Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nuthin to See in Charlotte - Charlotte Bobcats Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Kemba Walker, SG Gerald Henderson , SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, PF Bismack Biyombo, C Brendan Haywood

Key Bench Players: PG Ramon Sessions, G Reggie Williams, G Ben Gordon, PF Tyrus Thomas, C BJ Mullens
Notable offseason additions: SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2nd overall pick), SG Ben Gordon, C Brendan Haywood, Head Coach Mike Dunlap

Notable offseason subtractions:
PG DJ Augustin, SF Corey Maggette
Let's say you're a long-suffering fan of the Washington Wizards. You've seen limited success in the last forty or so years of 'Zards (nee' Bullets) basketball. The prospects for the season aren't that bright, though a postseason berth is getting closer to a dreamy reality. At the very least however, the hardcore District basketball fan can go down to the Verizon Center and say "Hey, you know, the Wiz Kidz might not emerge victorious tonight, but at least I get to see John Wall. Hell, maybe Nene will light it up tonight. And I'd really like to take a look at Bradley Beal--I heard that guy could be a star."

It's the same in Milwaukee (Brandon Jennings), Cleveland (Kyrie Irving) and New Orleans (Anthony Davis). Even in Orlando and Phoenix, you're in state of the art arenas watching teams with a tradition of winning. Your favorite squad might not roll out a marquee season, but you have a reason to root and something to look for when you show up live. Hope, no matter how distant, is apparent and exciting.

Not so for YOUR...Charlotte Bobcats.
Looking at North Carolina's only professional sports team's 2012-2013 roster, there seems to be just about nothing to look for when attending a 'Cats game. Charlotte is coming off of arguably the worst season in NBA history, finishing 7-59 and a .106 winning percentage that ranks as the most futile of all-time. They ended the year with 23 consecutive losses, including an 0 for April. As awful as the season was, the nightmare didn't stop with their concluding 20-point L to the Knicks.

The silver lining to any awful team's pitiful regular season campaign is the blessing (or curse) of the NBA Draft Lottery. In it, the Bobcats supposedly had the best chance of gaining the number one overall pick, a.k.a. the Final Four Most Outstanding player, new gold medalist and Frieda-Calo-Halloween-costume-ready Anthony Davis.

Charlotte ended up with the second pick. Womp womp. In this case, second place truly was the first loser. There no doubt was talent in the 2012 Draft other than Davis, but the talent gap, at least at the moment, seems canyon-like.

Looking at the team's developing young core, future prospects aren't exactly clear. Last year's two lottery picks, G Kemba Walker and F Bismack Biyombo, showed very modest returns in their rookie seasons. Walker averaged just over 12 points and 4 assists a game, but at 36% shooting and a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. Kemba was reminiscent of fellow Huskie Ben Gordon, but not so much in the ease at which he scored, but rather the streakiness at which did it. Biyombo flashed bits of his extraordinary defensive potential suggested by his tremendous athleticism, throwing down a nightly 5 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. However, Biyombo looked confused for the most part and overwhlemed by the speed of the NBA game. The most telling metric of their performance is that even on a team as weak as the Bobcats, the two rooks didn't shine at all through the muck. Neither man was able to break through for 1st or 2nd All-Rookie team berth in a draft class called one of the worst in league history. Whereas a lot of other fanbases of losing teams will have a compelling young player to watch develop, I fear that the Bobcats merely have two young role players from their 2011 draft.

With the second pick of course, most fanbases would be fired up to see the opening act of what should be a potential All-Star career. After all, superstars aren't exclusive to the number one spot: Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Roy, Kevin Love and Russ Westbrook all were selected after the number two slot.

The Bobcats went with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a small forward from the National Champion Kentucky Wildcats. MKG has been projected as a solid player, who's biggest attribute is being a jack of all trades, but the knock being that he is the master of none, according to He's been lauded for his athleticism and work ethic, and yet isn't a particularly electrifying or exciting offensive player. Kidd-Gilchrist was one of the most NBA-ready players available, but whose upside was limited. Other prospects like Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters had more superstar potential, but essentially MKG had a sure shot to become a solid to very good player who's guaranteed to work his ass off in getting there. His body type, combined with his work ethic and skill set has drawn him comparisons to Andre Iguodala and Gerald Wallace. All in all, if you're a Bobcats fan, this isn't exactly the young, captivating player you're looking forward to watching develop. This wasn't an exciting team with Gerald Wallace, so what makes anyone think that his 19 year-old unproven comp will even be able to provide any of the same tepid play?

The rest of the team isn't at all impressive. Tyrus Thomas continues to be every bit of the unmotivated disappoinment that he was in Chicago, not to mention will always be the guy that got his ass kicked by a 72 year-old Paul Silas. Players like Ramon Sessions and Brendan Haywood are best suited to being role players rather than crucial parts of the team. Gerald Henderson and Ben Gordon are nice players, but certainly not capable of carrying the offensive load like they'll be asked to when Kemba Walker is shooting sub-40% and Biyombo is replicating that percentage from the free throw line. Overall, this isn't a great offensive team, though Ramon Sessions is an actual pass-first point guard that should be able to help ball movement a bit.

New GM Rich Cho seems to have a plan, but so far he's been acquiring the role players needed on a future playoff team rather than the young draft lottery stud he needs to build any sense of excitement in Charlotte. The team should play with a bit more defensive energy with MKG, Biyombo and Haywood in the fold, but lack the size across the board to fully become a lockdown-first squad.

This is going to be a long, long....boring season for the Bobcats. Sorry Charlotte. You're screwed.

Best Case Scenario: Kidd-Gilchrist is more exciting to watch than any of us could have predicted, showing more Scottie Pippen than Gerald Wallace. Kemba Walker watches Ben Gordon  and models his game after going onto Youtube and watching his 2008 playoff reel. Biyombo starts reminding us more of Serge Ibaka by the day. However, even with all of this, the Bobcats remain a scrappy team with upside that's just not ready to come close to playoff contention. They finish in the neighborhood of a 20-62 record, landing the number 1 overall pick in next year's draft lottery. The best thing that could happen to MJ's squad is for them to show upside, but stay horrible enough to get a high draft selection.

Absolute Apocalypse: Kidd-Gilchrist is as hardworking as he's been scouted, but as limited as well. Kemba Walker and Biyombo hit a sophmore slump that's even worse than their freshman campaigns. Most importantly, new coach Mike Dunlap shows why he's been a career assistant coach and can't develop Charlotte's young players. However, the worst case scenario isn't replicating last year's all-time embarassment of a season. The worst case scenario would be if the team only wins 20 games, but finishes with the fifth overall pick.

Expected Finish: 5th in the Southeast Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference


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