Nerlens Noel: High and Low

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Nerlens Noel illustration by Mike S.
Baseliners A.S. Chin and Ben Weinrib debate the merits of Kid n’ Play cosplayer/Kentucky freshmen center, Nerlens Noel.

The Nerlens Noel Pre-Draft Debate

ASCHIN: Noel has been 2013’s projected top overall pick from the moment the 2012 Draft was over. Between the length, athleticism and instincts around the basket at both ends, it’s easy to understand why. But here we are, just days before the Draft and there’s talk that the 19-year old Kentucky center may drop out of the top spot. How is this possible? Has the hate gone too far or have the scouts and doctors just had enough time to properly evaluate Noel as a prospect?

BEN: Could there be a better scenario for the Bobcats than drafting Noel? He’s the guy everyone would have expected Charlotte to take had they won the lottery because of his enormous upside and interior presence. Not all great teams have a rim protector, but almost every team with a great rim protector is very good (Indiana, Chicago, San Antonio, Memphis, and even LA). Furthermore, it’s puts Charlotte in prime Wiggins/Parker/Randle position for next summer. What’s not to love with this pick? The dude was a beast at UK and even blew out his knee chasing down and blocking a guard on a fast break.

ASCHIN: I take it that you haven’t listened to the Bill Simmons Father’s Day podcast with Ryen Russillo. Turns out Noel has some world class “bad dudes” running his show from behind the scenes that make Lebron’s entourage look like a MENSA summit by comparison. Nerlens apparently blew off a dozen of the league’s top agents for months before signing with Andy Miller last Friday. Combine that with Noel’s slight frame (tough to add bulk to narrow shoulders), ACL injury, growth plate surgery, raw-as-Biyombo offensive game and you have potentially the WORST Bobcats 2013 Draft candidate. Frankly, Charlotte can’t afford to draft back-to-back-to-back defense-only projects and even if they could, would you really want to invest a Top 5 pick around “the next Theo Ratliff“?

BEN: I actually don’t see the weight issue as such a big deal. Dr. James Andrews recommended Noel drop weight to expedite the recovery, and Noel said he was 228 pounds before the injury. That means he put on 13 pounds in a half year at Kentucky, so he’s shown he can put on weight. But the Bobcats just need to add talent at this point, and he’s the most talented guy on the board. Sure, he may miss two months, but that’s a small sacrifice to make in an otherwise non-competitive season to land the most talented player down the board. He may be Theo Ratliff at the very worst but who is Alex Len if he doesn’t develop an offensive game? Timofey Mozgov? Noel offers the best interior defense in the draft – something the Bobcats desperately need – and he would give them a high-upside 7-footer, something the team has never had. As for the offense, Memphis seems to be doing just fine with about two offensive options, and one of those is Mike Conley. Mike Conley!

ASCHIN: 228lbs?! That’s losing 15% of his body weight in three months – if this were Sean May we were talking about maybe I’d buy it, but a beanpole like Noel? Sounds fishy. Regardless of his physical or mental makeup, I think all this Nerlens talk is doing a severe disservice to the team’s incumbent young rim protector, Bismack Biyombo. Am I crazy for expecting big things from the STILL ONLY 20 YEAR OLD former Lottery pick? Biz really improved his fundamentals this year even if it didn’t show up in the stat sheet and he’s becoming a better on-ball defender game by the game. Also: Biyombo weighs in at a chiseled 245 and still sometimes struggles with uber-bigs like Roy Hibbert (listed at 280). I can only imagine what Hibbert would do to a sub-225 pound bamboo shoot like Noel. #biznation

Bismack Biyombo Illustration by Mike S.

Bismack Biyombo | #biznation

 

BEN: I’m a huge Biyombo apologist! Serge Ibaka didn’t break out until age 21 or 22, so I’m not totally concerned he’s having trouble catching the basketball just yet. But imagine how tough it would be to score down low with Biyombo and Noel awaiting. Charlotte could finally stop guards who thrive off penetrating, which has been one of the teams biggest issues. Imagine the two growing together under the tutelage of Steve Clifford–who has a great reputation of developing big men–and Patrick Ewing. Even newly hired Mark Price may help their embryonic offensive games. The only concerns I’m hearing are that Noel won’t play for part of this season (oh no, they won’t win a championship next year!) and his defense is way ahead of his offense. Given that he’s a year younger than Alex Len, don’t you think Noel will be better than where Len is right now in a year? Len has put up back-to-back pedestrian season, including nearly identical offensive numbers to Noel, despite getting much more praise. Len’s line was 12-8-1-2-0 on 53.4% shooting versus 11-10-2-4-2 on 59.0% shooting for Noel. Age matters, too.

ASCHIN: Well, I’m only a little younger than Tim Duncan so by that rationale, I should be drop-stepping Chris Bosh sometime before I hit 40. At some point you realize guys either have elite offensive instincts or they don’t and Noel clearly doesn’t. As well as Serge Ibaka has developed, he’s still very limited offensively. When’s the last time you saw Serge put it on the floor for a straight line drive? High posts? He sticks with his bread & butter 15-20 foot jumpers and finishes around the rim – both firmly in his wheelhouse. I think both Biz and Noel have that type of potential going forward but it would be damn near impossible to play them together without some world-class offensive phenoms surrounding them (see Ibaka & Perk in OKC). I’m not the biggest Cody Zeller fan in the world but I at least understand the philosophy behind considering him as the pick. You’d love to pair Bismack or Noel with a highly skilled floor spacer – especially with a short-range player like MKG at the other forward spot. So it’s gotta be either Biz OR Noel. And I’ll take Biyombo’s work ethic, attitude and physical size over Nerlens any day. #biznation

Also, Noel wouldn’t be able to suit up for the team until at least the All-Star break. I know that you are firmly in the pro-Tank ’13 camp but don’t you think it’s a tad bit disrespectful to ask thousands of fans to spend their hard-earned money on a team BUILT TO LOSE for a THIRD CONSECUTIVE YEAR?

