The Hornet with the Highest Upside

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

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

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

Ranking the Hornets Top Prospects

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

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

7. P.J. Hairston. Age: 21 – Rookie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Noah Vonleh. Age: 19 – Rookie.

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

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

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

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 5 Review

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The Bobcats go 1-2 on the week, facing off against one terrible team, one great team and one average team, a completely respectable stretch that included:

  • Another beat-down of the hapless Bucks – this time at home, 92-76.
  • A blown 14 point fourth quarter lead against the two time defending champs in Miami, 98-99.
  • Another blown double digit second half lead against the mediocre Mavs in Dallas, 82-89.

Decision Time

The Bobcats flashed their potential Sunday night against the Heat. Miami played a very good 48 minutes yet needed an improbable Chris Bosh back-to-back-to-back three point barrage in order to trump Coach Clifford’s swarming defense. Kemba Walker hit some tough shots (27pts, 10-22 from the field) and Al Jefferson gave the team just enough post offense to force Miami’s vaunted defense to open up a little. Tragically, the Cats’ defensive rotations deteriorated in the last few minutes – combined with the roster’s inexperience and some questionable officiating, a huge victory was transformed into a moral one.

Two nights later the Bobcats flew into Dallas with chips on their shoulders, taking a double digit lead into the fourth quarter and looking every bit the part of a legit Eastern Conference Playoff team. Then MKG breaks his hand. The lead vanishes. The Cats have no answer for Monta or Dirk. Game over and big questions loom.

Out 4-6 weeks, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s absence is a major cause for concern: not only will the Cats be without their best perimeter defender but his 26 minutes per game will likely be divided up between Anthony Tolliver and Ben Gordon (professors emeritus at the Nash & Calderon Security Academy). Barring a Jimmy Butler-esque mid-season breakout by Jeffery Taylor, this 8-11 Bobcats team is about to get demonstrably worse. So what happens next?

Two Paths: Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em?

The Bobcats’ front office must not only decide which direction they want to go but also the feasibility of either direction given the state of the league and their own roster. This year’s Lottery is stacked with potential and the Cats lack a surefire All-Star prospect, so why not throw in the towel and stink it up for one last season before breaking out the teal & purple next Fall? Not so fast. The Bobcats’ pick MUST fall between 1-10 next May or else they lose it to Chicago as the final piece of the Tyrus Thomas trade. With the Eastern Conference stinking so bad and the West beating up on its own dregs, there’s a great chance Charlotte finishes in the 8-9 range at the very worst – dangerously close to that 11th Draft slot.

This kind of worst case scenario was surely discussed before the team signed Al Jefferson in July – that the Bobcats could improve just enough to lose their pick in a loaded Draft while still not making the Playoffs. Competing might be the team’s safest option.

Trade Targets

Charlotte’s needs are obvious: they need a floor spacer who can (ideally) create his own shot and won’t kill them on defense. Preferably this player won’t tie up any major long term money or cost prospects or draft picks in return.

Group One – Big Money, Big Name, So-So Game: Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Wilson Chandler.

I did have Luol Deng in this group but since Chicago is incapable of being bad enough to grab a high pick, my gut tells me that they’ll stay competitive despite losing Derrick Rose for the season. Of the remaining three, Granger is an expiring contract who hasn’t been healthy in two years and no one knows what he has left in the tank. Gay could certainly help and Toronto would basically give him away in a salary dump but there’s that whole $19 million player option next season. Chandler is due $6.7 million next season and would likely cost the Bobcats something of minor value in return – but he can hit the three and is a solid defender.

Group Two – Low Risk Stop Gaps: Vince Carter, Travis Outlaw.

Carter’s in the last year of a reasonable $3 million per season deal. He can still stroke it from the arc and can occasionally pull off a Vinsanity throwback for a quarter or two at a time. Nearing age 37, Carter could wind down his career not far from where it all began in Chapel Hill. Outlaw is a younger option, less dynamic of scorer overall but a very good three point shooter (33% over his ten year career). It’s likely Sacramento would give him away just to dump the $3m cap hit next season.

