Anthony Bennett: The Next LJ or Sean May?

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Baseliners A.S. Chin and Ben Weinrib on the Pros and Cons of UNLV forward and potential Bobcat/Hornet Anthony Bennett:

ASCHIN: Alright Ben, we’re less than a month away from the least predictable NBA Draft in recent memory. Charlotte has the 4th pick but could easily wind up with the best player in this mercurial 2013 class. Anyone who follows us on Twitter knows that you are high on UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, while I’m dubious of the undersized Power Forward’s potential. So let’s start there: In an age of monstrous frontcourts in Memphis, Indiana, San Antonio and (coming soon) Detroit, can a frontline duo of Bennett (6’7″) and Bismack Biyombo (6’9″) succeed?

BEN: To quote our good friend and Bobcats savior Larry Brown: “you rebound with your arms, not your neck.” His true height is unclear since he didn’t go to the combine–ESPN has him at 6’8″ but DraftExpress lists him 6’7″–but  we do know he has a 7’1″ wingspan. Size-wise, that’s the same as Paul Millsap and bigger than Kenneth Faried who averaged a combined 13 and 8 with a 19.19 PER without Bennett’s offensive skillset. In a vacuum, Bennett’s size shouldn’t be a problem, but you make a great point that he and Biyombo would be tiny frontcourt. Some of that is offset by their combined 14’8″ wingspan and Bennett’s Z-Bo-esque beefy frame. Maybe Biyombo isn’t the long-term answer at center, or the Horncats could run a three-man big man rotation with Bennett, Biyombo, and a seven-footer to be named later.

ASCHIN: Well, if Larry Brown says it, it must be true. I can’t argue with Bennett’s frame or his wingspan, the kid is beefy and those long arms allow him to pull off some impressive put-backs and shots off the catch in the paint. I will argue however with the comparisons to Millsap and Faried. Both of those guys have had to bust their humps just to make it in the league, coming in as later round picks. They’ve built their careers on making those extra hustle plays, basically over-achieving. Meanwhile, Bennett arrives as 19 year old Top 5 Lottery Lock with big questions about his work ethic and a lack of effort on the (unglamorous) defensive side of the ball. Is this just immaturity? Does Charlotte have the right pieces in place to transform Bennett into a worker?

BEN: I find it very interesting that he’s such a beast on the offensive boards, yet isn’t as consistent with defensive effort like always boxing out. It’s clear that he can put in good effort down low, and I hope new coach and defensive guru Steve Clifford can brainwash Bennett into fixing that. But Bennett has always reminded me of former Running Rebel and Hornet Larry Johnson. I normally don’t like player comps (He’s the next Jordan!!!) since they often have more to do with looks (see the Tony Snell-Kawhi Leonard comps) or schools (Nerlens Noel-Anthony Davis comps) than actual skills, but this one is spot on. They are both undersized 4s with big upper body strength, surprising speed, and a versatile offensive game. They even put up nearly identical numbers. Bennett has one of the highest upsides in the draft, and wouldn’t you rather gamble on a big who we already know can score?

ASCHIN: Ben, I have to admit it, you’re doing a fine job of ALMOST selling me on Bennett. And I’m glad you brought up the Larry Johnson comp. See, I’m the old man in this conversation, having watched nearly every Grandmama game during his first few seasons. Even as a snot-nosed thirteen year old watching Hornets games on my crappy Zenith CRT TV, I could tell LJ possessed something special. Indulge me for a moment:
BOSTON. November 1st, 1991. Following a contract dispute that lasted the entire preseason, Johnson started his first regular season game opposite Larry Bird. At some point during the first half, LJ backed Bird down into the post and in one move spun around Legend, EXPLODING to the basket for a reverse layup outside the reach of Robert Parish. I’ll never forget that play as long as I live. Pure Power.
The ONLY big man that I’ve seen work in the post like that since is Blake Griffin and even he’s a pale imitation. My point is that Grandmama had an insane back to the basket game and was absolutely, positively EXPLOSIVE once he made his move. He almost won the dunk contest for crying out loud! That’s what allowed him to overcome his height differential at the four spot and is the one thing I’m not seeing in Bennett. In fact, with the young Canadian’s penchant for long jumpers and face-up drives, Bennett reminds me a lot more of “post-back-surgery LJ” than the 1992 Rookie of the Year. Speaking of injuries…
You know that Bennett has dealt with shoulder problems this year and has had some injury concerns in high school. Combine that with the work ethic and potential “beefy” weight issues and we might be comparing this guy to Sean May in four years. (PLEASE TELL ME I’M WRONG!)

