We are nearly a week away from yet another season of basketball, the Bobcats' tenth season in their short history. Hope springs eternal, right? Well, at least until two weeks into the season. Anyway, without further ado, here are a select few of the crew's player predictions for the upcoming season.
Ben: This is between Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson for me. I'll take Walker here for a few reasons. Walker and Jefferson have nearly identical true shooting percentages (a metric of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, the added scoring value of three-pointers, and free throws). Walker's ability to break down defenses and extend his range beyond the three-point line spaces the defense and creates passing lanes. He also draws fouls and creates scoring opportunities in transition because of his strength as a ball thief. Further, I also think he'll improve as distributor this year. I don't expect a huge jump in assists, but a couple more a game should help. Jefferson's consistency is a big plus with me but his poor defense will significantly hurt the team. I'll go with Walker.
Brandon: Kemba Walker. I'm going with the guy who emerged as the team's best player last year with an impressive sophomore season. I considered going with Big Al, but having ankle issues before the first game tips off is never a good sign. Walker showed us last year he could hit a mid-range jumper and score efficient, now the question becomes whether or not he can improve as a distributor. Having Jefferson in the post should help.
Chris: The best player this season has to be Al Jefferson. As big a fan of Kemba Walker as I am, I'm not sure he's ready, or if he ever will, make that leap from really good point guard to best player on your team point guard. Walker is an awesome player that I would want on any title contending NBA team but Jefferson is going to get more touches, get more opportunities, and most likely put up better stats than everybody else on the team. The situation Jefferson is in has made him the go-to guy for this team. Of course I'd love to be pleasantly surprised and see Walker make a big enough jump to where we can definitively say he's the best player in Charlotte.
David: Jefferson is the best offensive big man the Bobcats have ever had on the roster, any of its rosters. He's a legit 18 and 12 player in the NBA and on this team he should probably push that scoring to 20. He's not your defensive presence in the post. And he's not anyone's defensive presence in the post, but he's good enough on offense to likely be in the All-Star conversation come February. He's going to be one of the top big men in the East, and make life easier for the likes of Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller, and just about every other Bobcat. I love the jump Walker made last year and wouldn't be surprised if he pushed Jefferson for best player on this team. But until we actually see that happen I give the edge to Jefferson.
Derek: I'm going to say that it will still be Kemba Walker. It was either him or Al Jefferson, but I expect Al to not only give Kemba more room to create on offense but give Kemba an offense presence to earn more assists. I expect to continue to see Walker to continue to progress as he did last year.
Evan: Getting Big Al was a coup for Charlotte, which could bring them closer to a playoff berth. Jefferson is a 20-10 kind of player. In Charlotte, he could eclipse those numbers. Al "All-Star" Jefferson could happen with the limited scoring down low alongside him. Jefferson should legitimately be in the discussion for being the best center in the Eastern Conference next season. Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez are who I think can round-out a top five with Jefferson. If Big Al has the season I expect him to, he could launch into the top three or higher. Sure, Jefferson is a liability on the defensive end, but he will make up for it with an All-Star caliber year on the offensive end.
Most Disappointing player
Ben: The nature of these picks is that our choices are already predetermined by our conscious or subconscious expectations and hopes. Say Cody Zeller finishes the season with averages of 9 points and 7 rebounds. To the fan who expected him to drop 14 points and 9 rebounds a night, that's going to be disappointing. To the fan who expected Zeller to drop 10 points and 8 rebounds, that's about how they thought he'd perform, and thus might not be seen as a disappointing season. Anyway, I'm hoping for a strong season from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but I don't think we'll see a big jump from him or much of a jump at all. With his jump shot hindering his offense, Kidd-Gilchrist will have to specialize in getting to the rim: shots off cuts, in transition, dribble-drive penetration and even post-ups. With limited options, Kidd-Gilchrist also will need to draw fouls to get to the free-throw line. With the roster nearly severely devoid of shooters to space the interior, I think Kidd-Gilchrist will struggle a lot with creating shots in the paint.
Brandon: Gerald Henderson. We've seen flashes of what Henderson can do but consistency has been an issue. After exploring the market and not receiving an offer he saw fitting, the Bobcats and Henderson came to an agreement on a three-year deal. This is more of a gut feeling pick than anything. I hope I'm wrong.
