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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Charlotte Bobcats Post-Trade Deadline Blueprint

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Byron Mullens, Kris Humphries and Ben McLemore are key Bobcats offseason targets

The NBA’s Trade Deadline has come and gone with the Bobcats keeping most of their 13-win roster intact. They are still young, they are still inexperienced and they are still pretty bad. There is reason for hope however as the team’s lack of major activity at the deadline essentially telegraphed the front office’s plans going forward. Let’s take a look at the potential blueprint:

First order of business: Roster Assessment (Now – May)

The Bobcats front office must determine what they have and what they need heading into the offseason.

  • PG: Kemba Walker is awesome. Ramon Sessions is very good. Next.
  • SG: Gerald Henderson becomes a restricted free agent in July; Ben Gordon enters into the final year of his contract.
  • SF: MKG is potentially awesome; Jeffrey Taylor is signed for two more seasons at around $800k per. Next.
  • PF: Byron Mullens becomes a restricted free agent in July. Tyrus Thomas is, well, let’s get to that later.
  • C: Bismack Biyombo is young, good at many things on defense, bad at many things on offense. Brendan Haywood is a cheap backup signed for two more seasons.
  • Jeff Adrien, Gana Diop, Reggie Williams and Josh McRoberts are expiring contracts.

Second order of business: Draft Lottery, 2013 NBA Draft (May-June)

The Bobcats have THREE different scenarios which they could explore heading into the draft, one VERY likely, the others less so.*
DRAFT SCENARIO ONE: Shooting Guard (80% Likely)
With Henderson looking for a big raise, the Cats could leverage the Class of 2013’s strengths by drafting his replacement. If Charlotte nets the 1st or 2nd overall pick, they’ll likely have a shot at Kansas guard Ben McLemore. If not, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo or UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammed would be the runners-up.
DRAFT SCENARIO TWO: Center (10% Likely)
The Bobcats determine Biyombo’s lack of offense outweighs his defensive potential and select either Indiana’s Cody Zeller or Maryland’s Alex Len.
DRAFT SCENARIO THREE: Power Forward (10% Likely)
The Bobcats get the feeling that Byron Mullens would rather play elsewhere or is looking for far more money than Charlotte is willing to pay. In this case, the Bobcats select Larry Johnson-lite, UNLV’s Anthony Bennett.
LIKELY RESULT: Charlotte selects Ben McLemore, SG Kansas.
(*I’m presuming Portland’s pick owed to Charlotte falls inside the Top 12, allowing the Blazers to keep it)

Third order of business: Pre-Agency, Free Agency, Offseason Trades (July)

FREE AGENCY Step one: Once the team has drafted a SG, they’ll attempt to find a sign & trade partner for Gerald Henderson, if only for the trade exception. Should the process become drawn out, Charlotte could opt to simply renounce Henderson’s rights, freeing up his sizable cap hold ($7.75m).
FREE AGENCY Step two: Enter into negotiations with Byron Mullens. Rich Cho has always been high on the artist formerly known as BJ, the question is how much is he going to cost. Anything less than $6 million per season is probably a bargain. More than $7.5 million is overpaying. 4 years, $26 million or 2 years, $13 million sounds about right.
FREE AGENCY Step three: Amnesty Tyrus Thomas. This will be a bitter pill for Michael Jordan to swallow as he’ll have to pay Thomas $18 million over the next two seasons to play for another team (presumably overseas or in another dimension) but removing T-Time from the payroll would put the Bobcats around $9 million under the cap AFTER signing their Top 3 pick and Mullens.
FREE AGENCY Step four: Aggressively shop for an All-Star or future Lottery pick using Ben Gordon’s expiring contract ($13.2m) and the $9 million in cap space. With the new CBA penalties for luxury tax payers, someone is likely to bite. For example: a Gordon for Carlos Boozer swap could alleviate tax problems for the Bulls and return Charlotte’s future 1st round pick owed to Chicago.  If this fails…
FREE AGENCY Step five: Absorb an expiring contract with cap room (ala Kris Humphries) and parlay both Humphries and Gordon into a very real $20-$25 million in cap room the following summer (July 2014). This prevents the team from overpaying UFAs this July when half the league’s teams will have cap space with few high-level free agents to spend their money on (aka overpaying).

