Six Trade Deadline Deals for the Charlotte Bobcats

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Let’s hope Rich Cho and Rod Higgins have an unlimited minutes plan. With up to $19 million in expiring contracts, multiple 1st Round draft picks and a roster devoid of Playoff talent, it’s a near certainty the front office duo are working the phones to acquire talent before the February 21st deadline. Let’s have a look at some of the options available as we approach the frenzy:

Expirings about to Expire

In particular, you can all but guarantee Charlotte will attempt to move the expiring contracts of upcoming free agents Gana Diop ($7.3m), Hakim Warrick (team option, $4m) and Reggie Williams ($2.6m). The Queen City’s never been a major free agent destination so acquiring a quality player already under contract with this space is imperative. While fishing out a highly paid psuedo-star like Rudy Gay is an option, the team could also use the expiring contracts in the form of a salary dump to bring in a prospect or pick, for example:

TRADE PROPOSAL #1 CLT trades Gana Diop, Hakim Warrick to SAC for John Salmons, Thomas Robinson.

Nothing says “fresh start” like the dumping of a truly terrible contract. As much fun as it would be for a guy named “Salmons” to play in Seattle, he’s extremely overpaid for his production. With John off the books, the soon-to-be-Sonics could both re-sign Tyreke Evans and dip their toes into a decent Free Agency pool. The price for taking on Salmons’ additional two years would be Robinson, who has the potential to be a league-leading rebounder and a decent post player.

TRADE PROPOSAL #2 CLT trades Diop, Reggie Williams to DAL for Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder, 2nd Round Pick.

Mark Cuban is going all in this summer and the only thing standing in his way is the final year of Marion’s contract. By dumping it, Cuban will have nearly $25 million to blow in free agency BEFORE utilizing all the Mavs’ cap exceptions. Meanwhile, Charlotte rents a fading yet useful combo forward for 18 months. If Shawn pouts, the Cats can buy him out midway next season but if not, they’ll have a highly useful rebounder/jump shooter in their rotation. The real bounty in the trade is Crowder, a high-energy, rebounding machine on a pint-sized contract for two more seasons. Dallas’ 2nd Rounder would replace the one Charlotte traded to OKC for Byron Mullens.

Big Names, Big Deals, Big Risks

If Cho and Higgins were to roll the dice to bring in a youngish, All-Star-ish, type of player there are a few options out on the trading block:

TRADE PROPOSAL #3 CLT trades Tyrus Thomas, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Diop to MEM for Rudy Gay, Darrell Arthur.

As controversial as it sounds, this deal could ultimately help both teams. Memphis dumps Gay’s massive contract and adds another wing stopper in Kidd-Gilchrist, freeing the team to pair Mike Conley with another scorer instead of re-signing free agent-to-be Tony Allen. The price, of course, is taking on the last two years of Thomas’ laughable deal. Though overpaid, Gay gives Charlotte exactly what they need as a dynamic offensive SF while Arthur provides a steady two-way presence at the other forward spot. Also, trading Tyrus alleviates the need for using the amnesty clause on him – a move that could save Michael Jordan up to $18 million over the next two years. Before you scoff at the idea of a penny-pinching owner, keep in mind that the cash could be spent on the next coach hire (Stan Van Gundy, anyone?), the Hornets rebrand, front office help and a quality bench player or two. Next season’s Kemba/McLemore/Gay/Arthur/Biyombo lineup and deep bench could certainly compete for a Playoff spot.

TRADE PROPOSAL #4 CLT trades Diop, Williams, 1st Rnd Pick (via PDX) to TOR for Andrea Bargnani.

A straight salary dump for the Raps with a mid-round pick thrown in for their troubles, Toronto officially moves on from the disappointing Bargnani era, allowing the assurgant Ed Davis to claim the starting spot for good. Charlotte gets a sweet-shooting big man who actually makes good on his stroke – Bargnani takes Byron Mullens’ re-signing out of the equation come July and provides the Cats with a niche outside-in complement to Biyombo and MKG in the frontcourt. Also, did I mention that Bargnani makes Mullens redundant?

