The MKG Myth

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sketch by Mike S.

Mislabeled MKG

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the skills and potential of an elite defender in the NBA.

That line, or several similar variations of it, has been steadily delivered from the Bobcats organization since claiming the prospect with their top draft pick in 2012. They’ve beaten that drum so consistently, that it resonates down to each generic Bobcats write-up on sports media websites.

Inconveniently, that talking point just isn’t holding up. Perhaps, the organization can be excused for trying to deflect the attention away from MKG’s offensive woes. Or, you can commend them on their focused efforts to prop up the perceived value of the club’s young asset. By labeling him as an “elite” defensive talent and staying the course with that singular message despite his performance, we get to enjoy a bit of political theater with the franchise this season. By now it’s common knowledge that the Charlotte Bobcats have no clue as to how to select a player in the NBA Draft, especially the Lottery. As it’s becoming fairly clear that they honored that reputation by selecting Kidd-Gilchrist in 2012, GM Rod Higgins, Rich Cho, and Coach Steve Clifford have shown great synergy, working in concert to teach us the chorus of the MKG is Actually Really Good song.

MKG vs. Elite Scorers

Kidd-Gilchrist has shown some incredible athletic ability and his strengths appear to lie on rebounding and defensive areas of the game. So, he could really expand his game and become a sound pro player over the next few years. But the myth of MKG as an elite, top-tier, or lockdown defender is starting to fade in his second season. Back in late January, we saw Carmelo Anthony get hot and abuse the Bobcats in New York. Melo’s career-high 62 points came easy on a night where he started with a matchup against the overwhelmed MKG. Surely, the Bobcats locker room did what they could to keep Kidd-Gilchrist from sinking after being stripped of the only weapon he’s got – the label of a lockdown, defensive stopper.

Now, in early March as the Bobcats struggle through a treacherous series of games against the Association’s absolute best, it looks like the team will need to gather around young MKG to help him recover from another horrific beating. On Monday night, Lebron James stepped on the court and immediately got to work, dismantling Kidd-Gilchrist and the Bobcats as a whole. If the Bobcats truly had an “elite” level defensive player on their roster, you would hope they’d put him on the floor with orders to minimize some of the damage. Well, they sent MKG in the game instead. Lebron finished the game with his career high 61 points, and further elevated his own status as a sports legend. This must have been crushing for a young guy like Michael Kidd Gilchrist. Lebron has had some incredible games over his career, but he hadn’t scored this many points until catching fire against such a favorable matchup.

Work In Progress

If the evidence is showing us a player that’s not a once-in-a-generation defender, then what are we seeing? It’s starting to look like a young athlete that’s being mislabeled, and in danger of crumbling under the pressure of wrongly assigned expectations. Let’s hope Steve Clifford realizes what he’s got with MKG, rather that what he wishes he had. It might be best if Clifford gave Kidd-Gilchrist the Cody Zeller treatment and eased him into a proper role with the team and limited him to productive minutes.

Let’s be straight here – this isn’t at all about MKG’s lacking set of skills on offense (an entirely separate story),  this is about the packaging that the team is aiming to sell. They’re trying to convince the fans, the league, and probably their own players on the belief that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is great at doing something on the basketball court. Unfortunately, we’ve heard this tune before when it was called “Bismack Biyombo” and we’ve seen the raw, live performance from a better act named “Gerald Wallace” a few years back.

The Charlotte Bobcats franchise made the calculated and coordinated choice to lose all but seven games in 2011-2012 for the chance rebuild through the NBA Draft. Just about everyone would call that tanking. Critics of tanking usually base their view on the fundamental idea that losing to win has no place in sports. To those folks, the 7-win Bobcats coming away with MKG with their second overall pick in 2012 probably sounds like justice.

- Mike S.

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 10 Review

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The Draft Issue

What a stinker this week was for the Bobcats. What an absolute steaming pile of dog doo doo. The team finally returned home after a dismal road trip only to drop a winnable game at home against Southeast Division rival Washington on Tuesday night. They traveled to Minnesota on Friday and get splattered on by a team that they’ve (surprisingly) owned for much of the last decade. The final bit of brown was served the next night in Chicago, a fumbled loss at the hands of a Bulls team that had just traded away its best healthy player.

