7 games into the season, and the Bobcats already have 4 wins. Last year, it took 30 games to get 4 wins. And while the consensus was that the Bobcats would be improved this year, it was also generally accepted they would still be very bad. Here at QueenCityHoops, we were fairly pessimistic before the season began, and wanted to take this opportunity to review the early season and reflect on what remains.
1. What player’s performance has been most surprising to this point?
Mathew: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Sure, he was the number two pick in the draft and uber-talented, but to think he could contribute in such a way this early on is a big surprise. We knew he would start off stronger on the defensive end, but he’s already the Bobcats’ best perimeter defender and his offense has been more than serviceable. Very encouraging.
Spencer: There are numerous worthy candidates here, but I’m going with Kemba. After last season I wasn’t sure what to expect from Kemba. I knew that adding Sessions and Gordon would open the floor up for Kemba, but didn’t see these results coming this early in the season. Kemba is averaging 19.1 PTS/36 min while shooting 43% from the field. Those shooting numbers aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, but the real surprise comes in when you consider how much Kemba is valuing the basketball- he’s averaging 5.2 assists and only 1.9 turnovers/36 min. That’s right at a 5/1 assists/turnover ratio and that’s an extremely encouraging sign to Kemba’s progression as a PG. Especially when you consider the alarming rate he turned the ball over last season. Charlotte is 5th best in the league this season in turnover rate and Kemba is a huge reason for that. He’s making an impact on all ends of the floor and turning into a leader. Ramon Sessions cool, calm and collected presence is certainly just what Kemba needed and the additions made to put more scoring around the young PG seem to be just the right recipe so far.
Brett: I am going to say Byron Mullens, and acknowledge the effort he’s putting forth on the boards (and for the most part on defense – he’s still not good on that end, but he’s been better). I wasn’t surprised about his love of the three-point attempt in the first few games: Based on the pre-season, we knew he was going to be shooting them. But the good news is that he has dialed that back in the last 3 games, and has started to move closer to the basket. The play late against the Wolves where he drove to the basket and followed his miss with a rebound and a dunk was a strong, aggressive play, and a sign of what he can do.
2. Who is the MVP (at the not-quite one-tenth pole)?
Mathew: Kemba Walker. Kemba leads the team in PER at 22.3 through seven games and has shown huge improvement since not only last year, but this preseason. He’s shooting it much more efficiently and taking care of the ball (9.1% TO rate). He’s also been a pest on the defensive end.
Spencer: Ramon Sessions. He’s turned into ‘Mr. Do It All’ so far this season. As I touched on in the question above, his calm presence on the floor is something that Bobcats needed as badly as anything else. Sessions is the type of player, whether or not he’s having a good game, can keep a teams (especially a young team) emotions in check. Take last night for example- he’s on the FT line with a chance to put Charlotte up 3 with less than 30 sec. to play, but he misses both. Not phased. Keeps composer, makes good defensive effort to force Alexey Shved baseline and into a tough shot on next play and then directs everyone into position, defensively, after Kemba’s game winner with just less than a second left. So, if it’s not clear by now, I’m giving Sessions the MVP accolade mainly because of his leadership. His stats have been nothing short of impressive as well, though. Sessions is averaging 21.4 PTS, 6 AST & 4.5 REB/36 min. Most impressive stat- 8.6 FTA/36 min. Tyrus Thomas is 2nd on team in FTA/36 min at 5.6.
Brett: I almost went with Kemba for the biggest surprise and for MVP – he’s been much better here in the early going. His PER is over 22 and his field goal percentage is up nearly 7 percentage points from last year (43.4% to 36.6%). His usage to last year has been similar, but he’s reduced his turnovers. While he forced things a bit in the 4th against the Wolves (with 3 blocks against as he drove into triple teams and forced up shots), he also executed a beautiful crossover, step-back into a jumper for the win. He’s good.
3. What’s your new projected record for the team (and what was it before the games counted)?
Mathew: I projected the team for 20 wins in my season preview post. At 4-3, the Bobcats have certainly jumped out to a surprising start and more than given themselves a chance to run past my projection. However, the Bobcats have yet to beat a (likely) playoff team and last night’s T-Wolves squad was playing a handful of guys that won’t log that many minutes for the rest of the season. But I do feel confident the team wins more than the 20 games I originally penciled them in for. Not only because they’ve jumped out to such a nice start (which does matter), but because they look like a much better team on the court than I expected. My revised projection? 28-54.
Spencer: Originally, I said the Bobcats would win 25 games and was significantly higher than almost every other projection that I saw prior to the season (/pats self on the back). I will go up just barely, though, to 27 projected wins for the team this season. When you consider the Bobcats weak schedule and the fact that their last two wins came against a win-less Wizards team that looks like they may have a chance at being the worst in the league and a Minnesota team that was an injury away from signing a guy off the street, well, let’s just say the road is going to get a lot tougher for the Bobcats. Nonetheless, this early season success is very refreshing and encouraging. Certainly seems like the rebuilding process has gained more momentum than anyone anticipated this early on.
Brett: I gave two projections for the team: Pessimistically, 13 wins. Optimistically, 21 wins. And those are both seeming a bit low now. So, I’ve gone back to my spreadsheet, and adjusted expectations – MKG has been better than expected, as well as Kemba and Byron. And I’ll say 26 wins. Am I hesitant to post this, because I think we may have to revise it again later this year? Not really – this team is out-performing expectations, and that’s been more exciting to observe and report on than the negative of being proven wrong.