TRADE PROPOSAL #5 CLT trades Gerald Henderson, Williams, 1st Rnd Pick (DET) to SAC for Tyreke Evans.

If the soon-to-be-Sonics are convinced that they can’t or don’t want to sign Evans to a $10 million plus per year deal in July, they can make a trade like this one. Henderson gives them a less expensive backup plan for a starting two guard and the pick from Detroit adds to the new management’s stash of assets. The Cats roll the dice here by adding Evans and his upcoming near-max deal but the payoff could be huge. Evans is only 23, taller and bigger than Henderson and a very good ball handler AKA a near perfect long-term complement to Kemba Walker. Tyreke is a consistent jumpshot away from an All-Star game. This is exactly the sort of player the Cats should be targeting.

TRADE PROPOSAL #6 CLT trades Diop, Warrick, Williams, Two 1st Rnd Picks (via DET/PDX) to ATL for Josh Smith.

By far the most prepostorous of the scenarios, Charlotte would “win” the right to pay Smith $18 million or so per year over the next four seasons. Atlanta seems less than thrilled with that very idea so have been shopping Smith over the past few months. While the concept of trading Smith within their own division (much less the same Conference) might seem abhorant, acquiring two mid-round draft choices and $14 million in cap space may alleviate the sting. Smith would immediately become the Cats’ most dynamic scorer and a fine match with MKG – but factoring in Smith’s contract demands, maturity issues and Atlanta’s division-rival status, it’s a definite longshot.
-ASChin

MKG is the Future

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Baseline 2012 Draft Review

PART I – What Just Happened?

The Bobcats stunned the internet Thursday night by selecting Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second overall pick in the 2012 Draft. For those of us glued to Twitter and Hoopshype, the pick was a surprise because:

  • A. Every media outlet in the universe reported the team was working to trade down.
  • B. Out of all the draft’s top seven prospects, MKG is the least offensively polished – not exactly a perfect fit for the league’s worst offense.
  • C. The team’s only power forward under contract is a guy whose effort was so infuriating last season, he provoked a 68-year old man to pull a reverse Spreewell on him.

So why did Charlotte forego dreams of a sure-fire big man starter at #4 (Thomas Robinson) and another prospect at #24 (Tony Wroten, Perry Jones or Marquis Teague) in order to keep the pick and draft an 18 year old with a broken jump-shot?

PART II – Why It Happened

GM Rich Cho is a smart dude. President Rod Higgins is a smart dude.* They played the Wayne Gretzky by way of Steve Jobs card:

Don’t skate to where the puck is, skate to where it’s going. And judging from last month’s NBA Finals, the puck is going to an UBER-ATHLETIC place in which only the crazy-long, high of energy may roam.

Lebron James. Kevin Durant. Paul George. Luol Deng. Rudy Gay. Iggy. Danny Granger. Chris Bosh. Derrick Rose. John Wall.

Thomas Robinson only covers one of these guys on a good day. MKG can match up with ‘em all.

Robinson is an old-school bruiser who could’ve banged with Charles Barkley or Karl Malone back in the day. Meanwhile, this year’s Finals featured James and Durant playing the bulk of his team’s minutes at the four spot. I like Robinson but there’s no chance he’s checking either of those guys.

By adding Gilchrist to a squad which already includes Gerald Henderson (a near lockdown defender at both guard spots) and Bismack Biyombo (still developing but a defensive juggernaut in the making), the Bobcats have three players who could legitimately challenge for All-Defensive team in the near future.

MKG also fits perfectly with new head coach Mike Dunlap’s philosophy of fitness, effort and easy transition buckets. Good news, coach, MKG isn’t just “fit” he’s “relentless”. No player on the roster has been able to make Gana Diop or Tyrus Thomas feel bad for giving less than a 100% thus far but I think Gilchrist the “Culture-Changer” has a shot.