The Cats currently stand at 15-23, eight games under .500 and out of the Eastern Conference top eight. Here’s the worst part: in the past few seasons, the Lottery provided a safety net for GM Rich Cho’s OKC-styled plan but this year’s pick goes to the Bulls if outside the Top 10 and the Bobcats are just talented enough to make that nightmare a reality. Perhaps more concerning is the fact that even if the Bobcats were to keep their Lottery pick, there is no guarantee Cho would draft a player of any consequence.

How We Got Here

Cho’s four Lottery selections over three years (picks 7, 11, 2 and 4 overall) have yet to land a single All-Star or All Rookie First Team nod. Only one of the players selected (Kemba Walker) has shown any signs of being more than an above average starter. The other three – Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller – seem stuck in development limbo, either in the midst of learning hoops essentials or an entirely new position. MKG and Zeller should end up being ok eventually. They have the intangibles and hoops acumen to overcome present day weaknesses and become at least quality NBA players. Biyombo is probably a lost cause – the team basically admitted as much when they debated extending his rookie-scale team option for next season. All in all, Cho’s drafts, given the quality of the picks and talent available, have been disappointing – even more so when you factor in that his entire team building strategy is built around the Lottery. Here we are, years after the dismantling began and the Bobcats are no closer to a perennial All-Star (much less superstar) than they were before.

The post-mortem on Cho’s Draft woes lead to one conclusion: he fails when drafting “projections” of what a player might be versus who they are now. The mentality behind this probably stems from his days with Seattle/OKC – a branch of the Spurs culture (GM Sam Presti arrived via San Antonio) suited for transforming raw specimens into productive assets. The Bobcats had zero experience with this type of development before Cho arrived and Cho only compounded the risk by selecting his prospects in the Lottery versus the late rounds (i.e. Serge Ibaka, Manu Ginobli).

Executing The Right Strategy The Wrong Way

Had San Antonio drafted Biyombo, for example, he would’ve been taken in the late first round, stashed in Europe for a few years and only brought back Stateside once he was ready to contribute (see Tiago Splitter). But the Bobcats couldn’t afford to handle it that way, they were pitching youth and promise while bottoming out — how else could you sell a putrid, seven win team to the fans? Biz was brought over immediately after the team paid millions to his Spanish club via a buyout. Since then, the Cats have invested three seasons, additional millions of dollars in salary, countless training resources and thousands of minutes played in Biyombo and the only positive asset he’s likely to bring via trade is a salary dump. Biz is owed $4 million next season and it would be shocking if another franchise sees him as anything but a backup center at this point.

Here’s a list of notable players drafted after Biyombo:

Brandon Knight, Walker, Klay Thompson, Alec Burks, the Morris Twins, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Iman Shumpert, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Mirotic, Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler.

Realistically, the only player on this list that you could get for Biyombo one for one in a trade is Shumpert and that’s because the Knicks are terrible defensively and are poorly run in general. No way Chicago trades Butler for Biz today, for example, even though Jimmy was selected twenty three spots later. In total, there were at least thirteen more valuable, more productive players chosen after Biyombo, which is not exactly the best way to begin your tenure as a Draft-focused GM.

Projections Not To Be Confused With Reality

Getting back to Cho’s flawed “projections”, look no further than his most successful pick (Kemba) to discover a more reasonable Draft formula:

  1. Does this player possess an elite, instantly translatable NBA skill? Kemba: elite quickness – YES.
  2. Can this player shoot, pass and dribble? AKA Does this player have a sound basketball foundation? AKA “The Jalen Rose Rule of Drafting” Kemba: YES.
  3. Does this player possess the intangibles to improve upon their single elite skill and sound basketball foundation to become something more? Kemba: YES.

Now try running through this test with Biyombo:

  1. Shot blocking – YES.
  2. NO.
  3. N/A  - still learning fundamentals.

Uh-oh. Let’s try it with MKG:

  1. On-Ball Defense – YES.
  2. NO.
  3. N/A - still fixing broken shot (fundamental).

Yikes. What about Cody:

  1. NO.
  2. YES.
  3. N/A - no elite skill.

Now, I’m not saying this is the end all be all of Lottery Drafting Guides but if a player can’t shoot/pass/dribble, how in the heck is he going to be an All-Star? If he doesn’t have one elite skill, how is he going to be an All-Star? You gotta have all three. Look at Boogie Cousins in Sacramento. Elite post game, can do everything but has a terrible attitude that’s held him back. Reggie Evans is an elite rebounder but that’s it. Career role player. CP3 is an elite floor general, does everything and is driven to win. Superstar. Same goes for Damian Lillard.

