Gerald Wallace will stay through the end of his contract

Wish #7: Season Ticket Packages won’t be devalued due to ridiculous ticket specials

Wish #8: Fox Sports Carolinas / SportSouth will be available in HD in Charlotte

Wish #9: An injury-free 2009 season

Wish #10: Matt Carroll and Adam Morrison will remember how to make shots

Wish #11: The Bobcats office can learn how market their team and sell tickets

Wish #12: Julius Peppers will be signed as a key reserve at Power Forward

Wish #13: The Bobcats find an All-Star or Olympian to lead the team, and its appeal to fans

Wish #14: Larry Brown will win more games that Sam Vincent (This is a real concern)

Wish #15:  Bobcats will still have the budget to play again for the 2009-2010 season.