PART III – “Draft for Talent, Trade for Need”

The team just announced it’s extending qualifying offers to both D.J. Augustin and Derrick Brown. I’d bet on Brown being on the roster in November – he fits the mold described above. Augustin? This seems more like a strategic move – He has value but I‘m not certain he’s in the team’s long-term or even short-term plans – so don’t be surprised to see a sign & trade go down later in the summer.

By not qualifying D.J. White, the front office announced that they’ll be going after another power forward via trade or free agency. Again, considering the new philosophy, they’ll be looking at players who can play both big man positions, run the floor and affect the game defensively. Jason Thompson (RFA) and J.J. Hickson (UFA) will certainly be high on the list. Considering Hickson’s perceived character questions, Thompson seems like an ideal fit. I’m also a fan of Ersan Illyasova but expect his asking price to be far north of what the Bobcats can offer.

Potential sleeper: Toronto’s Jerryd Bayless (RFA) is a big-time paint scorer and could be had via sign & trade (Reggie Williams’ expiring – Raps will need shooters around Jonas Valanciunas); especially if Toronto ends up using all of their cap space on Steve Nash in the next few weeks.

Finally, I would love for the team to invite Iona State PG Scott Machado and/or Georgetown C Henry Sims to camp as undrafted free agents – perhaps their agents could be enticed with the promise of playing time.

PART IV – Better Regardless

Lost in the MKG Draft night confusion was this simple fact: The Bobcats are suddenly better. If a few of the above moves go down, they might even be decent:

  • PG: Kemba Walker/D.J. Augustin (or Jerryd Bayless)/Scott Machado
  • SG: Gerald Henderson/Ben Gordon/Matt Carroll
  • SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist/Derrick Brown/Jeffrey Taylor
  • PF: Jason Thompson/Tyrus Thomas
  • C: Bismack Biyombo/Byron Mullens/Gana Diop

Not bad at all. Scoring from the guard spots, MKG can slide over and check fours during small-ball lineups. This team doesn’t win 30 games necessarily but is set up very well moving forward especially if Tyrus rebounds from a wacky ’11-’12 campaign and if Byron Mullens rebounds (at all).

Two lottery picks next summer, another $10-15 million in cap space, amnesty provision card in their back pocket and another year of growth for their young players. The Bobcats’ future is bright and that might be the biggest surprise of all.

-ASChin

*anybody who can manage to get Cory Higgins on an NBA roster is crafty to say the least.

So You’re Going to Draft Thomas Robinson

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David Phillips/AP

Baseline 2012 Draft + Roster Breakdown – Part I

Post-Lottery I broke down the three serious contenders for the Cats’ second overall pick. Last week, DrE prescribed some trade options should the team choose to go another route. Today we’ll begin filling out the team’s roster based on who they end up walking away with on the 28th. First up…

STEP 1: T-ROB MANIA

Not only is Thomas Robinson the safest pick at two but by selecting him the Bobcats can follow a fairly straight-forward path building out the rest of the roster come July. At 6’9″/244, Robinson instantly becomes the team’s muscle down low; he’ll likely lead the team in rebounds his rookie season and challenge for highest PER. If the Cats do select T-Rob, expect a stream of happy tweets from Bismack Biyombo, who’ll be surprised to find a competent frontcourt brawler crashing the boards next to him in the paint.

Long term, the combo of Biyombo and Robinson form a high(ish)-ceiling big man duo to build the team around. Add in a change of pace stretch five (Byron Mullens), a (hopefully) refocused Tyrus Thomas* and the Cats frontcourt suddenly becomes a strength.

RESULT: Bobcats select PF Thomas Robinson, Kansas

STEP 2: YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU GOT TIL IT’S GONE

With the frontcourt out of the way, the team must address its #1 area of weakness: SCORING. Robinson will help a little but what the Cats desperately need is a legit 20-30 point threat capable of drawing a double-team or cracking a pick ‘n roll — y’know, those components which make up 90% of NBA offenses.

