Baseline Buzz Hornets Season Preview 2014-2015

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FIFTEEN FOR FIFTEEN! Baseliner’s Dr. E, Bradford Coombs and A.S. Chin answer fifteen burning questions as we head into the neo-Hornets era:

1. The season is just hours away. We’ve been through the Draft hype, the Free Agency hype and now the Preseason hype. What are you most excited to see from these neo-Hornets?

Bradford: Without question it’s MKG for me. I expect incremental improvement from his jump shot and think it’s still a couple years away from being a reliable weapon. But anyone who has seen the preseason has noticed the aggressiveness that has come with his newfound confidence on offense. I think the improvement everyone expected from year 1 to year 2 is going to manifest itself in year 3. I’m probably too old to be buying jerseys, but I might need an MKG jersey.

Dr.E: Two things: A) MKG taking a step forward to become a more confident offensive player and B) How Lance Stephenson fits in. From a strictly basketball point, some of Hendo’s minutes going to Lance should be a good thing — all those fadeaway long twos Hendo had to take at the end of the shot clock when the first option on offense had been stifled? Many of those are going to be Lance drives to the basket now. But the chemistry thing is what I’m more interested to see — I still worry that Lance was a big part of the Pacers undoing last year.

ASChin: The Cho Show. It was the least hyped event of the Hornets offseason yet MJ’s decision to dump Rod Higgins in order to let Rich Cho run the basketball side solo could turn out to be the organization’s best move. Higgins track record was horrendous and while Cho hasn’t been perfect (drafting Biz over Klay/Kawhi/Faried/Vucevic), he’s been way more successful and consistent in his transactions than Cory’s father ever was. Hornets fans haven’t had a legit GM running the show since Bob Bass skipped town over a decade ago. This could be the start of something good.

2. The Hornets starting PF at the end of the year is…?

Bradford: Marvin Williams will start, but Cody Zeller will be a better player and have the better year. Vonleh will barely see the court. I love Cody’s playmaking in the preseason. He’s driving and kicking to the plethora of shooters in the second unit. Williams has the better shooting range, which the starters desperately need.

Dr.E: I’ll go chalk here and say Marvin Williams. I know he’s had a quiet preseason, but he’s a reliable vet who’s learning a new system — he’ll be fine.

ASChin: I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Charlotte is the only team in the league that has a ‘Cody’ backing up a ‘Marvin’. Also, I’m gonna go out on a longer limb and say that Cody is the starter by Playoff time. The mid-range release has looked faster during the preseason and he looks more confident shooting it. Zeller’s playmaking isn’t as flashy as McRoberts’ but that doesn’t mean it can’t be as effective. Cody makes smart basketball plays and goes hard for contested boards. He looks stronger too. A little bit more consistency and he might be too good to keep on the pine.

3. True or False: Rich Cho purposefully timed Lance’s final year (team option) with Gordon Hayward’s player option.

Bradford: True. But mostly for fun. Utah’s cap sheet is going to get interesting quickly having made so many draft picks so quickly. And if you’ve been watching Hayward whipping cross-court passes out of the pick-and-roll you can see what Cho liked. It’s pretty interesting that he was able to get such a team friendly deal with Stephenson. I can’t be the only one who thought, “They meant player option, right?” when I saw the headline.

Dr.E: I think it’s safe to say that both sides (Lance and the Hornets) wanted the contract to be on the short side. Lance knew he cost himself some money with his antics last season, and wanted to bet on himself with a shorter contract that expires when the salary cap will be significantly higher. The Hornets want future flexibility in general, as much for Steph Curry as Gordon Hayward probably.

ASChin: True. As the Baseline’s resident conspiracy theorist, I’m gonna say that Cho knew exactly what sort of deal Lance would agree to and poison-pilled Hayward’s contract in advance to give them another playmaking wing option should Stephenson bolt in a few seasons. The team made a HUGE impression on Gordon apparently – sending a crack team of investigators to uncover Hayward’s favorite refined sugar product and real-time strategy game. Don’t be shocked if Gordon’s wearing teal next to Steph Cur- *COUGH* Kemba Walker in a few years.

4. MKG will finish the regular season with the following stats:

Bradford: 12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block in 28 minutes per game. I think MKG plays closer to 30 minutes this year and all non-scoring stats increase proportionately. For scoring I used his pre-season usage rate and multiplied that by small increases in shooting and free-throw percentages. These numbers may seem modest considering my previously stated expectations, but the increased usage and efficiency are big deals in my mind despite the raw numbers not being overwhelming.

Dr.E: 11ppg, 7rpg, and a 15.0 PER in 27 minutes/game.

ASChin: Dr.E and I can’t compete with Bradford’s understanding of math. 12.5ppg, 7rpg, 1apg, 1.5spg, 1bpg AKA “The Young Gerald Wallace” line.