Klay Thompson was an elite shooter coming into the Draft. He had sound fundamentals and, as the son of a former NBA player, was a big time worker. Not sure why you’d pass on him for a guy who can’t even catch a basketball much less pass/dribble/shoot. Michael Carter Williams was an elite floor general, could pass/dribble (though struggled with his shot somewhat as a freshman – the mechanics weren’t broken) and had the intangibles. There are shades of gray, sure, but as an overall strategy it can lead you to the promised land.

Oversell, Under Deliver

NBA talent evaluation is incredibly difficult – make no mistake – but so is open heart surgery and our society has figured out a way to put the right people in those positions to perform their jobs successfully. Rich Cho has done much more good than bad in his time in Charlotte. He’s wrangled their once wild cap situation, he’s made trades that have brought as much or more to the team than they’ve given up and his eye for low-cost free agents has been exemplary.

The problem is this: if you are going to subject a fanbase to a years-long, historically gruesome tear-down – pacifying them with dreams of young stars acquired through the Draft – then you MUST deliver on that promise. The Bobcats as constructed in 2010 were not going anywhere special but they were certainly not destined for a soul crushing seven win season either. The choice was made, the city and fanbase shouldered the embarrassment and shame and yet the shining young stars are nowhere within sight. Thus far at least, through the lens of Cho’s own lofty strategy, failure is the only grade.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 6 Review

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NOTE: The week in review posts will now be published on Sundays.

Charlotte goes 2-3 over the past ten days, a frustrating stretch that saw the team:

  • Take care of business at home in a blowout win against Philly, 105-88.
  • Earn their best win of the season at the TWC versus Golden State, 115-111.
  • Lay an unnecessary egg at home against the beatable Magic, 83-92.
  • Nearly shock the Eastern Conference leading Pacers in Indy, 94-99.
  • Give away yet another home win to the Lakers, 85-88.

Fork in the Road

We’ve hit mid-December and the Bobcats stand at 10-14, having just dropped two winnable home games against sub-500 competition. They’re on pace for 33 wins, which, given the current state of the Conference, should have them out of the Playoffs and picking somewhere in the 12-14 range. The Bulls would then get the pick and Charlotte’s worst case scenario would be complete. No Playoffs, no picks. Clearly, the status quo is not an option. The Bobcats front office needs to make a decision soon: Make a Run or Tank a Ton.

If they decide to go for it, the remaining schedule won’t do them any favors. The team has already played four more home games than road dates and have two long west coast trips yet to go. According to ESPN’s relative percent index, the Cats have had the tenth easiest schedule in the league thus far.

Losing Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for stretches has certainly been a challenge but a good team should have been able to ride the favorable schedule closer to five hundred. The makeup of the roster is much improved from last season but is still unbalanced. No one on the team can make a consistent jump shot and the dropoff in overall wing play goes downhill fast after Jeff Taylor. The Bobcats rely on Josh McRoberts to be more than the third big man he is and outside of Kemba Walker, there is nobody on the roster who should touch the ball in crunch time.

If the Cats can just correct one or two of these flaws during the season, they could still make the Playoffs and I’m guessing that Rich Cho and Rod Higgins are mining for offers that makes the team better now without hurting them later. But that kind of deal may never arrive – the braintrust will be forced to decide between punting yet another season or sacrificing some future potential for today.

Being patient in an elite Draft year is a sound strategy. If Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle or Dante Exum suit up in a Hornets jersey next season, fans will surely be quick to forgive this season’s lost opportunity. Still, there’s something sad and ironic about a franchise that’s failed to draft a single All-Star in a decade pinning it’s hopes on yet another Lottery.