GOOD NEWS: Big-time scoring wings are available this offseason. Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala and Rudy Gay can all be had given the right trade.
BAD NEWS: Even if the Cats wanted to take on a big-salaried veteran, the team might not have the ammo required to make a deal happen.
Oh, and don’t look for any firepower in free agency, it’s simply not the year for it (#2013).

How desperate are the Bobcats for scoring? Without any legitmate offensive threat on the roster, the team can’t even properly evaluate its current point guards. DJ Augustin is technically a free agent. But what’s he worth? Put him on the Lakers and he’s a legit starter/rotation player, nailing open threes playing off Kobe & Co. On the Bobcats? Another mediocre player on a mediocre team. How can Kemba Walker learn the position when he’s the best option for the team’s offense every time down the floor? The new coaching staff will help but the team MUST acquire scoring talent soon or risk roster-wide development atrophy.**

The most likely scenario is that the team signs some low-risk/low-cost veteran help in the form of Antawn Jamison or Grant Hill to shepherd the kids until Shabazz Mohammed*** or James Harden come along.

RESULT: Bobcats extend/sign D.J. Augustin to the $4.4m qualifying offer, sign Antawn Jamison to two-year $8m partially guaranteed deal.

STEP 3: ANOTHER STEP FORWARD

Drafting Robinson, signing Augustin and Jamison brings the roster to:

PG: Augustin/Walker
SG: Henderson/Williams/Carroll
SF: Maggette/Jamison
PF: Robinson/Thomas/White
C: Biyombo/Mullens/Diop

Factor in the team’s high second-round pick (a potential rotation player) and the roster maxes out at fourteen with a cap number around $55m — right around the league mandated minimum.

Will this roster be decent? Probably not. Will they be as bad as last year? Nope. The coaching change alone should be good for a handful of victories. Robinson’s ability to finish in the paint and rebound will be a godsend while Jamison’s scoring punch from the bench should prevent some of those mid/late quarter collapses.

Will the fanbase stick around after another grueling season? Total speculation on my part but I think the organization has an ace in the hole to restore local interest once the demolition is complete. One Hint: BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…

RESULT: Charlotte team looks better, finishes strong, wins 27 games, enters July of 2013 with a handful of good young players, two first round picks, a ton of cap space and lots of teal & purple.

-ASChin

*And, no, I refuse to believe that the Bobcats will amnesty Tyrus simply because: a.) The team is broke and b.) No one outside of Billy King would offer T-Time guaranteed money to offset the costs. Also, “T-Time” is the second laziest nickname in the league, right after “T-Rob” and just behind “Hendo”.

**Lack of scoring both on the team and around the league is why I’m strongly in favor of Charlotte taking Bradley Beal with the pick — but that is another post for another day…

***Is Shabazz Mohammed the next great NBA prospect or the leader of the Black Panther movement? Name always confuses me.

NEXT UP: So You’re Going to Draft Andre Drummond


POLL : What Should They Do with Pick #2?

  • Select Thomas Robinson (39%, 75 Votes)
  • Select Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (8%, 15 Votes)
  • Select Bradley Beal (15%, 28 Votes)
  • Select Andre Drummond (9%, 17 Votes)
  • Trade The Pick (29%, 55 Votes)

Total Voters: 190

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Should the Bobcats trade the #2 pick?

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As we debate (agonize over?) the relative merits of Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Thomas Robinson, and Andre Drummond as potential selections for the Bobcats with the #2 pick, a tantalizing alternative has been presented.

Matt Moore of ProBasketballTalk makes a strong argument for trading the pick.  The argument boils down to this: the Bobcats desperately need both a franchise player and a more general infusion of talent; there is not a franchise player in this draft other than Anthony Davis; thus, the Bobcats should trade down in an attempt to add a couple of talented players — pieces, or assets if you will.

Moore also identifies some weaknesses in this strategy: one, while it seems unlikely at this time, it is possible that one of the above-mentioned candidates for the second pick could develop into a franchise player, which would make the Bobcats look even worse than they already do (if that’s possible); and two, that the Bobcats would be unlikely to receive full objective value back when trading away the pick.