5. Most likely Hornet to be traded before the Deadline is…?

Bradford: Henderson is the easy answer. I’m going with Bismack Bye-ombo (see what I did there?). I’ve been really loyal to Biz, all the way up until the preseason where it’s just been the same old things. A good rim protector who struggles with defensive positioning beyond standing at the rim and waiting, with nothing to bring to the table offensively. You can’t even throw lobs or hit him as a roll-man let alone post him up. I could go out on a real limb and say PJ Hairston is going to come on strong and Biz will be packaged with Gary Neal at the deadline to fill out a contender’s roster, or Sacramento’s overly exuberant ownership.

Dr.E: It’s less likely now with Jeff Taylor no longer around, but I’ll still say Gerald Henderson. Dark horse would be Cody Zeller or Noah Vonleh if some big trade became available.

ASChin: Trader Cho has lots to work with heading into the Deadline. IF the team believes that both Cody and Vonleh are and always will be power forwards then one has to go, right? Before Taylor’s meltdown, I swore Hendo was the odd man out. Now the team desperately needs another athletic wing who can defend off the pine. Biz isn’t worth anything close to his upcoming qualifying offer or cap hold but he’s worth more to Charlotte now as a backup big than the 2nd Round pick he’d return. I’m going with Gary Neal.

6. Will Al Jefferson finally make the All-Star team?

Bradford: Sadly, no. I think you’ll see some combination of Bosh/Noah/Horford. If he does it will be due to Noah’s foot or Horford’s pectoral muscle.

Dr.E: As long as he doesn’t have a slow start, yes.

ASChin: If Charlotte is over .500 by the time the coaches vote, they’ll have to send a representative. YES.

7. The biggest dropoff from last season will be…?

Bradford: This one is pretty obvious when you think about it. It’s protecting the ball. Charlotte’s turnover ratio was tops in the league last season by a healthy margin. Lance Stephenson had a higher turnover ratio than anybody on the team last year.

Dr.E: I’m a little worried about regression for Big Al.

ASChin: Behind the back passes. Oh, how I grieve for you McBob…

8. The biggest improvement from last season will be…?

Bradford: Shooting, shooting, shooting. All credit to CDR and Anthony Tolliver for their efforts last year, but a full season of Gary Neal, Brian Roberts, PJ Hairston, Marvin Williams, Lance Stephenson… They shouldn’t be 23rd in 3 point percentage next year.

Dr.E: Hoping it’s MKG, but seeming more likely it’s Gary Neal, with the weight loss in the offseason and a full preseason in Clifford’s system.

ASChin: One more vote for shooting. The Bobcats were a very poor shooting team before the Break last season. Two of that team’s three point weapons, CDR (51) and McRoberts (105), DEMOLISHED their career highs in three pointers made – notching nearly two-thirds more makes than their cumulative previous career totals. Tolliver’s 105 makes will be missed but so many of his threes came in bunches early and he mostly sat once Douglas-Roberts proved a better defending option at SF. Marvin (84 threes in 66 games), Roberts (66), Lance (86), Neal and P.J. Hairston will more than make up for the departed. Each one of those guys has faster strokes and, outside of Lance, rarely hesitate to launch one. The big key to the Hornets becoming a very good shooting team is Kemba – he should get more spot up opportunities this year playing off of Lance.

9. Will Noah Vonleh log any meaningful minutes in his rookie season?

Bradford: Nope.

Dr.E: Clifford has already pretty much said no for the first half of the season, and if the Hornets are in the thick of the playoff race, might not be many minutes in the second half either.

ASChin: Not likely. I’ve been using Portland-era Jermaine O’Neal as a comp. He’ll sit as a youngster on a good team and learn valuable lessons behind vets who are trying to win now.

10. More likely to make an appearance at the TWC the season: Jeff Taylor or Rufus Lynx?

Bradford: My first inclination is to say Rufus. But if Taylor was going to get cut, why wait? He’s nothing more than insurance on the wing with no real future with the franchise (sorry JT fans). The team has to know more about the situation than has been publicly released. I don’t know if we’ll see him get minutes in an actual game, but I think you’ll be able to catch him chilling on the bench at some point.

Dr.E: Neither.

ASChin: Rufus and his friends Primoz Brezec and Melvin Ely will crash the Hornets opener wearing black B.W.O. t-shirts. OHMYGAWD IT’S A BOBCATS WORLD ORDER!!!

11.  Worst move of the offseason: Letting McRoberts walk for the mid-level OR Paying Marvin Williams $7 million per season?

Bradford: I’m going to say Marvin Williams at $7 million fully guaranteed. Some sort of team option or partial guarantee on year 2 would have made sense with such a high number. It’s not a crippling move, but it’s not very flexible either.
As for McRoberts, last year was a career year that I don’t think he’ll match again. It was a right place, right time kind of situation. The 3 point shooting probably won’t hold up. And even though he hit 3’s at a decent clip, teams still didn’t respect it according to SportsVU’s gravity measurements as discussed here  (Insider Only). The more interesting angle on McRoberts is which decision was worse, Cho not re-signing him or McRoberts choosing to leave?

