|PER||PER Against (Net)|
|Luke Ridnour||14.9||18.1 (-3.2)|
Strengths: In his time with the Bobcats, Gary Neal lived up to his billing — he was a very good spark off the bench, bringing excellent three-point shooting and versatile scoring. He joined the team just as it was starting to peak after the All-Star break, and helped push them to greater heights. The team went 16-9 after he and Luke Ridnour started playing, and ran off winning streaks three, four and five games.
A large part of that team success had to do with a weak schedule, but Neal still gave the team flexibility. He shot 40.6 percent from three, a team high, elevating an offense that was below-average all year. Down the stretch, Neal and Chris Douglas-Roberts gave the team two wing options that could shoot, and they complemented the defensive-minded Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist well. A bench that had previously been The Ramon Sessions Free Throw Show on offense came into its own.
Weaknesses: Neal is a one-dimensional player, and his highlights on offense are balanced by his struggles on defense. Listed at 6’4” and with just-average athleticism, he was such a dropoff from Henderson that it almost completely neutered his offensive impact. Neal didn’t block a shot all year, which obviously isn’t important for his position or role, but it’s still a good shorthand for his limitations on defense. He just doesn’t have the speed or length to contest many shots, and opponents shot better, took more free throws, and scored more when he was on the floor.
There were other tradeoffs, as well, as subbing Neal in for Henderson meant their rebounding and passing took a hit. That meant he was best as a situational sub, doing most of his work with the bench unit and playing next to the starters when the team needed a big scoring push.
Reasons for Optimism: Neal still gives the team a look they didn’t have before, and even with his limitations that has value. His $3.25 million contract is both reasonable and expiring, and the team could use him as a small-scale trade chip like they did with Sessions this year.
Reasons for Pessimism: If the team decides to re-sign Chris Douglas-Roberts, it’s possible Neal could be squeezed out of the rotation. Jeff Taylor should be returning this year, and he’d hopefully take most of the bench minutes at small forward. A better overall talent than Neal, CDR could complement Taylor well at shooting guard.
That’s pretty mild pessimism, in any case. Odds are, Neal should continue to be a useful role player for at least the next season.