BEN: I don’t believe for a second you’d rather take Zeller over Noel because he’s a “better fit”. I’d rather find fits for elite talent than fit together lesser talent. Just look at when Minnesota drafted Wes Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins because they needed a wing player. As for the last question, I think you can lower ticket prices as a good will offer if you’re really worried about fans, since winning will ultimately draw in the most money. That’s why I’d rather take the best talent (that also allows the team to capitalize on its likely three draft selections next year). Sure, Andrew Wiggins is far from assured, but from the looks of it, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, and Marcus Smart will be very good, too. A top-five choice if you draft Noel? That’s almost assured. Nearly every NBA superstar was taken near the top of the lottery, so why not go all-in on the best talent in this draft and the most hyped draft in 11 years?

ASCHIN: You lost me at “elite talent”. Chad Ford has Noel grouped with a half dozen other prospects in his 3rd Tier – that usually means starter not superstar. I just think Biz and Noel are the same player with similar upside. Nerlens has the edge in finishing instincts around the bucket while Biyombo has the will and physical size that will allow him to defend the league’s elite centers. As for the ’14 Draft, Marcus Smart was projected to be selected behind Noel all season long before he decided to return to OSU. And don’t forget, this time last year Shabazz Muhammed was everyone’s favorite savior. Remember all those “2012: The Greatest Draft Ever” articles? Didn’t exactly turn out that way.

When you combine the Lottery’s odds with perpetual Draft class uncertainty and the Bobcats’ less than stellar Draft record (Cho has been better but far from perfect), you are basically playing the PowerBall with your fans’ time and money. It’s irresponsible and short-sighted. Case in point: during the Hornets’ heyday, NOT ONCE did the team’s fans have championship aspirations. Not once. All the sell-outs, all of the love from the Muggsy to Divac to Mashburn and B-Diddy eras was earned from simply being competitive and hard-working. That’s really all the city ever asked from ’88-’98 – before the lockout and all the Shinn nonsense. Charlotte isn’t Vegas, it isn’t a win-or-gome home town. It only wants you to compete, play hard and not embarrass anyone. That’s pretty much the opposite of tanking.

BEN: Looks like we just differ in philosophies, and that’s okay. However, judging by Cho’s history and reported philosophy, I’m guessing he’s firmly in the Noel camp. Sure, he’s warted, but everyone else in the draft is warted, too. The one point I keep coming back to is that the potential three draft picks next year are among Charlotte’s biggest assets. You make a good point about overrating drafts, but no prep player recently has received the hype of Wiggins or even Parker. They can’t afford to squander having multiple high draft picks in such a highly-touted class, an opportunity that won’t come around for years. Since they already owe Chicago a first-rounder, they have no choice but to go all-in on the 2014 draft. And Nerlens Noel represents the chance to land the best talent in both drafts combined.

Charlotte Bobcats Draft Retrospective | Part Three

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Part Three: ’11 and Beyond: From The Ashes, a New CHOpe

Having been so thoroughly fleeced in every trade and flummoxed in every Draft, Jordan & Higgins were at least humble enough to admit that they were clueless.

Just weeks before the 2011 Draft, Trailblazers general manager Rich Cho was fired after less than a year on the job. Blazers owner Paul Allen wasn’t thrilled with Cho’s “communication style” and decided to lay down the axe immediately. Portland’s loss was Charlotte’s gain as Jordan quickly hired Cho to run the Bobcats in the same capacity, “promoting” Higgins to President of Basketball Operations – supposedly due to his steller work as GM. The Cho hiring signified a major shift for Jordan as an owner and he deserves a great deal of credit for it. While Allen fired Cho for not being a “yes man”, Jordan sought out the strong-minded GM for the exact opposite reasons.

Cho’s pedigree instantly re-ignited the hardcore fanbase: armed with an accomplished academic resume in both engineering and law, Cho began his NBA career as a member of the Sam Presti-led Seattle/OKC organization during the mid-’90s. Cho was (and still is) regarded as one of the brightest front office minds in the game – an expert negotiator with a progressive approach towards talent evaluation via proprietary information gathering and advanced statistical analysis. The man’s resume was impressive but the task ahead of him – rebuilding an asset starved franchise – was monumental.

Kemba Walker Illustration by Mike S

The 2011 Draft: Bismack Biyombo C Congo, Kemba Walker PG UCONN.

Cho made an impressive pre-Draft move just weeks after being hired, somehow upgrading from the 19th overall pick (via Portland) to the 7th spot for the slim price of “downgrading” from Stephen Jackson to Corey Maggette. Armed with picks 7 and 9, Cho went the traditional route, nabbing a big man and a point guard to begin the re-building process.

How It Played Out: After two seasons it seems that Kemba Walker has All-Star potential. Whether he gets there or not depends on the front office surrounding him with some legitimate NBA talent. On any given posession Walker has been the team’s best offensive option; to pass to a teammate has been mostly a perfunctory exercise as no Bobcat outside of Gerald Henderson has managed any sort of sustainable scoring. We know that Walker can run the break, we know that he can get to his spot as well as anyone, we know that he’s a leader. Kemba has the heart to get to the next level but he’ll need help along the way. Regardless, he’s already become the Bobcats’ best draft pick since fellow UConn Huskie Emeka Okafor and for this franchise, that’s a bonafide win.