Asik Trade Rumours

Speaking of mid-season trades, according Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Houston recently offered disgruntled center Omer Asik to the Bobcats in exchange for two first round picks and the rights to swap a third. Charlotte wisely turned them down. While Asik’s defensive presence is underappreciated by the casual fan, the Rockets are asking for more than they gave up to OKC in the James Harden trade for a non-All Star who is entering the last year of his contract. Is Morey is under the impression that Rod Higgins and Larry Brown are still calling the shots in Charlotte?

Should the price return to earth, the Bobcats could be an interesting suitor. Asik played extremely well as a backup center under fellow Van Gundy-alum Tom Thibadeau in Chicago. Omer’s offense improved as a starter with Houston last season and his salary ($15m due with only $8m counting against cap) is reasonable enough for a starting, above-average center.

Of course, the Cats already invested heavily at Asik’s position just a few months ago when they signed Al Jefferson to a three year $45m deal. And before you ask, no, they cannot play those two together for any reasonable stretch of time. The thought of Jefferson having to cover stretch fours would likely send Steve Clifford right back to the hospital. Charlotte would have to find another home for Jefferson, who can only be traded after December 15, and I have absolutely no idea what the market is for Jefferson at $15m per.

Also, we can’t dismiss Asik’s actual, non-cap salary next season of $15m. Remember that Michael Jordan is still on the hook for Tyrus Thomas’ $9m for both this season and next. The Bobcats are hardly a cash cow business for MJ and swallowing the additional $16m in off the cap player salaries (not to mention the re-brand costs) may be outside the financial scope of what this ownership group can feasibly do.

You sir, are no Bust

Allow me to use a portion of this week’s column to diffuse an early season myth in the making. As someone who’s followed the Bobcats closely for all ten seasons (yeah, I’ll never get that time back), I’ve been subjected to all sorts of Draft “busts”: The questionable work ethic type (Sean May), the athletically challenged type (Adam Morrison), the skill deprived type (Alexis Ajinca), the physically over-matched type (D.J. Augustin), etc, etc. As a self-certified expert in modern NBA draft blunders, I am here to tell you that Cody Zeller – regardless of his early struggles – is not one of them.

Zeller, armed with a sound hoops IQ, elite athletic ability, legit seven foot size and a Tom Crean-infused work ethic, dodges all of the major pitfalls associated with past Bobcat busts. His uncorrectable shortcoming (wingspan) can be overcome as Cody improves his perimeter game (his twenty footer already looks better). Zeller’s lack of lower body strength will arrive over the next few seasons as he begins his “mans-formation”, using the next couple of summers to bulk up. And don’t forget that Zeller is learning a new position during his rookie year – which is sort of like studying for the MCAT in a foreign language. Cody has the chops to be a very good pro, just be patient with him.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats State of the Roster: Summer 2013 Edition

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It’s been a while since we’ve done a proper “State of the Roster”. Granted, this is due mainly to the fact that the “state” has been (purposefully) terrible since the Gerald Wallace trade two and half years ago. But here we are in the sunny summer of 2013 and the Charlotte Professional Basketball Team is finally back on the road to relevance. Let’s break down the most incredible offseason in “Bobcat” team history and ponder what the team’s next moves will be:

May 21st: The Bugs Are Back

Michael Jordan didn’t waste any time cranking up the hype machine. The team officially announced its intent to rebrand as the Charlotte Hornets. It was a slam dunk, no-brainer of a move. Needless to say, the fanbase has been reinvigorated. Opening night, 2014 is going to be INSANE.

May 27th: The Best Coaching Staff in Charlotte Hoops History

A week later, Charlotte introduced new head coach Steve Clifford. A former Lakers, Magic and Rockets assistant and a product of the Van Gundy coaching tree, Clifford is respected and highly regarded by people who matter. Head over to Bobcats.com and check out any video that features Clifford – you’ll be amazed at how impressive this guy is. Three weeks later, the team announced Patrick Ewing as associate head coach and added former Cavs sharpshooter Mark Price and former Hawks HC Bob Weiss to the staff. An embarrassment of riches.

Cody Zeller illustration by Mike S.June 27th: The Big Handsome

On Draft night, GM Rich Cho shocked everyone by selecting Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller. An uber-athletic seven footer, Zeller possesses the skill level and work ethic to become a legitimate NBA stretch four-high post machine ala Chris Bosh or Lamarcus Aldridge. Zeller showcased this ability in July’s Summer League by averaging a near double-double (16ppg/9rpg thru July 20th).