Group Three – Pricey with Upside: Harrison Barnes, Marcus Morris.

Spare me the advanced stats minutiae for a moment, it’s obvious to anyone who watches basketball that these two teams should’ve swapped SFs from Day One. Barnes gives an offense-starved Bobcats team a volume scorer/floor spacer in the making, while MKG is exactly the sort of hard-nosed glue guy the high octane Dubs could ride to the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, with MKG out for 20 games or so, the Warriors would have zero interest making this deal now – especially with Andre Iguodala sidelined indefinitely.

The Cats showed some interest in Phoenix’s Marcus Morris before the 2011 Draft and could try and buy high now that the elder Morris twin is putting it together for the Suns. Marcus is shooting an insane 41% from downtown – and has played well at both forward spots. If the price is right, Morris could be the ideal fit.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

 

 

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 4 Review

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The Cats finish the week 1-3, a disappointing stretch which included:

  • A flat and unfocused loss at home to the surprising Suns, 91-98.
  • A twenty point beat-down of the Eastern Conference doormat Bucks in Milwaukee, 96-72.
  • Another flat and unfocused loss at home to the lowly Celtics, 86-96.
  • Three good quarters and a horrific fourth in a blowout loss at home to Indiana, 74-99.

The LEASTERN CONFERENCE

We’re approaching the quarter season mark and it is already quite apparent that the Eastern Conference stinks somethin’ fierce. Incoming commish Adam Silver may crave parity but right now he has the AL East. Indiana and Miami might both get to sixty five wins playing amongst this ragtag group. Atlanta, currently the Conference’s third seed, is 8-8 and sports a negative point differential. Tied with them is Chicago, who just lost Derrick Rose for the season (again).
Washington, Detroit and Charlotte have had a few nice moments over the past month but they aren’t going to keep either the Pacers or Heat up at night. As for the rest of the lot…ugh. Fair warning: We’re in for a long stretch bad basketball, folks.
All this terrible play in the East has me scratching my head, trying to decipher how good the Bobcats actually are. I mean, has Charlotte actually improved or did the rest of the conference just lower themselves the Bobcats’ level?

Kemba Walker: The Scoring Guard Whose Shots Don’t Fall

Sure, he’s been shooting a little better over the past week (26-62, FG50% over 4 games) but Kemba seriously needs to get consistent with his shot or his future may not be as bright as we once hoped. Wanna hear something frightening? Kemba is shooting 37% from the field this season. He shot 36% his rookie season. We could be looking at a regression to the mean. I was hoping to see Kemba blossom into top tier NBA point with a low block presence like Al Jefferson to run the offense through but the opposite has happened. Walker’s averaging 1.5 less assists per game on the year, consistently has trouble feeding the post and is laying a ton of bricks in the process. I never bought in to the narrative that Kemba would be a third guard on a good team but if he can’t get that shot to fall regularly, he may not be the third guard on a bad team.

Rich Cho Must Love The Home Depot…

…because he sure love projects (ZING!).

In the midst of watching the Pacers loss, I realized that the team is going to need a lot more than what Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can currently give if they want to be relevant. MKG had trouble defending Paul George all night and wasn’t exactly matching George’s output on the offensive side either. There he goes again turning the ball over in transition, losing his dribble for unknown reasons and/or committing odd turnovers. I find myself having Biyombo Season Two flashbacks with MKG and that’s not a good thing. Gilchrist will likely be able to stay in the league for a while as a lock-down defender (ala Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Tony Allen) but I’m kind of done expecting much else on a nightly basis.
Biyombo and MKG are case studies in why The Jalen Rose Rule of Drafting (a prospect must be able to: shoot, pass, dribble) should never be broken. How many player development minutes, millions of dollars and highly valuable draft picks must a team spend on guys who might top out as “The Next Samuel Dalembert” or “The Next Gerald Wallace”? The NFL already has this figured out: you take projects in the late rounds, sure things in the early ones.
Again, I think Cho has done a very nice job in aggregate – especially in free agency and with the cap – but drafting woes have handcuffed this franchise from the beginning. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue that way.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

 

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 1 Review

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What’s this?! A Charlotte NBA team fielding an actual competitive NBA roster?! Is that a qualified NBA coach with a real deal playbook and sensible rotations? Are those Bobcat Draft Picks doing things??!! Are the Byron Mullens days really behind us for good???!!!

Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of rough edges to smooth out for this young team but the first week of the FINAL BOBCATS SEASON shows plenty of promise – and promise has been in very short supply over the past few years at the TWC.

Charlotte finishes the week at 2-2 after:

  • Losing the season opener to a loaded Rockets team in Houston, 83-96.
  • Edging the playoff contending Cavs in the home opener, 90-84.
  • Laying an effortless stink bomb in New Orleans, 84-105.
  • Shocking the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 102-97.

UPON FURTHER EXAMINATION

Clifford’s Impact

We still don’t know what the Cats’ offense is going to look like once Al Jefferson is fully integrated (he’s been nursing an ankle since the opener) but the safe money is on Charlotte continuing with heavy pick and rolls and off-ball screens for their point guards. Gerald Henderson, the team’s lone wing who can create his own offense, has been dreadful from the field (30%) during first four contests, meaning that the Bobcats’ only real chance at opening up good shot opportunities is through out-hustling or confusing opponents via screens.

Here’s how 99% of Bobcats offensive possessions have gone during the past week:
IF PG = “Kemba Walker” THEN:
PASS BALL TO “Josh McRoberts”;
LOSE DEFENDER ON BASELINE SCREENS;
RECEIVE HAND OFF FROM “Josh McRoberts”;
SHOOT.

IF PG = “Ramon Sessions” THEN:
YELL AT “Cody Zeller”;
FIND PICK SET BY “Cody Zeller”;
DRIVE AND GET FOULED.

The “SHOOT” option hasn’t really been working out as the Bobcats rank second worst in the league in FG% at 40%. They’re in the bottom ten worst in every 3PT shooting statistic and second worst in FT%. Coincidentally, Charlotte’s 89.8 points per game is third worst overall.

Now for the positive: The Bobcats have been getting to line like a team full of 2006 D-Wades, averaging 33.0 attempts per game – good for third in the league behind the star-powered Rockets and Clippers.
Take a quick guess at who’s ranked 10th in the NBA in FT attempts, one spot ahead of Lebron James? None other than “Razor” Ramon Sessions at 32 freebies in just 96 minutes played. Dude is averaging a free throw attempt every three minutes; just an insane number to start the year.
Another positive: Clifford’s Bobcats are only allowing opponents 95 points per game – tied for seventh best overall. That’s up from second worst overall (102.7) last season. Let’s hope the small sample size holds up.

The 21 And Under Club

Prospects Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller all had some fine moments during the week but it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who tapped furthest into his UPSIDE with a defensive master class against Carmelo Anthony in New York. Anthony ended up with 32 points but most of that damage was done with MKG out of the game. After getting his nose busted by Kenyon Martin on a hard foul early in the second half, MKG returned midway through the 4th quarter and went full lock-down on Melo, constantly harassing the superstar on and off the ball. In just 26 minutes, Gilchrist dropped 16 points, grabbed 8 boards and swatted 3 shots, including a Gerald Wallace-esque breakaway block on Carmelo that ended in a coast to coast layup. I’ve publicly questioned MKG’s selection as the 2nd pick overall pick in last year’s Draft but if he can build on this type performance consistently, I’ll be proven absolutely wrong and loving every minute of it. Keep it up, young fella.