Bismack Biyombo illustration by Mike S

Then there’s poor Bismack Biyombo. Unlike his NCAA Champion “Thunder & Lightning” classmate, Biz entered the league as an extremely raw 19 year old project. He needed consistency, patience, veteran guidance and attention. What he got was a lockout shortened training camp, three coaching staffs in three years, an unearned role as starting NBA center and the youngest, worst roster in the NBA. Yet, through all of this, Biyombo has improved. Ironically, given Cho’s background in advanced stats, Bismack’s advancements are better evaluated with the naked eye than the spreadsheet. During Biz’s sophmore campaign we witnessed the following: at least three step-back jumpers (including a ridiculous call-off fadeaway on Thaddeus Young), dozens of baby hooks over both shoulders, vastly improved footwork, aggressive putbacks and transition buckets. Biyombo even learned how to go straight up for a dunk off the catch – did he even record a clean catch during his rookie season? Don’t get me wrong, Biz is still extremely limited offensively. The maddening habit of bringing the ball way down after an offensive board is still there. But between the elite defensive flashes, the intellect, the youth (Biyombo can’t legally order a drink until August) and the work ethic, we might be looking at an NBA All Defensive First Teamer in the next few years.

How It Should Have Played Out: As nice as Cho’s inaugural Draft was, he did miss out on a couple of gems. Passing on Kawhi Leonard once can be forgiven (thirteen other teams committed the same sin) but passing on him twice? Selecting Leonard with the Biyombo pick would’ve freed up Charlotte to take Andre Drummond the following season, giving them a nice Leonard/Drummond/Walker core going forward. Cho also passed on smooth shooting Klay Thompson, the crazy energy of Kenneth Faried and do-it-all center Nikola Vucevic. But ultimately, when measured against the team’s lurid Draft history, none of these gaffes even register. A solid first Draft for Rich Cho and a solid start to the rebuilding process.

GRADE: B-


The 2012 Draft: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist SF Kentucky, Jeffrey Taylor SG Vanderbilt.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Illustration by Mike SHow It Played Out: When you build from the ground up, you need everything. Cho’s second Draft was all about solidifying the foundation, regardless of current skill level or position. After losing the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, the Bobcats ended up with whom many believe to be the leader of the 2012 NCAA Champion Wildcat team, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. His rookie season played out much as everyone expected. The shooting wasn’t there yet – opposing defenses needed only to protect the paint when MKG and the rest of his brick-laying squad came to town – but the on-ball defense, rebounding and transition offense were at times stellar. Kidd-Gilchrist achieved these modest feats despite being the youngest player in the league (he won’t turn 20 until September) and while playing for the league’s least credible coach (yet another Higgins catastrophe – but that’s another topic for another column). It was MKG’s relentlessness and work ethic that made him the obvious pick for a franchise in need of a massive culture shift.

With the first pick in the second round, Cho nabbed another defense-first wing stopper in Vandy’s Taylor. Armed with tremendous physical size for his position and a solid stroke from long distance, Taylor provides an intriguing “three & D” combination at the two guard spot. He’ll need to improve his handle to thwart close-outs but the defensive intensity is there. This guy could be a legitimate Danny Green-type player in two years.

How It Should Have Played Out: Given his age, it’s still way too early to second guess the MKG pick. Harrison Barnes or Bradley Beal would have immediately provided the spacing and scoring the Cats desperately need. Andre Drummond has the imposing size and hops to be a Dwight/Amare hybrid if he can kick the injury bug. Damian Lillard’s ceiling may have already been reached but he’ll remain one of the league’s top point guards nonetheless.
Regardless of how it all plays out, the 2011 and 2012 Drafts represent a massive shift for the franchise. Cho’s Drafts demonstrate a measured strategy and philosophy. The Bobcats are now in the business of drafting hard-working, uber-athletes with great attitudes and sky-high upsides. Two years later, we still don’t know if the strategy works but, for the first time in franchise history, we at least know there is one.

GRADE: B-

-ASChin


Up Next: The 2013 Draft – The Final Draft in “Bobcats” History!


POLL : Best Bobcats Draft Pick

  • Emeka Okafor (9%, 27 Votes)
  • Kemba Walker (62%, 188 Votes)
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11%, 32 Votes)
  • Raymond Felton (4%, 13 Votes)
  • Gerald Henderson (14%, 41 Votes)

Total Voters: 301

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WHICH BOBCATS ARE PLAYOFF MATERIAL?

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January 19th, 2013. It was Saturday evening in Austin, Texas. Though there were plenty of interesting things to do in and around the nation’s live music capitol, my brother and I decided to dedicate our night to watching a crappy Bobcats team take on a slightly less crappy Sacramento Kings team via League Pass. Questionable lifestyle decisions aside, we were at least prepared: half a pint of Stoly in the freezer for me, a couple of hipster approved craft brews for my bro. At somepoint in the 3rd quarter, fueled by booze and Mike Dunlap’s putrid offense, the following question was asked:

“What roles would these Bobcats play on a good team?”

Ultimately, the answer to this question both illustrates the true state of the roster and explains why the team has struggled to a 10-30 record. Let’s begin with the positives.