 

Bobcats Salary Blueprint

Select Image to Enlarge the Chart

Re-Assess: Training Camp (October)

Worse case scenario, the Bobcats enter camp with:
PG: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions
SG: Ben McLemore (or Victor Oladipo), Ben Gordon
SF: MKG, Jeff Taylor
PF: Byron Mullens, Kris Humphries
C: Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood.
On the surface this is basically the roster they field today, behind the scenes however – between the draft picks owed and the unbelievable amount of cap space the team will have in July of ’14 (the year BEFORE they have to extend either Kemba or Biyombo) – the team could be setup for a near decade-long Playoff run. This is a far cry from where the roster was just two short seasons ago when Larry Brown left the team capped out with precious few assets.
Cheer up, Bobcats fans. It may take another 36 months but the team is on track to generate some serious Buzz for a very long time.

-ASChin

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 Baseline Season 9 | Week 1 Recap

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Five Thoughts on the Week

The first week of the ’12-’13 Bobcats season wraps up with the team going 1-2. After putting an end to their infamous 23 game losing streak in the opener against Indy, the team was blown out in Dallas, then dropped a winnable game at home against the Suns on Wednesday night.

#1 Byron Mullens makes me want to throw things.

Simply can’t think of a more infuriating player to watch. His defense has improved from “non-existent” to “below average” and at times he actually makes plays on that end. But the sleepy time rotations are killing the team inside and a big reason the Cats are allowing a league worst 110 ppg. As for Mully’s vaunted jumper? Before Wednesday’s 6-10 three pointer explosion, BJ was just 2 of 14 from the beyond the arc. Yes he’s attempted 24 threes in three games. I get that Dunlap needs Mullens to space the floor for Kemba and Sessions to drive but he’s gonna need better, more consistent shot selection.

#2 MKG is the real deal.

The box score is impressive but the performance is even more so: Kidd-Gilchrist is a defensive marvel. I can’t remember seeing a young player stay grounded the way he does on shot fakes yet still come up with a couple of blocks every game (2.0 bpg). You just can’t teach instincts like that. His lateral movement and the way he orients his hips to stay in front of his assignment is just phenomenol. Though MKG’s only 19, few SFs can match his rebounding (6.6 rpg in just 26 minutes) and don’t even get me started on his knack for deflections (1.7 spg) – in two seasons we could be looking at a team with the league’s top shot blocker (Biyombo) and top steals artist. His offense has been as raw as advertised but he did nail a 17 footer in Dallas that didn’t look half bad and attempted another versus the Suns that looked good before it rimmed out. I’m not worried about that aspect of his game, it will come eventually. Best news of the young season by far is that MKG is a stud.

#3 The Kemba/Sessions Platoon.

Charlotte’s point men are leading the team in PER (18.98 for Walker, 20.22 for Sessions) and aside from Mullens, are basically the entire Cats offense. Kemba exploded for 30 points in the opener but has since come back to earth. His size limits what he can do at the rim and the Cats just don’t have enough shooters to punish opponents for clogging the lane. Sessions is currently the more skilled of the two and has been killing it with his push up the floor and rolls to the hoop.

#4 Henderson Out 2-4 Weeks.

This hurt. GH2 is right behind MKG as the team’s top defender and was able to slide in as a better shooting backup three when the team went small. He was the team’s best wing player getting to the rim and the only thing close to a shot clock bail-out option in the starting 5. In the interim, Coach Dunlap will have to find production from either Reggie Williams (better shooter, huge defensive downgrade) or rookie Jeffrey Taylor – who has logged 16 NBA minutes but has yet to generate one positive stat.

#5 Brendan Haywood was a great pickup.