“A Ben Wallace Type”

Know this: without perennial NBA castoff Jeff Adrien, the Bobcats would be 0-4. With Jefferson nursing a sore ankle and backup Brendan Haywood out until February, Clifford needed someone to step up and provide size and toughness in the middle. With 24 boards and 4 blocks in the past three games, Adrien has certainly delivered.
Ironic that his teammate Biyombo, a Lottery pick, was projected by experts as “a Ben Wallace type”, when it is Adrien who is the perfect heir apparent to Big Ben. Officially listed at 6’7″, the former UCONN Huskie looks to be no taller than 6’4″ Gerald Henderson in person sans mohawk. Like Wallace, Adrien was undrafted and floated around the league for a couple of seasons before finding a home. Big Ben hit his stride with Detroit at age 26. Adrien seems to be doing the same with Charlotte now at 27.

Kemba Walker

From Rick Bonnell’s excellent Knicks game story:

“Every day I’m around him, I’m more convinced he’ll be the leader of a really good (NBA) team,” Clifford predicted.

Tell us something we already didn’t know, Steve.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Rich Cho Report Card | April 2013 Edition

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On June 14, 2011 the Charlotte Bobcats hired former Thunder and Blazer exec Rich Cho as general manager. His task: to transform a capped-out, going nowhere roster into a perennial Playoff contender. Nearly two years later, his plan has slowly but surely come into focus. Let’s take a look at each of the team’s major transactions and see how he’s fared.

YEAR ONE: 2011-2012 Season

Traded Stephen Jackson and the 19th overall selection (via Portland) for the 7th overall selection and Corey Maggette.

Just a few days into his tenure, Cho was able to swing a three team deal with Milwaukee and Sacramento to move up twelve spots and select Bismack Biyombo – an amazing feat considering that the only cost was downgrading from Jackson to Maggette. Great maneuvering but the jury’s still out on the pick. Biyombo is a classic project; a potential defensive stud who has made modest improvements at the offensive end. But have a look at the players Cho passed up to draft him: Brandon Knight, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried. Long term it’s still possible that Biz’s future is as bright as any in the 2011 Draft – his progress over the next two seasons will determine whether the move was a whiff or a home run swing.

GRADE: B

Drafted Kemba Walker with the 9th overall selection.

Walker may not have prototypical PG size or elite court vision but so what? Kemba is a leader, an amazing scorer and a player who has shown the ability to improve. If the 2011 Draft were held over today, he might go Top 3 and certainly Top 5. Relative to all of the Bobcats’ past Draft blunders, Kemba has been an unmitigated success.

GRADE: A+

Declined to match Dante Cunningham’s 3 year, $6 million offer sheet (third year team option) from Memphis, signed Reggie Williams to a 2 year, $5 million deal.

As the Blazers’ GM, Cho traded Cunningham to the Cats as part of the Gerald Wallace swap a few months prior – a not so subtle hint that he wasn’t a fan of Dante’s game. Add in a late season Mecklenburg County cannabis bust and Cunningham was as good as gone. Sad really, because Cunningham’s replacements, Williams and Derrick Brown, amounted to little more than cap fodder during their time in the Queen City. Meanwhile, Dante has honed his pick & pop shooting/pick & roll stopping game from Memphis to Minnesota, establishing himself as a legit role player in the league. Still only 25, Dante would’ve given the Cats everything they asked of Hakim Warrick and more, serving as a great screen and pop guy for Kemba and solid rebounder for a team that has desperately needed one.

GRADE: D-

Traded the team’s 2013 2nd Round pick (32nd overall) to OKC for Byron Mullens.

I’m not going to eat Cho’s lunch for this one. As frustratingly inconsistent as Mullens has been, it’s doubtful the team would have acquired a more intriguing prospect in this year’s early second round. Byron’s body language might be the worst in the league and when his jumper goes, he’s basically useless but it’s not hard to understand the intrigue. Mullens is a legit 7 footer with size who can stretch the floor and who has vastly improved as a rebounder and post player. On the downside, he doesn’t even try on defense (unless you count watching your man gain position and then fouling as trying) and can turn into a Ben Gordon-level ball stopper on certain nights (MVP! MVP!). Still, big men with Byron’s offensive skills are rare finds and I expect the team to at least extend him the qualifying offer this summer.