Players in their Proper Roles

Kemba Walker. Playoff Role: STARTER.
The only guy on the Bobcats roster worth watching for 82 games, Kemba has improved tremendously since last season, notably in the passing game and with his shooting percentage (from 36% to 43%, 46% TSP to 54% TSP). Because he’s not in the Chris Paul-mold some feel that Kemba’s ceiling is limited as an NBA point. I would point out that CP3 built a career tossing alley-oops to Tyson Chandler, David West, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. Meanwhile Walker’s been saddled with Bismack Biyombo and hodgepodge of sub-standard offensive bigs. Let’s reserve judgement on Kemba’s playmaking abilities for now. In the meantime, as a tough, scoring lead guard, Kemba is simply awesome to watch.

Brendan Haywood. Playoff Role: BACKUP CENTER.
This is cheating a little since Haywood’s previous gig was as the Backup Center on a Playoff team in Dallas (though Ian Mahimni stole his minutes when it mattered), nonetheless, Brendan’s decent-at-everything approach and low price tag more than qualify him for the role of Playoff team backup center.

Ramon Sessions. Playoff Role: BACKUP POINT GUARD.
The Bobcats may not be a Playoff team but they do have postseason depth at the game’s most important position. Session’s size and play style has proved a nice complement to Walker. Although he’ll never make an All-Defensive team (opposing points have posted a scorching 19.5 PER against him), it’s not for a lack of effort. Surround Sessions with some quality teammates and he’s a solid Playoff third guard.

Players Slightly Miscast

Gerald Henderson. Playoff Role: ???
Henderson’s had a strange season since returning from November’s ankle injury. His career high near fifty percent mark from beyond the arc has been a pleasant surprise (granted he’s only averaging a single attempt per contest) and his mid-range game looks as solid as ever. The problem is that defensively, GH2 has taken a major step back. In his previous two seasons, Gerald’s opponents were managing a paltry 14.0 PER against, establishing Hendo’s reputation as a near lockdown defender in the making. Unfortunately, this season opposing SGs are toasting him: a 20.6 PER against more than negates the positive strides GH2’s made offensively. This is likely an abberation due to Gerald’s foot and back injuries and to the complexities (I’m being nice) of Dunlap’s zone-based defense. Regardless, Henderson is currently not a starter on a Playoff team and given his preference for that gig, I’m not certain what role he would play.

Ben Gordon. Playoff Role: SIXTH MAN.
There are times in which Ben Gordon is the best player on either bench. His gorgeous, high-arching jumper seems to have been gifted to us from the basketball gods. Rising, falling, fading away, every shot born at his fingertips, dying on twine. We knew there would be moments like these (the November near-win in New Orleans is still my favorite) but we also knew there was a reason Detroit gave up a potential lottery pick just to take him off their hands. As an aggregate, Gordon has been consistently solid on offense (24 points/40 on 45% shooting) – a positive but not exactly the type of production you’d want out of a $12 million per year, one-way guy. The advanced stats have him as a net neutral (-0.3) at SG but the eye-test proves that Gordon’s still a major liability on defense (Tyreke Evans abused him for the go-ahead basket last night in one of Dunlap’s most eggregious substition brain-farts of the year). Ideally, Gordon would be the Sixth Man on a strong defensive team with big PGs to pair him with. Returning to Chicago seems the most obvious fit but Ben’s contract may prohibit such a move for the next couple of seasons.

Sofia Coppola in Godfather III (aka Players Absolutely Miscast)

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Playoff Role: ROTATION WING.
I’ll keep this short. Remember how slowly Utah developed its 19 year old physical specimen? Well, MKG is the wing-version of Derrick Favors. He should be playing 20 minutes or less a night behind an established, quality veteran and starting in another two or three seasons. At which time, he’ll own the position for a decade. His current mis-assignment as a starter isn’t helping anyone, especially his rep with the fans.

Bismack Biyombo. Playoff Role: RESERVE.
Speaking of having your reputation damaged, perhaps no other Bobcat has taken more internet heat this year than the lovable, mistake-magnet from the Congo. In Biz’s defense, he shouldn’t be starting for any team, Playoff or otherwise. Given the fact that he’s only been playing the game for four years, I’d say he’s made an excellent amount of progress. The problem of course is that he’s simply not NBA ready. He’s a moderately decent defensive center (16.2 PER against) and an atrocious offensive liability. It’s getting to the point where his development is taking a hit due to all that his bad team asks from him. Cho and Dunlap need to huddle and figure out a way to reconcile this before burning him out like a not-ready-for-primetime young quarterback.

Hakim Warrick. Playoff Role: RESERVE
He plays hard but couldn’t crack the New Orleans’ Hornets rotation. Next.

Jeff Adrien. Playoff Role: BOUNCER.
I love Adrien’s effort and throwback game but he wouldn’t sniff a Playoff roster.

Tyrus Thomas. Playoff Role: OPPOSING TEAM’S ROSTER.
A Playoff team would love nothing more than to face off against a lineup that featured Tyrus Thomas, the league’s first player to make a successful comeback following a lobotomy.

Byron Mullens. Playoff Role: BIG MAN ROTATION.
As much as it pains me to admit this, there is a very real chance that Byron Mullens could one day play meaningful minutes on a Playoff team. Certainly not as a starter but as a third or fourth change-of-pace big, sure. Before going down with a gruesome ankle injury last month, Mullens proved that he could rebound at a decent clip (7.8 rpg, 14 r/40) and could occasionally hit an open three. He’ll need to improve his shooting percentages tremendously (37% FG, 30% 3PT) and maintain the growth on defense but given his size and potential offensive abilities, it’s not out of the question Mullens could eventually play the role of a below-the-poverty-line man’s Dirk on a Playoff roster.