Dr.E: Letting McRoberts walk for sure. If the Hornets don’t get off to a good start, it won’t be the end of the world, but it will be because McBob isn’t on the floor holding things together.

ASChin: McRoberts was set to become this generation’s Gminski, a bearded Dookie who played the game the only way a six-ten Jesus could: with style and grace; turning Lebron’s other cheek into his other elbow. Why Cho? WHY???!!!

12. The Hornets finish the season with a record of…?

Bradford: I’m sticking with my non-stats based 45-37 prediction from the summer.

Dr.E: 47-35.

ASChin: 50-32. The first time a Charlotte NBA team has notched fifty since 1998.

13. True or False: The Hornets will win a Playoff game this season.

Bradford: True. Not only will they win a playoff game this season, they’ll win a playoff series.

Dr.E: True.

ASChin: They’ll get to the Mike Woodson Invitational AKA The Second Round.

14. What does Kemba’s contract extension look like?

Bradford: 4 years, $50 million with a player option on the fourth year.

Dr.E: It’s really hard to say without knowing more details about how and how much the salary cap is going to go up over the next few years right?  I guess in the 10-11 million per range?

ASChin: Cap uncertainty is a major issue but Cho’s greatest strength has been contract negotiation. I’m gonna say it’s 4yrs, $48m with a team option after year three – timing it perfectly with a famous Charlottean’s free agency.

15. Unsung Hero: Which under the radar Hornet makes the biggest contribution this season?

Bradford: As a bit of a fanboy I want to say Brian Roberts, and I love his signing, but I’m going to go with Gerald Henderson. He’s the forgotten man and there are legitimate concerns about his fit with the team going forward. But I think he becomes an essential glue guy. He’s been overextended since he escaped the shackles of Larry Brown. He never should have been a first, second, or even third option on offense. He has an opportunity to redefine his career as a spot-up shooter and cutter who never handles the ball and puts most of his energy into defense. You know who else couldn’t shoot for the life of him until all he had to do was stand there, catch, and shoot? Thabo Sefalosha. Steve Clifford loves defensive versatility and Hendo is strong enough and athletic enough to defend multiple positions. An obvious trade target, and I’m not saying he won’t be, but Hendo is going to play a big role on this team. It’s all up to him to take on this new challenge and I think he’ll have a great year.

Dr.E: Gary Neal.

ASChin: Tyrus Thomas. MJ is gonna cringe every time he sends out a cut of the $9 million amnesty the team still owes T-Time. Every time Dougie McBuckets nails a three (Chicago acquired McDermott by packaging the Bobcats first rounder from the Thomas trade), MJ is going to curse the names of Larry Brown and Rod Higgins. The Tyrus and Tyson Chandler deals cemented Jordan’s status as a poor basketball mind five years ago. He’ll use these memories like he used getting cut from his high school basketball team. As the Waterboy would say, “Tacklin’ Fuel”. The Hornets will win a title in the next decade.

Bonus Predictions from Bradford:

  • Kemba shoots 45% from the field.
  • Cody Zeller averages 3+ assists per game.
  • PJ Hairston scores 30 in a game at some point.
  • Charlotte ranks in the top half of the league in attendance.
  • Lance Stephenson has less than 10 technical fouls all season.

Eight Ways To Win Without Actually Winning – Part 1

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Bobcats Baseline 2012-2013 Season Preview

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

Win #1. The Return of Tyrus Thomas

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

Win #2. Henderson & Mullens Prove Their Worth

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

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

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

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

Win #3. Kemba Ascendant

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

Win #4. The “O” in Biyombo

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

To be continued in Part 2…

-ASChin

Is this the year?

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Will the Bobcats be smiling like this at the end of the regular season? ESPN.com’s NBA guru John Hollinger seems to think they’ll have reason to. In his season preview of the Bobcats, Hollinger projects the team to finish 40-42, good enough for the 8th playoff spot in the East.

Hollinger cites the upgrade of Larry Brown over Sam Vincent as perhaps the biggest driver behind the improved outlook, but also notes the returns of May and Morrison and the upgrade of DJ Augustin over Jeff McInnis as important reasons.

One positive that Hollinger doesn’t mention is that the core of this team (Wallace, Okafor, Felton) has been together for several years now. Jason Richardson (after initially seeming nonplussed about being traded to the Bobcats) has assimilated nicely into this group, providing the team with a solid group of young veteran leaders who are on the same page on the court. Core continuity is huge in the NBA, and the Bobcats have it going into the ’08-’09 season.

In other, less objective Bobcats coverage, Bonnell and Sorenson at the Observer sound like they’re doing kegstands with Larry Brown Kool-Aid, while Matt Rochinski at bobcats.com has similarly relentlessly positive, yet indispensable training camp news.

-E