For what it’s worth, I think the former weakness is the more important one.  Part of me thinks that the Bobcats should just decide which guy is going to be the best player, pick him at #2 and move forward.  Don’t over-complicate things.

But building an NBA team is complicated.  And the argument for trading the pick is admittedly compelling.  The next question is:  What could the Bobcats realistically get back for the second pick?

Speculation has mostly centered around the two teams with two first round picks: the Cavaliers (picks #4 and #24) and Trailblazers (picks #6 and #11).  Obviously, the first step is that one of these teams must fall in love with a player.

The Cavaliers are building around the core of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao.  Most observers are putting the Cavaliers onto the prominent wing prospects in this draft: Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Harrison Barnes.  The Cavaliers supposedly liked Harrison Barnes in last year’s draft, so if Barnes’ underwhelming 2011-12 season didn’t scare them off, they would certainly be able to sit back and get him at #4.  But if they fall for Kidd-Gilchrist or Beal, they could package #4 and #24 to move up to #2 to ensure that they get their man.

Getting #4 and #24 would be attractive for the Bobcats in that they could very likely still get Thomas Robinson at #4 (who may be the best fit anyways) and pick up an extra player/asset at #24.

The negative part of this is that the Bobcats already have pick #31, the first pick of the second round.  #24 and #31 aren’t that much different — are the Bobcats really going to give significant playing/development time next year to the #24 and #31 picks?

What you’d be hoping for is that someone who’s projected in the teens slips down to #24 so you get some real value there — Quincy Miller, for example? Or maybe you use one of those picks on a project (Fab Melo, Marquis Teague, Evan Fournier?) and stash him in the D-League/Europe while using the other pick on a more polished player who could contribute from Day 1 (Jeff Taylor, Draymond Greene, Andrew Nicholson?).

Moving on to Portland (picks #6 and #11), the Trailblazers are building around LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum.  Their biggest needs are a starting point guard and a big to pair with Aldridge.  They could try to fill those needs with #6 and #11 (Chad Ford’s Mock 6.0 has them taking Andre Drummond and Damian Lillard, respectively, while Jonathan Givony/DraftExpress.com has them on Jared Sullinger and Kendall Marshall).

Or they could package the picks to move up to #2 to pick Thomas Robinson or Bradley Beal.  While Robinson is possibly too similar to Aldridge and thus not the greatest fit, he’s plug-and-play NBA ready.  Beal at 2-guard isn’t a primary need for the Blazers (they have Wesley Matthews there currently), but nonetheless keeps getting mentioned as as the guy that teams could really fall in love with.

Getting the sixth and eleventh picks would be supremely fun and terribly frightening for the Bobcats.  They might end up having to work out 50+ players when you add in the prospects for the #31 pick.

They could do the most Bobcatsian thing ever and pick Harrison Barnes at #6 and Tyler Zeller at #11 (harkening back to the all-Tarheels 2005 draft of Raymond Felton and Sean May).  People might riot, but those guys do fill needs — a wing and a big who meshes with Biyombo.

Or they could go with the two highest risk/reward prospects in the lottery: Andre Drummond at #6 and Perry Jones at #11 (again a big and a wing).  That would be fascinating.

Really, the possibilities are endless — the upshot is that you’re getting two lottery picks in a pretty deep draft.  And when you have as many holes as the Bobcats do, that’s probably the best move.

–Dr. E

POLL : What Should They Do with Pick #2?

  • Select Thomas Robinson (39%, 75 Votes)
  • Select Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (8%, 15 Votes)
  • Select Bradley Beal (15%, 28 Votes)
  • Select Andre Drummond (9%, 17 Votes)
  • Trade The Pick (29%, 55 Votes)

Total Voters: 190

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The Case Against MKG (and the case for the Other Three Guys)

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Bobcats Baseline: 2012 Draft Preview, Part I

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

“You don’t understand, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a winner!” – People on the Internet

Great! But why stop with MKG? Maybe the Bobcats should draft Michael Phelps or Tom Brady. What’s Ivan Lendl up to these days? Meryl Streep? She’s as decorated as they come. If I’ve learned one thing in my twenty-plus years of ring-less fandom, it is that THERE IS NO CORRELATION BETWEEN preprofessional and post-professional success. Period.