-ASChin

Bobcats Mid-January Recap

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It’s been a little while since we’ve posted any recaps on Bobcats Baseline. Sure, plenty of excuses could be made for this. Really, it all comes down to a downturn in enthusiasm. It might be impossible to accuse any Bobcats blogger of being a fair weather fan, but this team sure does make it tough. December  was a pretty dark month, as the Cats only one 1 of their 20 games. So, the new year will be my time to re-energize or spirits and express some loose thoughts on the current state of the Charlotte-based club that we wish wasn’t so terrible at professional basketball.

Let’s Look at the Positives

Um, there are some positives right?

Gordon for Three!

We can celebrate the fact that the Cats have 2 more wins than all of last season! How about that for improvement. Actually, let’s be grateful that we no longer have to see Corey Maggette on the court. His ability to make basketball unwatchable has perfectly suited all of the teams that have paid him so much money. Now, we get Ben Gordon – gettin’ hot and doin’ Ben Gordon thangs. Oh, and we should be happy that none of the important guys have suffered any serious injuries so far this year, either. Don’t try to tell me that Byron Mullens’ counts as important.

Let’s give Mike Dunlap some credit. He worked hard to install a defensive attitude to this team all throughout training camp. While that’s not actually shown any on-court results for the Bobcats, he has a fine excuse for the team playing offense like a YMCA pick up game. Well, maybe they could use at least one player that could score in the half-court offense. But, that’s a whole other story for another day. Realistically, Dunlap gets credit for the way the team has kept up their effort. They might not look or play like winners, but they’ve fought and hustled through nearly every game this year. No one is hanging their heads despite their collectively horrible record.

Bright Spots

So, it’s been awesome to watch Ramon Sessions step on the floor and perform like a professional at every opportunity. He seems to do all that’s within his ability to give the team what it needs when he’s on the floor. Teams like the Spurs have 7 or 8 guys like this. The Bobcats have about 1.5.

Byron being ineffective

Remember when Byron Mullens was often the focal point of the Bobcats’ offense? Ugh. I know some folks like the unconventional, and seeing a 7-footer hitting long range shots sure was appealing. But Byron was failing at nearly every other aspect of the game. He’s no Dirk, and his teammates were punished for just about every minute he was on the court.

Now, we’ve got this weird platoon of Tyrus Thomas, Hakim Warrick, and Jeff Adrien. Where do you start with this squad. If we throw Byron in this pile, we still get one of the weakest performing collections of power forwards that the league will see for a long time. But I’ve got to admit that it’s fun to watch Jeff Adrien. His game is so old-school, and it’s great to see a D-League guy perform when he gets the chance. This might be one of his only seasons in the NBA, so let’s enjoy his stable, predictable style of ball. His game is so much more palatable than the 2013 Tyrus Thomas Jumpshot Clinic & Dribbling Exhibition.

Hmmm

What’s up with Gerald Henderson? He comes off the bench and seems pretty quiet these days. Somehow he always ends up in double digit scoring, and finds a way to never take it to the rack. I remember when jumping was one of the easiest things for him, and his shooting was shaky. By starting Jeff Taylor, I get the feeling that the Bobcats are feeling out what life without Henderson is like. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him traded or heading elsewhere this summer. Personally, I like his game a lot, but he might have a better role on another club.

One-half of Thunder & Lightning

Wasn’t Bismack Biyombo supposed to get better? Out of all of the discouraging comments that the Utah Jazz broadcast crew spouted during their game, there was one that stuck with me. Continually, they stated their opinion that the Bobcats were loaded with athletes that weren’t actually basketball players. You could probably say this most accurately describes two of the Cats – Tyrus Thomas and Bismack Biyombo. Potential and “development” were the themes we heard when Bismack was drafted. Right now, it’s starting to seem a little unrealistic to expect much from the kid. Let’s hope that he maintains his work ethic and the team provides him with everything he needs to grow and understand basketball at a pro level. Maybe they can keep Tyrus around as a cautionary example for him. “Hey, Bis – you don’t want to end up like that guy.”

As I mentioned, I caught the Jazz-Bobcats game on NBA League Pass last night and it was quite a treat to hear the Utah broadcast team’s opinions on Charlotte’s team. Most times, I enjoy hearing an alternative to Charlotte’s homer duo of Steve Martin and Dell Curry. Usually, the other teams have a very balanced and straightforward play-by-play guy and some awfully unintelligible color commentator that provides a good deal of exclamatory oohs and ahhs. The worst of these might be Dominique Wilkins. Check out an ATL game sometime and you’ll enjoy listening to how bad he is at his job. Last night, the Jazz team had a pair of absolutely sober guys that continually bashed the Bobcats performance, roster, and organization. To add insult to injury while the Jazz piled on a barrage of unanswered points during the 3rd, the color commentary dude just went on an unprompted and disconnected tangent about how he “didn’t know what this club can do” and mentioned how Charlotte was such an exciting place for basketball back when “there was the Hornets and Alonzo Mourning…”  Ouch.

Let’s hope Charlotte can start to turn this thing around. We can’t let Mike Dunlap get the Paul Silas Blues. Things look to change over the next couple of years – David Stern will step down, the Hornets could be back, Gana Diop will retire, Tyrus Thomas should be gone, and Kemba might be good enough to threaten to take his talents to South Beach.

Go Cats!

-Mike 


POLL : Should Charlotte Trade Gerald Henderson?