BEN: Just the name Sean May makes me shudder! But the big difference between those two is that May’s biggest weakness may be one of Bennett’s biggest strengths. Even coming out of college, the big knock on May was that he was not a very good athlete, and didn’t have very good hops. Bennett has a more muscular frame and is an explosive leaper with much better quickness. He did have some back stiffness in high school, but he never missed a single game when the problems showed up again at UNLV, as he still put up massive numbers. Scouts seem to have no concerns about the surgery on his non-shooting shoulder, and I don’t see why it would be any more concerning than Nerlens Noel or Alex Len’s surgery. Their stocks seem to be doing fine. The three reasons I’m guessing most people aren’t sold on Bennett are because he’s not a fantastic fit next to Biyombo (draft for talent, not for need, especially when this team needs talent so badly), he’s only 6’8″ (already addressed that), and injury concerns (smarter people than us aren’t worried that it’ll affect his projection or that he’ll miss game time). He, unlike Noel, has an NBA-ready body–both size-wise and health-wise–so what’s not to like?

ASCHIN: Have to hand it to you Ben. I was ice cold on Bennett before and you’ve talked me up to lukewarm. Now I’ll only be partially mortified when they take him at four. Expect several desperate emails from me on Draft night.

BEN: As a guy who was also high on Jordan Hill and low on Nik Vucevic, you know I’ll be excited to see how this one turns out. Washington is apparently interested in him at #3, so Bennett may not even be available, and we’ll get to have a fun McLemore/Oladipo/Henderson debate.

Rosterpalooza ’13 | Version 2.0

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Back in Version 1.0 of our offseason nerd-a-thon, we outlined a plan that would allow the Charlotte Bobcats to return to the ranks of competitive basketball next season while maintaining the team’s committment to acquiring and developing young talent. But in order to execute that plan, the team would have to let one of their precious few assets walk via free agency. That asset’s name is Gerald Henderson and he’s played so well over the past two months that we had to dedicate an entire Rosterpalooza to him.

Rosterpalooza ’13: Version 2.0 (The Hendo Edition)

Henderson isn’t a Top 2 franchise guy and probably not even a Top 3. The real question is whether he’s a 4th guy, the *uber* role player who, while not a star, is an integral piece of the team’s identity – think Jeff Green, Wesley Matthews, Taj Gibson or Wilson Chandler.

The Bobcats must be certain that he’s at that level because 4th Guys aren’t cheap and the contracts that they sign ($7-$8 million annually) are notorious for being the riskiest and least “efficient” deals a front office can ink (*cough*, Tyrus Thomas *cough*).

Should Charlotte Re-Sign Gerald Henderson?

PROS: Efficient scorer (even on a terrible team), still young (26 entering next season), good rebounder, a complete two-way player, solid intangibles, potential leadership qualities.

CONS: Improved three point shooter but doesn’t shoot enough to stretch the floor, not a primary scoring option, gives up too much size when matched against SFs (strictly a two guard).

With Shooting Guard currently the league’s weakest position, Gerald couldn’t have picked a better year to hit free agency. Henderson currently ranks 8th in the league amongst SGs in PER and is probably the best defender amongst the Top 10. With the likes of Arron Afflalo and Demar Derozan cashing in between $7 and $9 million annually, don’t expect Gerald Junior to come at a discount just because he plays in obscurity.

RESULT: Charlotte re-signs Gerald Henderson, 4 years $30 million

Moving the Needle

With Henderson locked up and Kemba Walker still mid-rookie contract, the Cats retain a promising young backcourt. Ramon Sessions has played great on a value deal and still has one year left to go as the team’s more than capable third guard. But those guys aren’t the problem. Anyone who’s had the (dis)pleasure of watching 70+ Bobcats games this season knows that if Charlotte is going to improve, they will need to upgrade the bigs.

The Bobcats rank a dismal 25th in points in the paint against, giving up an attrocious 103 points per game in total (league worst). Factors include: Mike Dunlap’s wacky defensive rotations, Ben Gordon, dual point guard backcourts, Byron Mullens, etc. So yes, it’s not entirely Bismack Biyombo’s fault that Charlotte is a horrid defensive team. Both he and Josh McRoberts are active, capable on-ball defenders but they’ll need help.

On the offensive side, the Bobcats’ highest scoring big men, McRoberts and Mullens, average a whopping 18ppg in total – even worse is that the number is skewed high given that they’ve rarely played together in the same game. Outside of the seldom used/injured Brendan Haywood, none of the Bobcats bigs have a post game and, amazingly, none can serve as the dive man in the league’s most basic play aka the pick and roll.

Part I: The Draft

In Version 1.0 we went the optimistic route, giving the Bobcats a Top 2 Lottery pick and their choice of Marcus Smart, Nerlens Noel or Ben McLemore. But given the league’s Lottery history, Charlotte has just as good a shot to pick outside the Top 3 than in it. In Version 2.0, we’ll assume the worst and have the Cats picking 4th.