  • Emeka Okafor was a WINNER.
  • Raymond Felton and Sean “Crab Bread” May were WINNERS.
  • Kemba Walker was a WINNER.

Strange that the Bobcats have had all of these winners in their brief existence yet have lost so many games. Quick look at the stars currently playing for a title: Lebron, DWade, Pierce, Garnett, Rondo, Harden, Durant, Westbrook, Duncan, Ginobli, Parker. ZERO NCAA Championships total. Conclusion: IT DOESN’T EFFING MATTER.

“MKG has a motor that doesn’t stop!!!” – People on the Internet

So does a Honda Civic but you won’t see it on the track at Le Mans. Reggie Evans, Kenneth Faried, Cory Brewer, Matt Barnes and Tony Allen all give 110% every minute but if I was coming off the worst season in NBA history, I’m not sure I’d spend the Number Two Overall Pick on a non-game changing Energy Guy.

Oh yeah, and then there’s that thing about how Kidd-Gilchrist CAN’T SHOOT. Or create offense for himself. That’s gonna go over real well on a team already LOADED with offensive threats, right?

If Bobcats GM Rich Cho is 15% as smart as the internet gives him credit for, he ain’t gonna take MKG anyway so I don’t even know why we’re talking about him. If the team KEEPS the pick, they’ll almost certainly choose between the following three players (in no particular order):

1.) Thomas Robinson, PF Kansas

PROS: The Safe Pick. He’ll probably never beat Chris Bosh or Al Horford out of a starting All-Star gig but he’ll slide in nicely next to Biyombo to eventually form one of the East’s better, if undersized, frontcourts. His rebounding will be an instant godsend as will his ability to successfully execute any sort of offense within four feet of the basket.

CONS: Power Forward is hands down the easiest position in the NBA to fill right now. Aside from the top 5-6 guys, there’s not much separating the Carlos Boozers from the Drew Goodens. Not to mention the fact that Tyrus Thomas’s off year on the runway model diet may prove to be a fluke. Add to that the availability either via Free Agency or Trade of some solid starters (Paul Milsap, Ersan Illyasova, Brandon Wright, Josh Smith, Carl Landry) and it might not make sense to spend Number Two on a Glorified Replacement Player.

POTENTIAL TOP FIVE AT POSITION? No.

2.) Andre Drummond, C UCONN

PROS: The Vegas Pick. There just aren’t many dudes with Drummond’s combination of size and athleticism. He’s almost as HUGE as Bynum and Howard today at nineteen. His offense needs work and he’ll surely be a foul magnet and therefore a non-factor early in his career but if both parties invest heavily in his development, he may one day challenge Anthony Davis as the best big man in the 2012 Draft class. Pair him with Biyombo and they could form the most fearsome defensive frontcourt in the league for a decade.

CONS: Kwame 2, Electric Boogaloo. If he’s not serious about the game or his career he could single-handily set the franchise back at least another year. But for a team already playing from so far behind, that might not matter.

POTENTIAL TOP FIVE AT POSITION? Yes.

3.) Bradley Beal, SG Florida

PROS: The Cam Newton Pick. Lost in the now universal worship of Cam is the fact that most draft analysts initially had him pegged somewhere between a mid-first rounder to an early second round pick. Panthers GM Marty Hurney rightfully shut out the experts and picked the guy who was right for the team and situation, regardless of draft position. It paid off big.

Beal is this draft’s Newton. He does precisely the things the Bobcats desperately need: SHOOTING + DYNAMIC SCORING. Put him in a three guard rotation with Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker and the Bobcats backcourt is a big point guard away from being good for a long while.