  • Absolutely (43%, 30 Votes)
  • Only for a Great Return (51%, 36 Votes)
  • No Way (6%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 70

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Bobcats Baseline Season 9 | Week 4 Recap

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Well, the word for the week is regression, as in regression to the mean.  The Bobcats started the week at a remarkable 7-5, having equalled last seasons’ win total in just 22 days.  But the impressive start was on a shaky foundation for a couple of important reasons.  One, the Cats had consistently been the beneficiaries on good fortune (OK, luck) in close games.  And two, the Bobcats had played the weakest schedule in the league.  Both luck in close games and strength of schedule tend to even out as the games pile up; hence the Cats were due to see their record come back down to earth.

So regress they did, dropping all three games this week against three likely playoff teams to fall to 7-8.  After getting blown out in Oklahoma City on Monday night, the Cats rebounded with better efforts in Atlanta and at home against the 76ers.  They hung around in the fourth quarter in both games, but didn’t get any of the breaks that had been going their way in the first few weeks of the season.

Three Thoughts on the Week

#1 – Finally Got To See Ben Gordon Do Ben Gordon Stuff

Gordon has had a choppy start to the season.  After a 34-point outburst against New Orleans early on, he missed a couple of games.  Then, since coming back he had a couple really quiet games.  But the past two have been pretty great.  Against Atlanta Wednesday night Gordon caught fire with 20 points on 5-7 3pt in the fourth quarter and almost singlehandedly kept the Bobcats within striking distance.  He had a similar, though less impressive, stint in the second quarter Friday night against the 76ers, with 11 points on 3-3 3pt.

Gordon’s on the downside of his career, so spurts like this will happen less frequently than we would like on this otherwise offensively limited Bobcats squad, but when he does catch fire it’s fun to watch.

#2 – Again, We Are Loving Jeff Taylor

Sorry for the repetition, as ASChin covered this in last week’s recap, but holy moly Jeff Taylor is looking like a steal.  His on-ball defense is as advertised, featuring an impressive combination of size, strength and quickness.  He’s fouling quite a bit, but I would expect that to improve over time as he goes around the league a few times, learning the tendencies of his opponents and the officials.

And his offense has been a nice bonus.  We knew he had a stellar senior year shooting the three at Vanderbilt, but there was concern that it may have been a little flukey, and whether it would translate out to the NBA line.  No worries, as Taylor’s hitting threes at a 40% clip, good for top 50 in the league overall and the second best among rookies (behind Kyle Singler).

Having someone on a second-round contract that can be a legitimate part of your rotation is a huge plus for any team, and something that hasn’t happened for the Bobcats until now (Bernard Robinson, Kyle Weaver anyone?).

TV play-by-play man Steve Martin referenced a moment from the little documentary on the Bobcats 2012 draft that has been showing that I’ve also recalled when watching Taylor.  In the Bobcats war room on draft day, they show Rich Cho taking a call from from another GM proposing a trade for the #31 pick.  You don’t quite get to hear all of the details, but what you do hear is Cho quickly reject the idea.  He’s polite enough, but there’s definitely a bit of “don’t be ridiculous” in his tone.  Cho knew he could get a player there, and he did.

# 3 – Signs Of Growth From Biz?

We all knew that Bismack Biyombo was a major project, particularly on the offensive end.  But there were times last season when he had such trouble doing basic things like catching and finishing in traffic that it became fair to wonder if he’d ever be able to play in crunch time in the league.  Fast forward to this year and I’m much less concerned.

Don’t get me wrong, Biyombo still has the occasional cringeworthy possession, but there have been more nice moments mixed in.  Plays that make you think “OK, he can do this.”  In the Philadelphia game in particular, the 76ers were religiously, almost embarrassingly, helping off of Biyombo.  (This can make you unplayable in crunch time.)  But credit to the Bobcats and Biyombo; they realized it and made the 76ers pay en route to a season high 14 points on 5-6 FG.

On one play a driving Gordon drew Biyombo’s man in addition to his own.  Biyombo slid to the perfect spot and Gordon whipped a pass to him.  This was the kind of pass that Biyombo routinely fumbles away, but this time he caught it and went straight up for the dunk.

In another moment from the same game, Evan Turner was mismatched on Biyombo in the post.  Yeah, Turner’s a wing, but he’s 6’7″ 220lb.  What’s important is that Biz confidently, purposefully, fluidly, and easily scored with a simple spin into a lefty lay-in.

The project appears to be coming along just fine.

–Dr. E 

 

 

Predictions: Recapping the Charlotte Bobcats ’12-’13 Season

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Editor’s Note: Instead of offering a run of the mill predictions column for this season, I thought I’d have a little fun by imagining what ESPN Insider John Hollinger might be writing about the Charlotte Bobcats next season.

John Hollinger’s 2013-2014 Charlotte Bobcats Team Forecast.

Overview

If the league handed out awards for “Most Improved Horrendous Team”, last season’s Bobcats would have swept the vote. Sure, Mike Dunlap’s squad again finished dead last in the league, managing only 21 wins, but boy did they ever improve.
Charlotte walked away from their disastorous 7-win ’11-’12 campaign with a clear goal in mind: Develop their young talent while maintaining some semblance of respectability on the court. Dunlap was brought in to nurture the kitties whilst veterans Ramon Sessions, Brendan Haywood and Ben Gordon were added to provide the team with actual NBA players. The formula mostly worked, on several occasions presenting the Queen City with a sight it had nearly forgotten: competitive basketball. Thanks to GM Rich Cho’s methodical approach to rebuilding (the nonsense of the Larry Brown-era has officially ended), the organization may well be on their way to sustained relevancy.