At $2 million per, I can’t imagine a better value signing for a team so desperately in need of the things Haywood provides. His offense is much more advanced than I remembered – the baseline hopstep-and-one he pulled against Phoenix Wednesday night was Hakeem-esque. Haywood is the team’s best rebounder, best post defender and anchors the defense like an inside linebacker. Excellent pickup for the present and the future as a mentor for Bismack Biyombo.

–ASChin


POLL : Will Coach Dunlap Make It Through The Season?

  • Of Course He Will (72%, 86 Votes)
  • No, He'll Be Fired Mid-Season (2%, 2 Votes)
  • Yes, But Released Next Summer (6%, 7 Votes)
  • Coach of the Year 2012-13 (20%, 25 Votes)

Total Voters: 120

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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 2

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Bobcats Baseline 2012-2013 Season Preview

It may not show up in the standings but the Charlotte Bobcats can find success in Year Two of the rebuild. Check out Part 1 here.

Win #5. Veterans with Class

Let us hope that Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood have patience. The three vets are all roughly in their primes and could be providing valuable minutes for Playoff contenders. There won’t be any postseason in Charlotte, and there may not even be a starting job.
The coaching staff will have to juggle the responsibilities of developing young talent (Henderson, Walker, Biyombo, Jeffrey Taylor and Mullens) while satisfying the egos of the three quality newcomers. If the vets don’t buy in, they could provide to be rookie head coach Mike Dunlap’s greatest challenge.
WIN SCENARIO: Gordon, Sessions and Haywood fully sign-on to the organization’s long-term plan, playing well enough in somewhat limited minutes to entice a generous trade offer from another team or stay put providing valuable leadership to the youngsters and much needed scoring.

Win #6. Good Enough to Excite, Bad Enough to Get Good

Shabazz Mohammed and Nerlens Noel are the early candidates for top pick in next June’s draft, and chances are they’ll be selected by a team with less than 25 wins. Should Dunlap’s Bobcats exceed expectations, this could be tricky as the team is still a few major assets away from building a longterm nucleus. Certainly last year’s double digit blow out squad isn’t an option – the team must stay in games and be competitive – but scrapping out 30 wins and picking at the bottom of the lottery may not be much better in the grand scheme.
WIN SCENARIO: The Bobcats close their brutal point differential to something in the single digits, win a few big games and play fast and fun, winning between 20-25 games in the process while setting themselves up for another bluechip prospect come June.

Win #7. PDX to DET

For once, Bobcats fans will want to keep a close eye on the standings come April. Charlotte owns Portland’s first rounder this summer if the Blazer’s finish outside the top twelve picks (thru 2015, unprotected in 2016). Given Portland’s “retooling” efforts of late, put the odds at 50/50. Charlotte also owns Detroit’s first rounder if the Piston’s make the Playoffs. Should both scenarios play out, consider it a major LOSE scenario for the Bobcats.

The 2013 Draft is already being touted as the definitive “weakest in a decade and the Cats are unlikely to find a difference maker in the mid-first round. More likely is a scenario that sees Portland’s first (via the Gerald Wallace trade) arrive this June and Detroit’s in 2014 when it’ll reduce to a top 8 protection (top 1 protected in 2015, unprotected in 2016).
WIN SCENARIO: Portland’s season collapses as they finish in the bottom third of the league; the Bobcats acquire the pick in a potentially stronger 2014 Draft. Detroit continues its struggles, missing the Playoffs for two more seasons; the Bobcats acquire an additional Top Ten pick between 2014-16.

Win #8. MKG, Dunlap and Culture Change: A Future Destination for FAs?