June 29th: Mullens Mulligan, The Return of Henderson?

Two days after the Draft, Charlotte extended Gerald Henderson his qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent. The artist formerly known as BJ was set adrift, finally washing up on the SoCal shore a month later.

Al Jefferson illustration by Mike S.

July 4th: The Biggest Free Agent Signing in CLT Hoops History

In an unprecedented move, Charlotte agreed to terms with Big Al Jefferson on a three year, $41 million deal, amnestying headcase Tyrus Thomas in the process. The move was a signal to the rest of the league that the team was finished with the D-league Tank Squad and ready to compete.

July 5th: Bring Back McBob

Last year’s feel good player of the year, Josh McRoberts will be back as he and the team agree to a two year, $5.5 million deal. The hashtag’s job is now complete: #BringBackMcBob = #McBobIsBack!

What Happens Next

Henderson, the Bearded Swede and The Humbler

The last big item on the team’s offseason to-do list is Gerald Henderson’s contract situation. He’s been extended the qualifying offer, so will be back in some capacity unless another team offers up a pricey deal Charlotte is unwilling to match (not likely). Reports are vague as to the specifics of the impasse but I’m guessing the Cats are offering somewhere between $4.5-5.5 million per while Henderson’s reps are looking at something closer to the $8-9 million per deals that Demar Derozan and OJ Mayo have signed. Note to Gerald: You aren’t getting that kind of money from Charlotte. Mainly because Rich Cho is top-tier cap strategist and negotiator but also because of….
Jeffery Taylor. The guy has has been blowing up the Summer League and it’s a near certainty the team views him as potential Henderson replacement long-term. Already 24, Taylor isn’t much younger than Gerald but he’s on a minimum contract for the next two seasons and has shown the ability to be a big-time “Three & D” player going forward. With Jefferson and Zeller in the mix, Charlotte isn’t going to be as desperate for Henderson’s “Kobe-lite” type of offense; a spot up shooter like Taylor makes much more sense as a part of the projected starting five. Also, Henderson has built his halfcourt game on isos, post-ups and baseline twos – those types of shots will eventually go to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as he matures.
This isn’t to say that Henderson won’t return. Ideally, he’d come back on a reasonable two year contract, allowing the team to audition both he and Taylor in the SG role until both hit their contract summers in July ’15. A two year, $10 million deal would also be very tradable should a team make an offer for Gerald over the next couple of deadlines.
Gordon the Expiring. Ben is entering a contract year and will definitely be auditioning for his next team. At $13.2 million, he’s a tough number to fit into a trade but not impossible. A contender faced with bench scoring issues and armed with a couple of expiring contracts of their own would be the ideal candidate. If Cho has a shot at squeezing yet another asset out of that Stephen Jackson > Corey Maggette > Ben Gordon salary slot, I’m sure he will.

2014 Draft Fetishists Rejoice!

After the Josh Smith signing (and rumors of a Brandon Jennings sign & trade in the works), the Pistons seem hell-bent on making the postseason in 2014 – meaning that Charlotte will very likely possess that Top 8 protected pick Detroit owes them. I have the Pistons as a probable 7th seed, placing the selection at around fifteenth overall. Mitch McGary, come on down!
The first rounder Portland owes is a little more dicey. The pick is Top 12 protected and the Blazers have actively improved their roster over the summer but the Western Conference is brutal. Portland will have to battle the T-Wolves, Pelicans and Lakers for that final spot and if a key injury takes them out of the race early, look for Rip City to morph in to Tank City.
As much as I love Charlotte’s offseason, I still can’t see them making the Playoffs in 2014. MKG, Taylor, Zeller and Biyombo will need at least another year under their belts before they’re ready for prime-time all the time. Expect the team to win just enough games (30-32) to keep that Top 10 protected 1st Rounder they owe away from the Bulls.

State of the Roster: July 2013

After a fast and furious offseason, the team’s roster has taken shape…

Point Guard: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions.