2012-2013 Recap

In some ways Dunlap inherited the best coaching job in the league – trumping a .106 winning percentage isn’t as easy as it sounds – but for the first six weeks of the season, he certainly gave it his best shot.
The Bobcats were horrendous in November/December, barely improving upon their notorious -12 point differential from a year prior. Second Year PG Kemba Walker shot 34% from the field. Byron Mullens 40%. Leading scorer Gerald Henderson connected on just 42%. The good news was that number two overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made them all look good by somehow succeeding on only 29% of his attempts. Basically, for the first quarter of the season, Charlotte couldn’t find a basket with a GPS.
Fortunately, the horror show was short lived and the Cats found their groove by New Year. On the player development front, Mullens in particular made a leap. His 17.8 PER led the team and all but guaranteed a big payday over the summer. Running the pick ‘n pop with either Walker or Sessions, Mullens transformed into a partially-employeed man’s Dirk Nowitzki, extending his range out beyond the stripe (35%) while benefiting defensively from Dunlap’s revelation to play him at the four. Walker rebounded from his poor shooting to eventually manage a respectable 45% and made strides with his court vision (8.2 apg per 40). The team’s other 2011 Lottery pick, Bismack Biyombo, seemed to regress early but by early March was back to blowing up YouTube servers.
The big story, of course, was Kidd-Gilchrist. Playing at a position where most teams find their scoring, MKG couldn’t buy a bucket for a half a season. As the scouting report out of Kentucky confirmed, opponents laid off MKG, daring him to shoot. The strategy worked and Kidd-Gilchrist finished the season dead last amongst starters in long twos and three point percentages. Players who shoot this poorly almost never make it past Replacement Level PER but MKG finished the season at 16.2, an amazing number considering his broken shot. One need only to look to his per 40 minute numbers in rebounds (10.9), steals (2.5) and blocks (2.1) to get an idea of how he did it. Those pre-draft comps to Gerald Wallace weren’t far off, it’s just that Wallace produced numbers like these at 25. Kidd-Gilchrist did it 18. Synergy had him ranked near the top of the SF pile defensively, something the eye-test confirms (his lock-down defense against Lebron James in a mid-season matchup comes to mind). Combine this with an innate ability to get to the line (10th highest FT rate at his position) and MKG stayed in the conversation for Rookie of the Year until April.

Offseason Moves

The price was one atrocious season and one simply bad one but GM Rich Cho finally regained control of Charlotte’s payroll – one that had been managed like a drunken sailor under former Staff Sergeant Larry Brown. With his team still a year or two away from courting a major free agent, Cho wisely auctioned his cap space for draft choices and prospects.

Traded Haywood and to Oklahoma City for Kendrick Perkins and a draft pick: In a pre-draft trade echoing last year’s Gordon swap, Charlotte purchased another lottery pick (via Toronto, 12th overall) with surplus cap space. Taking on Perkins $18 million cap hit over the next two seasons is a terrible move for most teams but not so for the Bobcats, who aren’t a free agency destination and need to add dollars just to hit the salary floor. Perkins and Haywood put up near identical stats last season so Bobcats fans shouldn’t expect any upgrade due to the massive dollar difference. Still, Perkins remains an excellent post defender and will fit in nicely as mentor to yet another shot blocker from the Congo.

Let Gerald Henderson go, drafted Shabazz Mohammed, Dario Saric: Henderson’s fate was sealed the moment Charlotte finished third in the Noel/Zeller sweepstakes. Offensively, Mohammed was college basketball’s highest rated wing player (16.9 in the Draft Rater) and projects quite nicely at the next level. At 6’6″, 225 he should have the size to start and score big right away. Defensively, the Bobcats will probably take a step back at the position for the moment – Synergy rated Henderson in the top third of SGs – but long term, the ‘Bazz projects to be a star at the two. With the pick from the Perkins deal, Charlotte nabbed Saric, who will play out the final year of his Euro deal before being introduced to Bojangles chicken and biscuits. His translated numbers are a mixed bag but he’s only 19 and is solid shooter who can really see the floor. Those Toni Kukoc comps seem about right.

Let Gana Diop, Reggie Williams and Matt Caroll go: Diop, Williams and Carroll played a combined total of 673 minutes for the team last season yet accounted for a whopping $13.4 worth of payroll – here’s to you, Larry Brown. With the subsequent windfall, Cho made the final big move of the Cats offseason.

Signed Byron Mullens for four years, $34 million: Of all the good moves Cho has made during his brief tenure with the Bobcats, this one has biggest chance to tarnish his rep. First the positives: Mullens is only 24, has near elite shooting skills for a seven footer and, at 275 pounds, has the size and skills to develop a consistent low post game over time. The problem is that defensively he remains headache – for his own team. Against post-up players, Mullens still hasn’t figured out how to prevent giving up deep position; elite post guys like Zach Randolph absolutely feast on him. Mullens fares better against stretch fours – he moves his feet well enough to challenge shots and stick with rolls to the basket. But if an opponent goes small ball at the four, Mullens is basically unplayable. That said, Byron did improve his rebounding numbers tremendously last season and perhaps Cho is banking on the continued mentoring of Dunlap and Perkins. Still, $34 million is Ryan Anderson money and as of the moment, Mullens just isn’t in the same class.

Outlook

Don’t look now but with potential stars Mohammed and MKG on the wings and solid prospects like Walker, Biyombo and Mullens backing them up, the Charlotte Bobcats have become a respectable basketball franchise with a very real possibility of becoming an elite one down the road. The Cats will have between 1-3 early first round picks in next years draft depending on how Detroit and Portland’s seasons shake out, and up to $22 million in cap space if they amnesty Tyrus Thomas.
As for this season, my projections have them as a lottery team yet again but not by much. Shabazz will immediately help alleviate the team’s scoring woes and defensively, few teams can match the quality of a Kidd-Gilchrist/Biyombo/Perkins frontcourt. I have them at 32 wins, which, considering the team’s recent history, might well feel like a championship run. Rejoice, people of Charlotte, ten years after the fact, your city is on the verge of hosting a real, honest-to-goodness NBA team.
Prediction: 32-50, tied for 3rd in Southeast, tied for 10th in Eastern Conference.