CONS: “But Gerald Henderson is our best player!!!” -People on the Internet – Do I even have to acknowledge this? I like Henderson. He’s fine but he’s probably the 19th best shooting guard in the league. Plus Beal can play some point. Like a rich man’s Sefolosha in OKC, there will be plenty of minutes available for Gerald, Jr.
“You can’t draft an undersized SG at number two!” - Traditional Draft Experts - It’s a small-ball league now and has been for some time. Beal’s shooting and ability to get to the line will help the team in their dire most area of need. Instantly. If Rich Cho is 4% as smart as I think he is, look for Beal to be swishing threes next season in orange and blue.

POTENTIAL TOP FIVE AT POSITION? Yes.

-ASChin (@bobcatsbaseline)

COMING SOON: OFFSEASON PLANS BASED ON THE POTENTIAL PICKS

POLL : What Should They Do with Pick #2?

  • Select Thomas Robinson (39%, 75 Votes)
  • Select Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (8%, 15 Votes)
  • Select Bradley Beal (15%, 28 Votes)
  • Select Andre Drummond (9%, 17 Votes)
  • Trade The Pick (29%, 55 Votes)

Total Voters: 190

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If Not Anthony Davis, Then Who?

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The Bobcats have been looking forward to the 2012 NBA Draft since, oh, about February 2011.  Fortunately, Operation Ping Pong Ball was a huge success and the Bobcats have the best chance at winning the #1 pick (25%) in Wednesday night’s lottery.  And even more fortunately, there is a clear #1 pick this year in Anthony Davis.

Drafting Davis would finally give the Bobcats a franchise player around which to build.  He would complement Bismack Biyombo well; neither one is a prototypical power forward or center, but their talent and athleticism would allow them to play together, freely switching defensively on the other teams’ bigs and concentrating on their strengths on the offensive end.

With Davis, the Bobcats would likely be able to lure a better coach this summer, and would improve appreciably on the court right away.  Then they would have another first rounder (or two) in 2013 and, most importantly, tons of cap room to lure a top  free agent in summer 2013.  Yes, if the Bobcats get Anthony Davis in 2012 I think they very well could be in the playoffs by the 2013-14 season.

Unfortunately, there is a 75% chance that the Bobcats will not win the lottery, and will instead be picking second, third, or fourth.  And most unfortunately, there are no surefire All-Stars after Davis.  The once-vaunted 2012 NBA Draft has turned into a bunch of question marks.

Let’s be clear: it will be an absolute tragedy if (when?) the Bobcats don’t win the lottery Wednesday night.  The players that will be available with picks 2-4 either have ceilings below “superstar” and/or have significant bust potential, making the Bobcats’ road back to relevance even longer.

But there’s no use crying over spilled milk.  And superstar or not, pick 2-4 should still significantly improve the team.  The consensus is that there is no sure #2 or #3 pick this year and that what we have instead is a second tier including Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Andre Drummond, Thomas Robinson and Bradley Beal.

When considering players in the same tier, team needs/strengths necessarily come into play.  While the Bobcats do have the least talented roster in the league, there are some relative strengths that would be foolish to ignore.  Probably the most striking is that the Bobcats have a glut of young and skilled, but either soft or undersized big men: Bismack Biyombo (undersized), Byron Mullens (soft), DJ White (soft), Tyrus Thomas (???).  So basically, power forward is not a position of need — unless that “power forward” is Anthony Davis, a hybrid power forward/center with singular talent a la Tim Duncan.

I also think that Gerald Henderson at starting 2-guard is a relative strength.  He has limitations, especially on the offensive end, and will never be an All-Star.  But he’s cost-effective (and likely to stay that way even after his rookie deal runs out), a good defender, and still has some potential to improve offensively.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts about what the Bobcats might do with picks #2-4.

#2: There is a 21.5% chance that the Bobcats will end up with the second pick.  It’s not a bad place to be, what with your choice of anyone not named Anthony Davis.  But it will come with a lot of pressure to pick the right guy, and not the bust.

