After yet another terrible year, the Bobcats cut ties with head coach Mike Dunlap after just one season and hired longtime assistant coach and Van Gundy brothers disciple Steve Clifford. They also shed themselves of some dead weight in the off-season and brought in key guys in center Al Jefferson and fourth-overall draft pick Cody Zeller.
As long as the starting five can stay healthy, they have a solid enough lineup to exceed their 21 wins in 2012 by a serious margin. The problem is the bench. It’s…ugly. Questionable. Old. Inconsistent. The starters are young, talented, and well-groomed but the lack of real depth means this team will be relegated to missing the postseason once again. Their bench would have been great six years ago but at this point, the likes of Brandon Haywood and Ben Gordon are just taking up spots young up-and-comers could have.
They are a year or two away but this off-season was the first time the Bobcats did anything right in their short and painful history. Once they are able to shed themselves of some terrible contracts, they’ll be able to build a contender.
Points Per Game: 26th
Points Allowed Per Game: 29th
Rebounds Per Game: 27th
Notable Additions: Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller, Anthony Tolliver, James Southerland
Despite a .423 FG% (ranked 26th among point guards), Walker really showed off the talent the Bobcats were looking for when they drafted him ninth-overall in 201. He averaged 17.7 PPG, 5.7 APG, 2.0 SPG, and 3.5 RPG. He was even better after the All-Star break, averaging 18.8 PPG and 6.0 APG. In his final season at UConn, Walker averaged 23.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, 5.4 RPG, and 1.9 SPG so he’s pretty close to matching what he did in the NCAA. He’ll never have a great shooting percentage but you can do a lot worse than Walker at the point.
Although last season was the first year that Sessions didn’t start a game, he averaged a career-high 14.4 PPG despite shooting .408 from the floor. He’s a solid scorer but, like the rest of this team, needs to work on efficiency.
Pargo bounced around last season on 10-day contracts, ultimately finishing the season in Charlotte. He averaged 16 MPG but put up a solid 8.4 PPG – 18.6 points per 36 minutes. Like the rest of this bunch, his .401 shooting in Orlando and .368 on the season leaves a lot to be desired and he’s doesn’t figure to see a lot of time if everyone stays healthy.
Shooting Guards: Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon – Grade: B
Henderson’s .447 FG% (ranked seventh among shooting guards) was a rare sight for the 30th ranked Bobcats. For the second straight season, Henderson averaged just over 15 PPG, four rebounds, and the occasional assist and steal. He’s solid defensively and is a reliable scorer so between him and Walker, the Bobcats have a pretty solid, although not great, backcourt.
Gordon’s FG% dropped from .442 in 2011 to .408 last season. Bad shot selection must be contagious. He still managed 11.2 PPG over 21 minutes – 19.4 per 36 minutes. He’s a solid long-range shooter off the bench but appears to be one on the decline.
For a 19-year-old rookie, Kidd-Gilchrist was as solid offensively as he was defensively. He shot a very strong 46 percent from the floor (especially considering the team) and averaged 9.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and nearly a block per game. He’ll never be an offensive powerhouse but if he can remain efficient, combined with his defensive prowess, he’ll be a very reliable starter.
Taylor was also a rookie last year but not nearly as impressive as MKG, shooting 43 percent and averaging just 6.1 PPG over 20 MPG. He’s got a decent long-range game and could be a player not unlike Ben Gordon off the bench for the Bobcats.
Southerland is an undrafted rookie who showed some great long-range abilities in Syracuse. Last season, he averaged 13.3 PPG, 2.5 3PPG, 5.2 RPG, and shot 45 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range. He could be another very solid bench contributor that can come into the game and nail some treys.
Zeller was the fourth-overall pick this year after a couple of dominant season at Indiana. Last season, he averaged 16.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and more than a block per game. At seven-feet tall and over 240 pounds, this kid can bang with the best of them and can flat out clean up the board. He’ll be expected to start right off the bat and could quickly prove to be the best player on this team.
McRoberts is a serviceable rebounder and shoots a passable 45.5 percent at power forward but is nothing more than a guy who could eat 15-20 minutes if need be.
If McRoberts is serviceable, Tolliver is not. He shoots 38 percent from the floor and takes a lot of long-range jumpers even though he’s not particularly good at making them. He’s not a particularly good rebounder and doesn’t add anything in the other categories. While their starters really aren’t bad, their bench is heinous.
Adrien didn’t get to play much last season and shot just 43 percent, not something you want to see from a power forward. He contributes on the boards and can block a shot despite being an undersized power forward and is probably one of the better backups on this team when you consider the alternatives.
The Bobcats wisely signed Al Jefferson to a three-year, $41 million contract this off-season. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle in the Bobcats’ first exhibition game and his status for the beginning of the season is in question. Regardless, when healthy, Jefferson is as reliable at center as you can get, averaging .490-.500 FG%, 17-19 PPG, 9-10 RPG, and nearly two blocks per game over the last four seasons. He’s as solid and consistent as you can get and really brings the Bobcats starting five together.
Biyombo started at center last season and proved a huge bust. Although he can block shots with the best of them, his 45 percent shooting, 4.8 PPG, and 7.3 RPG are just not going to cut it. He’s a solid defensive big man off the bench but certainly not a starting caliber center.
Haywood is entering his 13th season in the league and is a shell of a player, shooting just 43 percent last season (53 percent career) and putting up just 3.5 PPG over 19 MPG. He still has the rebounding abilities but at this point he’s not going to give you more production than, say, Kurt Thomas.
Coach: Steve Clifford – Grade: Time Will Tell
After spending time as an assistant on the Knicks, Rockets, Magic, and Lakers, Clifford will get his first chance to be a head coach since he led Adelphi University in the late-nineties. He was mentored by both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy while in New York and Orlando and both coaches rave about his abilities as a teacher and as a team work minded coach. If that’s true, he has a good group of young talent and experienced veterans to work with but the Bobcats front office needs to get this man a bench.