Call them the Ty Lawson/Andre Miller of the East: Both guys notched big-time PERs last season and offer different looks at the position. Clifford wants a third point guard on the roster, so expect the team to bring in a veteran deep bench guy like Jannero Pargo or Keyon Dooling. Seth Curry will likely be given a camp invite as soon as he’s back to full health.

Shooting Guard: Jeffery Taylor, Ben Gordon.

Obviously, Henderson will start here if/when he’s re-signed. Taylor has shown flashes but he’s still at least a half-season away from shouldering a starting gig. Gordon is a nice weapon when used in limited minutes.

Small Forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeffery Taylor.

MKG played around 25 minutes a game last season but should see a bump this year. If Henderson doesn’t return, it’s likely the team will sign a veteran wing with some range and move Taylor to SG full-time. Also, look for MKG to take a big leap offensively playing alongside Jefferson and Zeller. Putbacks and back door cuts should be the order of the day every day.

Power Forward: Cody Zeller, Josh McRoberts.

Depending on Cody’s development, McBob may get the early starts at the four. Still, this is a big upgrade over the Tyrus Thomas/Byron Mullens combo that started last season. Call it both an addition and an addition by subtraction.

Center: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood.

If the Cats can stay around .500 by January, expect Jefferson to get major All-Star consideration. He’ll be the unquestioned focal point of the team’s offense and should swallow up a ton of boards. Biyombo will have two more seasons to develop before his rookie deal is up, pairing Biz with Zeller or Jefferson gives the still 20-year old a much better chance to succeed as he’ll only be asked to play to his defensive strengths. Haywood’s light contract (2yrs, $4m) combined with his experience should make him prime trade bait for a contender in need of a two-way backup center. If Brendan is moved, look for Summer League invite Henry Sims to compete for the sixth big man spot.

In Conclusion

Forget the moaning and whining about Jefferson’s contract or where Zeller was selected and think of it this way:
The Bobcats replaced the historically bad frontcourt of Gana Diop, Tyrus Thomas and Byron Mullens with Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller and Josh McRoberts. Larry O’Brien contenders? Of course not, but they’re also a big step up from the league-wide punchline they’ve been over the last two and a half seasons. Combine that with another year of development from Kemba, MKG, Taylor and Biz, up to three 2014 first round picks, around $12 million in cap space next summer and a Buzzworthy name change and it’s safe to say that Charlotte’s NBA team is finally on the road to respectability.

-ASChin

 

Charlotte Picks Cody Zeller Fourth in Wild NBA Draft

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Cody Zeller illustration by Mike S.

Bobcats GM Rich Cho Selects Cody Zeller

Turns out the rumors were spot on. Cody Zeller wasn’t at the top of any mock draft (at least not this year) but Rich Cho & Co worked him out, ran the numbers and made the call. And I like it.

MJ & Cho

The pick shows that MJ has given Cho carte blanche to run the team. Whether Zeller works out or not, this is massive step forward for MJ as an owner: Hire smart people, let them do their job. If not, hire even smarter people and allow them to do better ones. MJ is the greatest basketball player of all time, now it’s time to create opportunities for others to excel at their careers be it Rich Cho or the team’s next GM.

Zeller’s Skills

You may not have heard for all the uniform (or uninformed?) boos but Cody Zeller is a tremendously skilled 7-footer who is ready to step in and contribute right away. A pick ‘n pop weapon, Cody can shoot the mid-range or roll to the rim off the bounce. He’s the fastest, quickest big in the Draft and will be fantastic in the Kemba-led transition game. UPDATE: Cho, Higgins and Clifford said as much in their post-draft pressers; while Kemba Walker was apparently a big fan of the pick.

Belief in Biz

The Zeller pick also shows a ton of faith in 2011 first rounder Bismack Biyombo. The Bobcats have given up on prospects all too often throughout their history. Biz won’t turn 21 until August and exhibited a much wider array of skills in his sophomore campaign. Pairing him with a skilled big like Zeller will take a ton of pressure off Biyombo to dominate offensively. New head coach Steve Clifford and associate HC Patrick Ewing will have a lot of young talent to mold over the next couple of seasons.

Where He Ranks

Remember also that Cody Zeller would have gone Top 3 in last year’s vaunted Draft class had he declared. Zeller’s game was picked apart much like Harrison Barnes during his sophomore season. They say familiarity breeds contempt and that has been true in the Draft for a while. Nerlens Noel only managed half a season with Kentucky; fans and scouts salivated over what their imagination projected him to be next year, not who he is or will be.