I think most teams, the Bobcats included, would probably go with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at #2.  He has prototypical small-forward size (6’7″, 225), plenty of athleticism and is a strong leader.  He’ll be a solid defender, and possibly an elite one, at his position.  Offensively, he’s an amazing slasher/finisher who needs to work on his range and shotmaking.  I really like the “Gerald Wallace, but with more offensive potential” comparison.  Finally, there is low bust potential with Kidd-Gilchrist, which is an important consideration when picking at #2.

For the Bobcats, Kidd-Gilchrist is a fine fit.  At his position, the Bobcats currently have Corey Maggette and Derrick Brown.  The end of Maggette’s time as an NBA starter is rapidly approaching, if it’s not already here.  He’ll be on an expiring contract in 2012-13, so would possibly be a nice trade chip for a contender at the deadline.  Brown is a nice backup.

So Kidd-Gilchrist could step in and own the starting SF spot for the Bobcats for the next decade.  His perimeter defense, toughness and leadership are sorely needed.  And the Bobcats would just pray that the offense comes along.

#3: The Bobcats have a 17.7% chance of getting the third pick.  Things get even trickier here, as you can’t be totally sure of who’s going to be available.  But assuming Kidd-Gilchrist goes second, then Andre Drummond, Thomas Robinson, and Bradley Beal would all be in play here.

I believe the Bobcats would opt for Andre Drummond. Drummond has ideal size (6’11”, 270) and athleticism for the center position and will be able to contribute defensively right away, but will need time and hard work to develop offensively.  A big bonus is that, like Davis, Drummond would mesh pretty well with Bismack Biyombo.  Whoever ends up being the nominal power forward or center doesn’t matter — they can play together and switch freely while defending the opponents bigs.

However, Drummond’s heart, motor, and even desire to excel at basketball have come into question after an underwhelming freshman year at UConn.  Consider what DeMarcus Cousins recently did with similar size and skills in his one-and-done year — he dominated.  But Drummond wasn’t even in the same ballpark in regards to efficiency or impact, and could disappear for whole games at a time.

If teams don’t like where his head is at during workouts/interviews, he could slide down some boards.  Combine the rawness on the offensive end with a motor that doesn’t run very hot and questionable work ethic, bake at 350° for 35 minutes and whala!  Bust.

But if he works out hard and says the right things during the draft preparation process (not that hard), he could be in the mix at #2 for some teams, the Bobcats included.  Even with red flags looming, most teams will be willing to take a chance on Drummond’s combination of size and skills with a high pick.

#4: If the Bobcats slide to the fourth pick (a 35.8% chance), it could get really dicey.  There’s a decent chance that Bradley Beal could go #2 or #3; thus, Drummond would still be available at #4.  That’s maybe a better place to pick Drummond anyways.  But for my purposes here, let’s assume that Kidd-Gilchrist and Drummond go 2-3.  It comes down to Bradley Beal or Thomas Robinson.

Beal is a slightly undersized, but physically solid, 2-guard in the mold of Eric Gordon.  Thomas Robinson is a relatively refined and well-rounded power forward who was productive as the centerpiece of a very good Kansas team last year.  Both are similarly low-risk.  You see the problem though, in that each would duplicate one of the relative strengths that the Bobcats currently have.

The argument for Beal is that he probably has a higher ceiling than Robinson, and would provide some sorely needed outside shooting.

The argument for Robinson is that, while the Bobcats have some power forwards, they don’t have a prototypical, tough, well-rounded one.  But I don’t think he fits well with Biyombo, in that Robinson doesn’t have the size to defend centers.  Any big that the Bobcats consider really needs to have that ability, in order to take some of the load off Biyombo.

It would be a dilemma, but with the Bobcats in search of star power and an identity, I think the pick would be Beal. But it also wouldn’t surprise me to see Perry Jones or Harrison Barnes get a long look if the Bobcats do slip to pick #4.

– Dr. E