With that pick, the team could shore up the middle with a project center like Maryland’s Alex Len or trade down and nab a more polished but limited player like Cody Zeller. Or they could roll the dice on an undersized Power Forward from UNLV whose size, injury history and work ethic will likely red flag him outside the Top 3.

Anthony Bennett would instantly become the greatest Canadian player in Charlotte hoops history but outside of that, there are few guarantees. Will his 6’8″ height be offset by the huge wingspan? Will he work to develop a post game? Will he be able to stretch his perimeter shot to the NBA three point line? Are the injuries a fluke?

Ultimately, Bennett’s upside as a dominant scorer at his position outweigh the risks at pick 4. Worst case scenario, he’s Derrick Williams. Best case scenario, he’s Paul Milsap. Either way, he’s an upgrade.

RESULT: Charlotte drafts Anthony Bennett, PF UNLV


Part II: Free Agency

With Bennett drafted and Henderson re-signed, the Bobcats will need to add immediate help in the middle and some long range shooting via the open market. But first, as always, a little housekeeping…

Amnesty Tyrus Thomas

With the stroke of a pen, Michael Jordan rids himself of the last remaining stain of the Larry Brown era. Now that T-Time’s $8 million salary is off the books, the front office can then use the cap space to…

Sign J.J. Hickson

What a dramatic improvement this will be, going from Tyrus Thomas to a player with similar athletic prowess, better size and a functional brain. Hickson might not have Tyrus’s 18 foot range (YAY!) but he’s everything else the Cats have needed in a big man and more: shot blocking, rebounding, solid post defense, an improving post game, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY: Hickson is an OUTSTANDING FINISHER in the basket area. Bobcats fans (and players) will be amazed to see dunks, putbacks and the occassional pick and roll executed in the lane next season. He’ll only be 25 when the season starts, has ties to the region and will form a nice big man combination with Biyombo and Bennett going forward.

RESULT: Charlotte signs J.J. Hickson, PF/C, 4 years $30 million

Stretch the Floor

Photo of Martell Webster wearing one of many NBA jerseys

The Bobcats have struggled to stretch the floor with long distance shooting, especially from the Small Forward position where rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still sorting out his mid-range game. Last time around we penciled in Carlos Defino as a potential solution. This time, we’ll go with Washington’s Martell Webster, a 26 year old bomber who’s currently shooting a lights-out 42% from beyond the arc. Webster’s never been a great defender but that’s what MKG is for. As a 20 minute per game change of pace rain-maker, Martell could do wonders opening up the lane for Charlotte’s drive-heavy guards.

RESULT: Charlotte signs Martell Webster, SF, 2 years $7.5 million

McBob

Josh McRoberts has been great and even after adding Hickson and Bennett, the Cats will still have enough in the tank to sign McBob to a reasonable contract as a utility big/fill-in starter.

RESULT: Charlotte re-signs Josh McRoberts, PF/C, 3 years $12 million (final year is a team option)

The Godfather Offer

Let’s take a quick look the Bobcats’ Depth Chart Heading into Training Camp:

  • PG: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions
  • SG: Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon
  • SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Martell Webster, Jeffrey Taylor
  • PF: Anthony Bennett, Josh McRoberts
  • C: J.J. Hickson, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood

Now have a look at the salary chart. Notice anything odd? Yes, outside of Ben Gordon’s expiring deal, every single player on the Bobcats’ payroll can actually play! There’s no dead money tied up in the Tyrus Thomases, Gana Diops and Reggie Williams of the world. It’s like a real team all of a sudden.

Potential Salary Forecast

Select Image to Enlarge the Chart

Best yet, between Gordon’s $13.2 million expiring and the (likely) THREE 2014 FIRST ROUND Draft Picks Charlotte owns, they will have set themselves up in perfect position should a superstar suddenly become available via trade. Who is going to turn down some sort of combination of a massive expiring, multiple picks and young prospects still on their rookie deals??? OKC and Orlando didn’t get as much for James Harden or Dwight Howard. It’s a Godfather offer you can’t refuse just waiting for a STAR to become available.


Part III: The Final Step

Is Mike Dunlap a legitimate NBA coach?

Decide if Dunlap is the guy.

I’ll say it again. If the Cats play their summer correctly, they’ll suddenly have an appealling roster stocked with good young talent. Should Brian Shaw, Jerry Sloan, Mike Brown, Nate McMillan or Stan Van Gundy become intrigued, Charlotte will need to make certain that they have the right head coach to lead them to the next level.

-ASChin
@bobcatsbaseline


POLL : Should Bobcats Re-Sign Henderson

  • Yes, Absolutely! (41%, 116 Votes)
  • Let Him Walk (7%, 21 Votes)
  • For the Right Price (52%, 148 Votes)

Total Voters: 285

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