McRoberts/Henderson Returning

I’d imagine the Zeller selection only helps the team’s decision to bring back another Indiana-born and raised big man: Josh McRoberts. McBob played great for the Cats after coming over from Orlando at the trade deadline and should come somewhat reasonably priced. Josh does a lot of the same things Zeller can and will aid in Cody’s transition to starter.

Additionally, the pick can only mean good things for Gerald Henderson fans. By passing on Kansas guard Ben McLemore, Charlotte has to fill the SG spot by either re-signing Hendo or bringing in someone else via free agency. Bank on Gerald coming back. UPDATE: The team announced earlier today that Henderson would be extended his qualifying offer, while Byron Mullens would not. This opens the door for both Henderson and McRoberts to return next season. We’ll know for certain once the free agency period begins in couple of weeks.

Humphries Trade Rumor

UPDATE: SI.com’s Chris Mannix tweeted after the Boston/Brooklyn mega-swap that PF Kris Humphries could be re-routed to Charlotte. A proposed Ben Gordon for Humphries trade was rumored during February’s deadline. There are a few over-priced veterans entering expiring years floating around the league so a Hump/Gordon swap could be expanded into a three team deal to include others (Danny Granger for example). Keep a look out for this one. A hard-nosed, down and dirty rebounder, Humphries could be the perfect complement to both Zeller/McRoberts when Biyombo is out of the game.

-ASChin
twitter: @bobcatsbaseline


Here’s What Baseline Readers Thought Before the Draft:

POLL : What to Do with the 4th Draft Pick?

  • Alex Len (29%, 33 Votes)
  • Anthony Bennett (37%, 42 Votes)
  • Cody Zeller (11%, 13 Votes)
  • Trey Burke (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Trade the Pick (22%, 26 Votes)

Total Voters: 115

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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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The Demarcus Debate

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Demarcus Cousins Illustration by Mike S

Baseliners A.S. Chin and Ben Weinrib discuss the PROS and CONS of betting the franchise on Boogie Cousins.

BEN: It’s that time of the year again. We’re approaching the NBA Draft, which means rumors are starting to fly about which troubled young stars might be on the move. Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins’ name has been popping up a lot lately, although there have been just as many reports saying the Kings don’t want to move him. But trade talk is fun, so let’s continue with the hypotheticals!

The Bobcats’ package for Boogie (wow, what a nickname) would certainly be centered around the #4 pick in the draft. With four first-round picks in the next two years, Charlotte has the chips to get a trade done, but the Kings’ asking price is surely going to be steep. At what point is GM Rich Cho giving up too much for the moody free agent-to-be?

ASCHIN: Don’t believe the reverse-hype. If there’s an offer out there good enough, Sacramento will make the move. The Kings organization is starting over from the top down (owner, GM, coach) and would certainly welcome the opportunity to shed Boogie and his antics for the right price. I’m guessing a combination of this year’s #4 pick, Bismack Biyombo and the future Top 14 protected Portland pick is the MINIMUM it will take to get the deal done pre-Draft.

BEN: I’ll start by saying this: I am a HUGE DeMarcus Cousins fan. It’s almost creepy how much I like him. But the money is a bit concerning. He has one year left before he will assuredly get a max contract, which means he will cost $63.3 million over five years. That’s pretty fair value for a guy who averages 18 and 10, but the #4 pick gives tremendous value. Drafting a big man (Anthony Bennett or Alex Len) will only cost $16.8 million over four years. That comes down to $4.2 million for the draft pick and about $12.6 million for Cousins. Bennett or Len may eventually put up similar numbers and they’ll cost one third as much. Using some advanced math–bare with me here–that gives Charlotte $8.4 million extra to spend. There’s a lot a team can do with that extra money. They could sign a Charlie Villanueva, their own John Salmons, or even a Metta World Peace! That’s not even considering they’d be giving up essentially two more first-rounders. Isn’t there something to be said about financial flexibility?