GRADE: B-

YEAR TWO: 2012-2013 Season

Traded Corey Maggette to DET for Ben Gordon and future 1st round pick.

Depending on who or what the Cats get with the Pistons’ first rounder, this may go down as Cho’s greatest move. Sure, Gordon tried to sabotage the team and is due a truckload of money next season but between the pick and Ben’s massive expiring contract, the Cats could have enough juice to land an All-Star via trade should one become available between now and next February’s deadline. Add in the fact that Gordon actually played okay for the Cats this season (11ppg in only 20 minutes per) while Maggette limped through just 18 contests with Detroit and you could see how Cho would have trouble “humbling himself” after a deal like this. Win-win.

GRADE: A+

Drafted Michael Kidd Gilchrist with the 2nd overall selection.

Much like Bismack Biyombo, MKG’s greatest crime is that he’s a defense-first prospect in a league that hasn’t been able to properly quantify, much less fully appreciate that side of the ball. Glance at the box score and Kidd-Gilchrist looks like an obvious mistake at the number two pick. Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes were so much further along offensively than nearly every Bobcat this season that it was impossible not to second guess Cho’s decision. But if you go back and watch the games closely, you’ll see something beautiful and rare: a 19 year old kid who made opposing wings work for their money. MKG rarely bites on pump or head fakes, he stays in front of guys with his hips rather than his feet and he blocks and rebounds at an elite rate (5th amongst SFs in blocks per, 6th amongst SFs in rebounds per 48 minutes). Gilchrist’s jump shot is beyond busted and his inability to space the floor will handcuff the team until he can develop that part of his game but long term, I think Cho made a solid pick. Defense is half of the game and MKG plays that half at an extremely high level.

GRADE: B

Drafted Jeffrey Taylor with the 31st overall selection.

Considering the guys drafted after him, Taylor was probably the right pick at 31. He shot a reasonable 34% from beyond the arc and 43% overall in limited minutes – not bad considering fellow Second Round “Three Point Ace” Kim English only managed 37% and 28% respectively. The organization sees him as a low cost “Three & D” prospect ala Danny Green, Thabo Sefolosha, etc. Taylor certainly has the size to pester perimeter players but unlike MKG, seems to bite on fakes and get caught out of position on drives (especially around the baseline). He’s also old for a rookie (turns 24 in May) and has a maddening tendency to travel before launching on a drive. All that said, I could see Taylor enjoying a long career in the league, especially if he latches on with a team like the Spurs or Thunder as a wing stopper going forward. He’s just not dynamic enough of a scorer to play big minutes for an offensively anemic squad like Charlotte.

GRADE: B

Extended then rescinded a qualifying offer to D.J. Augustin, signed Ramon Sessions to a 2 year, $10 million contract.

Another little offseason gem. Cho understood that small point guards who can’t finish at the rim have little value in the league, promptly ditching Augustin for the much more versatile Sessions. Ramon was a major reason the team started the season 7-5, adding another inside-out threat to couple with Walker on the perimeter. Charlotte’s point guard combination was one of the best in the league until Ramon went down with a late season knee injury. Only complaint is that Cho should have negotiated for a 3rd year team option – Sessions will hit unrestricted free agency in July ’14.

GRADE: A

Claimed Brendan Haywood via amnesty waivers.

The Bobcats continued their fascination with Dallas bigs by claiming Haywood off waivers for the measly sum of $2 million per over three seasons. Brendan will likely spend the last two years of the deal as Charlotte’s emergency center slash unofficial big man coach. A self-professed hoops junkie, Haywood will at the very least provide Biyombo, Mullens and company with a real NBA center to go up against in practice.

GRADE: C+

Signed Jannero Pargo, Jeff Adrien as mid/late season replacements.

Signing street free agents in the middle of the season are rarely noteworthy but both of these guys played hard and helped Charlotte grind out a few wins.

