Good news – the 2012-13 season will be better for the Bobcats. It almost has to be. The Bobcats added talent (Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and one of their centerpieces is a year older (Bismack Biyombo). How much better? Well, don’t budget for playoff tickets. But they won’t threaten their record for worst winning percentage.
The Bobcats are deep on the perimeter, not with exceptional talent, but with legitimate players who should be on an NBA-roster. With Kemba Walker at the point and Gerald Henderson at the 2, the Bobcats will be starting lottery picks (of their own choosing) at the guards. Sure, the last two point guards the Bobcats have taken in the lottery were allowed to walk away from the franchise for nothing – but third time is a charm? Kemba appears to have an elite ability – elusiveness/quickness, in his ability to get by his defender. He has to improve on capitalizing on that, by making more shots and creating good looks for teammates on the rotations it forces. As for Gerald Henderson, he continued to improve last year, increasing his usage and scoring, while maintaining his efficiency. That’s good, because, despite his reputation as a solid defender, he didn’t stand out last year as an aberration on a terrible defensive team. He has the skills to be very good defensively, and had been previously, but his effort and execution last year were off at that end.
Those two will be backed up by veterans with playoff experience. Ramon Sessions has been a journeyman in his NBA career, but is a solid player and had a strong regular season with the Lakers last year (let’s ignore his playoff struggles for now, since the playoffs are not in the picture for Charlotte). Ben Gordon is still a good scorer from the perimeter – while he has not lived up to the big contract Detroit handed to him, Gordon can score efficiently, shooting well from deep and the free throw line.
Still on the wings, the Bobcats have the 2nd overall pick, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Reggie Williams, and the second round pick, Jeffrey Taylor. Williams and Taylor can both play at the 2, creating a glut at the position. They provide depth at the 3, but do leave the Bobcats a bit small at the position. However, the strength here is some defensive-focused players, with MKG and Taylor adding to Gerald Henderson, giving the Bobcats the ability to keep a good defender (or two) on the court at all times. But the pairing of MKG and Gerald Henderson is problematic (and further compounded by the Bobcats’ expected starting bigs). Let’s discuss:
The Bobcats were atrocious last year offensively. They scored 93.8 points per 100 possessions last season, the worst in the league. By over 5 points. Let that sink in.
They should be better this year – but they still won’t be good at that end. Consider the projected starting lineup: Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo, and Brendan Haywood. There is no shooter to spread the court, as Kemba shot just over 30% from deep last year, Gerald Henderson shot a career best 23.4% on threes last year, and MKG is not known for his form, so I don’t see him being a surprise three-point threat. And the bigs are not offensively minded. Last year, Bismack and Brendan both used fewer than 15 possessions per 100 team possessions. That’s a significant burden to leave on the other 3 players, particularly when one of them is a defensive minded rookie. Someone is going to have to take on a bigger offensive role than they can handle, and that will hurt their efficiency. Last year, Kemba used 28.3 possessions per 100, but got just 23.2 points off them – that’s what happens when too much offensive responsibility is thrust on one player.
Another weakness of the Bobcats is depth in the front court. Behind Bis and Brendan are Tyrus Thomas and Bryon Mullens, and then we get to Gana Diop. Fortunately for the Bobcats, both Bismack and Tyrus are long enough to act as a small center, when necessary. But, when foul trouble hits, the Bobcats are going to be pressed into playing undesirable combinations (and durations) of pairings of their limited frontcourt.
One more thing the Bobcats struggled with last year: Extra/wasted possessions. Good offensive teams have a wide margin between their offensive rebounds and their turnovers. The Bobcats had the second worst margin in the league, at 7 – the league leader was Chicago at 16. Consider it this way: Over the course of 100 possessions, the Chicago Bulls gave themselves an extra 9 attempts to shoot, compared to the Bobcats.
One of the Bobcats’ biggest disappointments last year was Tyrus Thomas. In the 2010-11 season, Tyrus provided efficient offense, solid rebounding, and aggressive defense (maybe over-helping, but hey). Last year, Tyrus was out of sync offensively, passive, and fouled excessively, as he ran through screens and struggled to keep his man from backing him down. To expound on the passivity, Tyrus used just 21 possessions per 100 last year, after using 27 the year before. Those 27 came as part of a more talented team, as the Bobcats still had Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson (for part of the season). But, when the Bobcats were looking for players to take on an expanded offensive role, Thomas shrank from the opportunity, and forced additional responsibility to teammates. Using the formula behind the swap tool, switching last year’s Tyrus with the one from 2010-11 would add several wins – that’s how important he can be.
Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist represent the future. In consecutive drafts, the Bobcats took the youngest player drafted. Both have significant potential. And offer the Bobcats an opportunity to craft a personality: With their cornerstones being potential defensive studs, the Bobcats will have to exert more effort on that end (looking at you, Byron) to begin making strides towards respectability. Defense is in large part effort, and with a new coach and young legs, the Bobcats have no excuse to not improve at that end.
Based on last year’s numbers (for the returning Bobcats and the new additions), plus estimates for the rookies based on comparable players, the Bobcats will win: 13 games. That’s the very pessimistic projection, though, as it does not factor in growth for any of the players (and does not project the Bobcats to improve defensively, which is expected with a new, non-lame duck coach).
The projection I am going with is 21 wins. This is with Tyrus Thomas splitting the difference in his last two seasons, Byron Mullens improving his efficiency by shooting a couple less long twos, and the Bobcats narrowing the gap between the number of plays they have versus their opponents (going back to the gap between rebounding and turnovers), among others. Is that good? No, but it is a long way from competing for worst team in the universe honors. And that’s a start.