Eight Ways To Win Without Actually Winning – Part 1

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Bobcats Baseline 2012-2013 Season Preview

While the Lakers, Thunder and Heat fortify championship contending rosters, while the Pacers and Clippers set their sights on Playoff success and while the Warriors and Bucks attempt the leap from Lottery to postseason, the Charlotte Bobcats will aspire to a comparatively modest set of goals for the upcoming season.
Coming off an infamous seven win campaign, the team will not only strive to become more competitive but will look to further develop a long and grueling rebuilding project. Good news for the fans: The project is moving along nicely.

Win #1. The Return of Tyrus Thomas

Tyrus has replenished and re-nourished himself after last year’s celebutante crash diet, notching a couple impressive performances during the Preseason. A reinvigorated Tyrus would do wonders for the organization. The team owes him $26m over the next three seasons and with Andray Blatche having been amnestied by Washington, “T-Time” has become the league’s worst, most untradeable contract. The Cats would be forced to use their own amnesty clause on Tyrus if he continues to regress and one could only imagine Michael Jordan’s reaction to paying out $18 million on a player not even on the roster.
WIN SCENARIO: Tyrus proves last year a fluke and returns to previous form, cementing his place in the starting lineup by averaging a double-double and upping his trade value in the process. Amnesty, amnestied.

Win #2. Henderson & Mullens Prove Their Worth

Next July may seem like an early Christmas for GM Rich Cho, who will be pleased to find an extra $13m or so in cap space under the tree. The pygmy albatross contracts of Gana Diop ($7.3m) and Matt Carroll ($3.5m) will finally come off the books as will now redundant shooter Reggie Williams ($2.6m). But all will not be so simple. Cho could find a potential lump of coal in his stocking in the form of the team’s two restricted free agents: Gerald Henderson and Byron Mullens.
Henderson is coming off of his best season as a pro, establishing himself as one of the league’s better defensive two guards and a competent scorer. The problem? Try defining the ideal two guard in the modern game:
He is either

  • A.) a dynamic scorer of adequate size capable of both drawing fouls in the paint and stretching the opposing defense at the three point line (Eric Gordon, D-Wade) OR
  • B.) a dynamic, long, rangy defensive stopper who can punish defenses in transition and nail the corner three (Thabo Sefalosha, Avery Bradley).

Henderson doesn’t fit either of these molds. He’s closer to Wade than Thabo in stature but doesn’t have Dwyane’s scoring ability. And he’s not a three point threat (career high 47 attempts last season with only 11 hitting pay dirt). So either Henderson will need to add a deadly long range shot to his game or he is simply a decent starter on a bad team. Add Henderson’s cap hold ($4.3m) to Cho’s war chest and suddenly the Bobcats are in the market for an All-Star caliber shooting guard should the opportunity arise. If OKC stumbles in the Playoffs again, look for James Harden as a real possibility here.

Former Thunder first rounder Byron Mullens is another question mark. The seven footer looked the part of a young Dirk Nowitzki for two weeks last season until the advance scouts took notice. Still there were enough flashes in March and April to entice should the artist formerly known as BJ improve his matador defense and expand his offensive repertoire. (As it stands now, Byron’s best shot is Coach Dunlap’s least favorite: the long two.)
WIN SCENARIO: Henderson and Mullens either break out into potential All-Stars (unlikely) OR improve enough to be used as trade chips for an actual All-Star caliber player like James Harden (less likely) OR improve and re-sign with the team for reasonable money (most likely).

Win #3. Kemba Ascendant

Kemba Walker’s rookie campaign was a trick or treat sack of the tasty (surprisingly solid D, great handle) and the gross (dribbling by himself for 15 seconds of the shot clock, forced fadeaways) — Kyrie Irving he was not, but to blame this entirely on Kemba given the team’s severe lack of talent and coaching seems myopic. Coach Dunlap’s proposed fast-attack system is custom designed for Walker to exploit. No other Bobcat (and few others in the league) can get to their spot like Kemba; a reliable floater and smoothed out stroke could likely elevate Walker into Ty Lawson territory. However the season plays out, the Bobcats must determine if Kemba is their point guard for the long haul.
WIN SCENARIO: Kemba improves his shot and court awareness; takes sole possession of the starting gig by midseason and never looks back.

Win #4. The “O” in Biyombo

Biyombo lived up to his billing last season, putting the “smack” in Bismack while generally disrupting things on the floor for opposing offenses. The Congo teen sensation single handily made an all-time terrible team worth watching with his tenacity and enthusiasm on the defensive end. Never mind Biz couldn’t finish two feet from the basket or that he practically forced his co-workers to play 4 on 5 at their end. Those things could be looked over in a strike-shortened tank-fest (sans training camp) but Biyombo must further develop his game if the Bobcats expect to build something from this mess.
WIN SCENARIO: Coach Dunlap has asked Biz to be more than a one dimensional shot-blocker and Biyombo has looked a bit lost in the expanded role. He’ll need to continue to work towards a consistent short range game and further taps into his limitless potential on D. Charlotte has few difference makers on the roster. Bismack could certainly be one.

To be continued in Part 2…

-ASChin