GRADE: B+

Traded Matt Carroll to New Orleans for Hakim Warrick; Traded Warrick to Orlando for Josh McRoberts.

Had Cho been able to skip the Warrick stage and grabbed McBob from the beginning the team probably would have won an extra 3-5 games and the move would’ve been an “A+++”. Still, the fact that Cho was able transmute a 13th man into a starting PF for twenty games can only be seen as a win even if the team is unable to re-sign McRoberts in July.

GRADE: A

-ASChin

@bobcatsbaseline

 UPDATE: At publication of this post, the Bobcats have announced that head coach Mike Dunlap has been fired by the team. As coach hirings tend to be decided by a combination of ownership, team president and general manager, I haven’t listed the Dunlap hire/fire amongst Cho’s transactions. 

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

They Drafted Who? – The Baseline Guide to Jeffery Taylor

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I watched the NBA draft last Thursday at my friend Reed’s house, and to my shock and surprise, Vanderbilt’s Jeff Taylor fell to the Bobcats in the second round. Baylor’s Quincy Miller may have had a higher upside at the 31st pick, but to have player ranked 15th overall by DraftExpress from my school snatched up by the Bobcats couldn’t have made me happier.

So when Reed’s dad came in to check on how the Bobcats blew yet another draft pick, I proudly told him: “we got Jeff Taylor, a small forward from Vandy!” He wasn’t nearly so excited, responding, “Oh yeah, well when’s the last time a Vanderbilt player was a messiah?”

It’s a good thing I didn’t tell him Taylor is from Sweden, too.

But don’t be scared off Jeff Taylor because the most famous Vandy basketball alumni are John Amaechi and Will Perdue. And don’t be scared off because only two Swedish-born players have made it to the NBA for a grand total of three seasons. But most of all, don’t be scared off Jeff Taylor because he’s a 23-year old senior.

The second of two SEC small forwards taken by the Bobcats, Jeff Taylor doesn’t have the upside of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but he still should be a valuable role player—or even more. How can he help the Bobcats? In his own words, Taylor is “a guy that plays extremely hard on defense, can attack the basket and finish, and is also able to hit jump shots.” Really, Taylor fits right in with what Coach Mike Dunlap is looking for: energy, defense, athleticism, and shooting.

Despite being just 6’7” with a 6’6” wingspan, Jeff Taylor is one of the more incredible athletes of the draft. Only Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquis Teague, and Miles Plumlee bettered his 40-inch vertical jump, and only three players had less body fat than him (4.2%). Not just that, but Taylor tested in the 87th percentile of all players at the draft combine for bench press and agility drills.

Taylor’s main calling card is defense, where he really shined in the SEC. In his three games against Kentucky, he held Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a 5.7 PPG and guarded every position except center. What’s more impressive, he earned three straight SEC All-Defensive Team honors thanks to opposing players making just 26.7% of jump shots against Taylor.

He’s not all defense, though; Taylor is a versatile scorer, too. He scores most of his points driving to the rim or in transition, but Taylor is also a very efficient jump shooter—something he’s improved upon each year at college. His 49.3% shooting, including 42.3% from beyond the arch, will be welcomed with open arms in Charlotte, where he can surely find his niche.

So what did the Bobcats find in their second round pick? They’ve got an elite athlete who can be a lock down defender and knock down long-range shots. He doesn’t have the potential to be a superstar like, say, LeBron James, but he can be an extremely valuable role player like Heat teammate Shane Battier.

Sure, Jeff Taylor is the “other” rookie small forward this season, and there’s no precedent for a Swedish Commodore in the NBA. But he should make an immediate impact on both sides of the ball and has the skills to be a building block going forward alongside MKG, Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo, and four potential lottery picks over the next two years.

-Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)

(Bobcats are one of the 12 worst teams in 2013; Bobcats are one of the 10 worst teams in 2014; Portland misses the playoffs in 2013 or 2014, but isn’t one of the 12 worst teams; Detroit misses the playoffs in 2014, but isn’t one of the 8 worst teams.)