ASCHIN: First off, how dare you neglect to mention everyone’s favorite $8 million man, Tyrus Thomas. Second, I’m having an extremely difficult time recalling anybody in that “above-mid-level-sub-max” range worth the money. Thanks to the past couple of CBAs, the league has been further stratified into the haves and have-nots. Today’s ideal cap situation consists of two to three “stars” making near max money, a couple of mid-level guys and a bunch of rookies and veterans on minimum deals. Demarcus has a chance to blossom into an elite center thanks to his ability to operate in the high and low post (see Duncan, the Gasols, Bosh) and as of right now, he’s probably the best chance Charlotte has at acquiring a star because A.) the team’s hasn’t exactly perfected the art of Drafting and B.) Free Agent stars won’t come to Charlotte without other stars or potential stars on the roster (see David West in Indy). So in my mind, you have to make the bold trade and hope Cousins’ mental problems don’t get in the way of him reaching his potential – price be damned!

BEN: I think you’re starting to convince me, but I still think there’s an issue about the value of the assets. Let’s assume the trade would be Boogie for the #4 pick, Biyombo, and the Portland pick. Houston is rumored to be looking to auction off Thomas Robinson for a future first round pick, so they can fit Dwight Howard under the cap. Charlotte could land a player they nearly took last year on the cheap for that very same Portland pick they would be using to land Cousins. Isn’t the #4 pick, Biyombo, Robinson, and financial flexibility more valuable than Cousins? I understand the need for a star, but just because landing Cousins might be a sound trade doesn’t mean there aren’t better moves out there.

ASCHIN: I don’t think these options are mutually exclusive. It took Houston a couple of years to accumulate its chest of assets – expiring contracts, draft picks and prospects – in order to cash out when a big time prospect became available. Now that the Rockets have James Harden secured as a major building block, they’ll need to reconfigure their cap in order to sign their second star, Dwight Howard (or Chris Paul), this summer. I’m sure that Daryl Morey would love a mid to late round first round pick for Robinson but I think he realizes that in today’s NBA, having a team both absorb $4m+ in annual payroll AND give up a precious first rounder might be asking a little much. I’d bet that T-Rob could be had for as little as a high second rounder – but only for a team under the cap.

Meanwhile, by trading for Boogie this summer, Charlotte basically Xeroxes the Morey playbook, cashing in their assets for a young star (Harden/Cousins), using their cap space to bring in another young frontcourt prospect (Asik/Robinson) and then go into next summer with enough financial flexibility and picks to lure another star should one become available.

Also, thanks again for pitching me all these softballs. I mean, you haven’t even brought up the fact that I’m having Cho spend half his war chest on a (potentially) insane person.

BEN: That’s the thing: I still really really like Cousins. And as crazy as he may be, we’ve seen that crazy can be channeled into results by looking 600 miles west to Memphis and Zach Randolph. But is Cousins really the franchise player Harden is? I think he’d be a great second banana, but they still need a number one type player, and he’s much more volatile than The Beard. Kemba has the ceiling of a number three or two player, and MKG could end up being a number two as well. Could they get that top guy through the draft still? I don’t think they’d still be in the running for Wiggins et all if they have Boogie, Kemba, and MKG. I somehow doubt players will want to come play for the Hornets in free agency, since this city doesn’t have the tax-free allure of Houston, and there wouldn’t be many trade assets left after this deal. Like you said a GM’s job is extremely tough, but do you really want to build your team around a taller Zach Randolph?

ASCHIN: Just for the record, Ben was supposed to be taking the “CON” position on Boogie. Hell, maybe Cousins is such a great prospect that the immaturity and high cost of acquisition can be overlooked. To further your points: I agree that Boogie is probably a second banana. Kemba looks like a solid number three. MKG’s a good glue guy and potentially much more. This is approximately the type of nucleus Indiana had going into the ’11-’12 season. If the Horncats can use some of their cap space and remaining Lottery picks over the next two summers to add an All-Star type ala David West, they could seriously make some Playoff noise. We’re talking about an inside/out offense with some very effective transition guys and coach who’s made his name on getting the very best out of his bigs. Add a veteran free agent big like Paul Millsap to a Walker/Henderson/MKG/Cousins lineup and suddenly you a very intriguing starting five.

ASChin on Twitter: @bobcatsbaseline

Ben Weinrib on Twitter: @benweinrib