From the day Coach Dunlap conducted his first offseason training program, one message has been consistent: He wants players to get better, and he’s available 24/7 to make that happen. Combine this with 2nd overall selection Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s fiercely competitive on-the-court demeanor, instantly likable personality and Charlotte may be on its way to building something real; a culture change as they say. This is the sort of thing that can lure free agents to a small market – see David West’s signing with Indiana last summer – players can sense when something special is happening. The combination of Dunlap’s style and MKG’s relentless effort might be enough to make that happen in the Queen City.
WIN SCENARIO: Coach Dunlap makes good on his promise to develop players games while building accountability. MKG arrives as advertised, a Kevin Garnett/Scottie Pippin/Gerald Wallace hybrid; soon to be free agents take note and put the Bobcats on their wish lists next July.

-ASChin

Bobcats 2012 Offseason Report Card

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Rich Cho has been one busy dude. Just three months after wrapping up a seven win throwaway season, the Bobcats general manager/internet phenom has executed a massive upgrade of the roster. How and what has he accomplished? Let’s have a quick recap:

TRADES:

Cho swung a pre-draft deal with former Executive of the Year/Chad Ford Idol Joe Dumars, sending oft-injured SF Corey Maggette and his expiring contract to Detroit in exchange for sharpshooting guard Ben Gordon and a future first round pick.

The aforementioned Mr. Ford panned the trade, questioning why the Bobcats were taking on Gordon’s extra year of salary. He failed to mention the fact that Cho copped a lightly protected draft pick and a better player out of the deal. As John Hollinger pointed out, the Bobcats NEED to add contracts over the next few seasons just to hit the league’s salary floor.

RESULT: Bobcats clear up SF spot, gain a potent 3pt shooting/scoring machine off the pine, add yet another extra first round pick to the vault.

GRADE: A+

DRAFT:

The Bobcats surprised everyone yet no one when they selected the second highest rated prospect with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist immediately steps into the team’s starting lineup to provide lockdown defense, transition buckets and good vibes. Everyone seems to love the kid and if his first Summer League contest was any indicator, MKG might go down as the best selection in the team’s brief history.

With the first pick in the second round, Cho selected Vandy’s Jeffery Taylor, a sharpshooting swingman whose athleticism and on-ball defense all but guarantees him a spot in the rotation.

RESULT: Bobcats add potential star in MKG, future Bruce Bowen/Dell Curry hybrid in Taylor.

GRADE: A+

FREE AGENCY:

Let’s start with what the organization didn’t do. Eduardo Najera and Boris Diaw finally came off the books, freeing up around $11 million in cap space. D.J. White was not extended his qualifying offer of around $3 million and is likely finished in Charlotte. Derrick Brown was extended a $1 million qualifying offer but with the way both draft picks have played thus far in Summer action, I could see that offer being rescinded soon. Finally, D.J. Augustin was let loose after several failed sign & trade scenarios.

With this sudden influx of cap space, Cho inked Ramon Sessions to a two year $10 million deal, won the Brendan Haywood amnesty bid at $6.15 million over three seasons and has just enough juice left over (via cap exceptions or amnesty) to sign a veteran PF (Kris Humphries or Carl Landry).

RESULT: Sessions provides an immediate upgrade as a big backup to Kemba Walker while Haywood gives the Cats an inexpensive option to go big and experiment with Bismack Biyombo at the four.

GRADE: Incomplete. Cho isn’t finished. If Humphries or Landry signs, give him a solid “A” for addressing need with value.

COACHING:

It’s July and Mike Dunlap has coached all of two Summer League games but the buzz is undeniable. This guy is here to bust his tail developing prospects into players. The approach is inspiring and hopeful. This could be the rare coaching change that significantly upgrades the win/loss columns.

RESULT: Cho & Rod Higgins found their man. We’ll reserve judgement until the games start to count but thus far Bobcats fans have to be excited about Dunlap’s potential.

OVERALL:

Armed with few assets outside of the draft, Cho found a way to turn Najera, Augustin, White, Maggette and Brown into MKG, Taylor, Gordon, Sessions, Haywood and (potentially) Landry. This is a significant talent upgrade. Combined with the development of last year’s young players and a new coaching philosophy, this team should surprise a lot of people come November.

OVERALL GRADE: A+

-ASChin