The nice part about following a team that’s terrible is that there are plenty of avenues for improvement. Pretty much no matter what happens this offseason, the Bobcats are going to start next year with a better team. (I realize I’m tempting fate here.) Let’s take a look at where they were the worst, and how they can get better through internal adjustments, the draft and free agency:
First, some “good” news — the Bobcats weren’t the worst team in the league from long range. They ranked 27th in three-point percentage, beating out the Suns, Magic and Timberwolves. The team only had two above-average players from three: Ben Gordon and Jannero Pargo. (Tyrus Thomas’ 3-for-8 mark doesn’t count.) Ben Gordon is Ben Gordon, and it’s unlikely Pargo will return. At 34 percent, Jeff Taylor was the team’s next-best option.
Improving from within: The Bobcats can’t really adjust their rotation to address this, other than giving Ben Gordon more minutes (probably a bad idea). Instead, they’ll need to see growth from their young players, mostly Kemba Walker and Jeff Taylor. Taylor especially showed some promise, shooting reasonably well from the corners:
If the team can get him more looks at those spots, it’ll improve his efficiency. Likewise, better ball movement and fewer isolation plays will create more open looks and improve the shooting overall.
Improving through the draft: This one’s obvious; if Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore is available when the Bobcats pick, he’d be an ideal fit. His outside shooting and athleticism would make him a good complement to both Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, giving Charlotte a well-constructed backcourt to build around. If they end up trading down (or feel like giving their fanbase an aneurysm), Shabazz Muhammad could also be an option.
Improving in free agency: What happens with Gerald Henderson will determine a lot. Henderson is well-rounded and still young, but he seems best suited to a sixth-man role where he can play 20-25 minutes a game between the wing spots. I’d be afraid of overpaying him. The team seems to agree, since they reportedly shopped him for a first-round pick before the trade deadline.
If his contract demands creep up too high, that’s money that could be better put towards a player that can shoot, like J.J. Redick, O.J. Mayo or Kevin Martin. Henderson’s three-point shooting improved to 33 percent this year, but pairing him and MKG will likely always cause spacing issues. Even a short-term flier on a veteran like Kyle Korver might be better than giving a big-money deal to Hendo.
[Sidenote: Attracting free agents, even mid-tier players like those listed above, is going to be a challenge. Play along for now. A quiet offseason wouldn’t necessarily be a failure, though — it’s just one of the growing pains that comes with rebuilding a team from scratch. Better to save the money and live to spend another day than give out an inflated contract because you’re desperate.]
A big part of the team’s offensive struggles was due to the complete void in the post; Charlotte shot a league-low 54.5 percent within five feet of the rim, and Byron Mullens was the only frontcourt player that averaged more than 10 points per game. (He had 10.6.) Teams could basically ignore the big men, especially Biyombo and Haywood, and focus on preventing the outside shot.
Improving from within: Keeping Josh McRoberts around would be a good start. With the Bobcats, McRoberts hit 62.7 percent of his shots less than eight feet from the basket, and showed some promise in the pick and roll. Ball movement was also noticeably better with him on the floor. His mediocre rebounding and defense mean he’s probably better suited for a bench role in the long term, but right now he’s a much better option than Mullens.
Improving through the draft: Many mock drafts have the Bobcats taking UNLV’s Anthony Bennett here, and he was a polished all-around scorer in college. I’ll be honest, though: he kind of terrifies me. Similarly versatile tweener forwards such as Derrick Williams, Thomas Robinson and Michael Beasley have struggled to adapt to the NBA in recent years, and Bennett could have trouble against taller and stronger athletes. I’m not saying he won’t find a place in the league, with similarly sized players like Carlos Boozer, Carl Landry, Dejuan Blair and Jared Sullinger finding varying levels of success, but the potential to bust feels high.
A player like Maryland’s Alex Len might be a safer pick. At 7’1, he obviously has the size for the pro game. A soft touch around the basket and good shotblocking make him an attractive choice, as well. From his college career, it seems unlikely he’ll ever be an explosive offensive player, but the team just needs someone competent and steady in the post at this point.
Cody Zeller might end up being the best big man scorer in the draft, but feels like a bit of a reach at No. 4. He’s a possibility if the team trades down.
Improving in free agency: If the team really wants to make a splash, they can make a play for a top free agent like Josh Smith, Paul Milsap, Carl Landry or Al Jefferson. All are in their prime, and they’ll all command big, long-term contracts. It’s been a long time since the Bobcats had even a league-average big man, so improving here would be very welcome.
Rather than splurging on an aging semi-star, though, it might make more sense for the team to focus on some of the younger players available. J.J. Hickson, Brandan Wright (remember him?), and the previously mentioned Dejuan Blair are all coming off their rookie deals and seem like a better fit with the developing Bobcats. That they’ll be cheaper is just an added bonus. If they take off, that’s terrific. If they wind up coming off the bench, that’s fine — the overall talent level in Charlotte is so poor that the team needs to be building depth, too. They can always go big next year.
These are separate but related issues. Rebounding is easier to quantify: Charlotte was 29th in DRB% last year, and were outrebounded by an average of around four boards per game. Letting opponents have that many second-chance opportunities doesn’t help a defense, especially one that was already struggling.
Teams didn’t have much trouble getting to the rim, either, with the Bobcats giving up the third-most attempts in the restricted area. As the defense collapsed on the open man inside, it often led to uncontested jump shots — a big part of why Charlotte ranked 29th in three-point defense.
Improving from within: The first step is an easy one: give MKG full starter’s minutes. The team was significantly better at rebounding on both ends when he played, and his often-sketchy offense shouldn’t be enough of a drag to keep him off the floor. He was also a solid post defender in limited attempts, according to MySynergySports.com, and the team’s defense was better in general when he played.
Most of the improvement will probably come from changes to rotations and coaching. The small-ball lineups, usually featuring Walker next to Sessions and/or Gordon, were crushed on the boards and didn’t see enough of an uptick in offense to justify the experiment.
I think we’ll see Steve Clifford shift Sessions to more of a back-up role and stick with a more traditional lineup. It’s also possible Ramon could be traded; he’s practically the only desirable piece on the Bobcats at the moment, and his $5 million expiring contract would be easy to move. The front office has made major deals in each of the past two offseasons, so we’ll see if that streak continues.
Improving through the draft: Nerlens Noel is the ideal choice here, but it’s doubtful he’ll still be available when the Bobcats are picking. The previously mentioned Alex Len would be a plus, too.
He’s not a big man, but Victor Oladipo would likely help to some extent. Like Kidd-Gilchrist, he’s an excellent rebounder for a wing and would bring tenacious man defense. I think he’s a little too similar to MKG to be a realistic option, but he’d be a good value and could probably replace Henderson’s minutes without too much of a dropoff.
Improving through free agency: This big man crop is heavy on scorers but doesn’t have too many elite defenders. Dwight Howard is out there, but I think even the most optimistic Bobcats fan isn’t holding out much hope for him.
One option is chasing a post defender in restricted free agency: Minnesota’ Nikola Pekovich is available and is a solid defensive presence, though the Timberwolves will likely match any offer for him. While he isn’t a standout on his own, San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter has shown he’s able to play his role well as part of an elite defense.