Chris: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. I love Kidd-Gilchrist. I think he's fun, he's amazingly athletic and he has the potential to be a defensive monster that can defend the inside and the perimeter. But right now all of that is potential and I think that's going to create the disappointment with him. There's a lot of hope that something is going to develop in his shot this season and I'm not seeing it. That defensive monster we all want is still a few more years of NBA experience away and his footwork could use a little bit of work. MKG still has all of that potential, but it's probably not going to be unlocked this season.
David: I only see two options for this designation: Biyombo and second-year man Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Unfortunately both were very high draft picks for the Bobcats, but with great expectations sometimes comes great disappointment. That's why I only see this going one of two ways. I don't think many of the other players on the roster are being expected to show that much more than they already have. Biyombo needs to show evidence that he can improve on the offensive end (catching the ball consistently and making a defined offensive move would be a start) and continue his improvement on the defensive end and the boards. Contrary to what you may hear everywhere, Biyombo has improved since he's been in the league, he just had so far to go. It's no fun picking the player most likely to not succeed, but until we see Biyombo make a more visible leap, he'll likely be disappointing. As for MKG, he's so young he should still be allowed a year to play and play and play and learn.
Derek: Probably Ben Gordon.
Evan: I'm sad to say it, but I have a bad feeling that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will not improve much at all this season, maybe even regress. MKG was drafted to bring toughness, energy and excellent defense to the roster, but that can only take him so far in the NBA. Some are expecting Kidd-Gilchrist to take that next leap in his development, but not me. Lets just hope MKG busts onto the scene in year three and takes over like Paul George did for Indiana.
Most Likely to Be Traded
Ben: I'm not sure anyone of significant impact will be traded from the Bobcats this season but the likely targets would be Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions or Gerald Henderson. For desperate teams trying to prepare for the playoffs at trade deadline time, these guards can add the scoring punch or versatility they're desperately looking for. Gordon's on the last year of his contract and can create cap space once his contract expires while Sessions and Henderson are on team-friendly deals that may be attractive enough to entice other teams to make a deal. I think Gordon would not draw a good return and the cap space is probably more valuable than the value of whatever the Bobcats might see in return, so I'll go with Sessions here. He's a talented veteran and can add a scoring punch off the bench on an expiring contract.
Brandon: Ben Gordon. Gordon's in the last year of his deal, is a veteran, can score and if you add all that up you have a potentially valuable asset. A team who needs an offensive punch off the bench will grab him before the deadline.
Chris: Ben Gordon is the most likely player to get traded. The team tried to trade him at the deadline last year and I won't be surprised if they're trying to trade him again this season. He's a pretty good shooter that can definitely get some assets and maybe a draft pick from a team that needs one but the Bobcats are going to have to find a team that's willing to deal with the possible headache. The other problem with trading him is that Gordon is an expiring contract so teams that want Gordon will sell low on him in a trade saying they can just pick him up in the next offseason. So while Gordon is the most likely to be traded, don't be surprised if the trade deadline passes and he's still around.
David: Ben Gordon. It's nice to have players on the roster that could actually be attractive to other teams. Truthfully though, it's tough to see a team trading for many of the current Bobcats. Gordon still fits the bill as a scorer off the bench, and it's possible a team one scorer away could look to add him around the trade deadline. There were talks of it happening last year, but there are always talks (shout out to sources). His salary is of course grotesque, but it's an expiring contract so that lessens the blow. Ramon Sessions might make sense for a team looking to add a solid back court presence off the bench as well.
Derek: Looking up and down the Bobcats' payroll, they don't have an obvious trade candidate. We know Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Glichrist are in Charlotte for the foreseeable future. The Bobcats also inked Al Jefferson and Gerald Henderson to three-year deals this offseason, and if anyone wanted to get Henderson last summer they could have had him but no one made an offer. Perhaps someone looks at the expiring contracts of Ramon Sessions ($5 million) and Ben Gordon ($13 million) and see an extra role player and cap relief for next season, but that doesn't feel likely. I'm going to Sessions or Henderson if someone gets hit by a rash of injuries in their backcourt and finds themselves in need of some help.
Evan: Ramon Sessions. Pretty simple answer: Sessions would be the most attractive expiring to throw out there at the trade deadline. He would bring another scoring option off the bench, but getting a pick or young piece back for just ridding themselves of Sessions is well worth it. No one else around the association would bite at the other expiring contracts on the roster.
Ben: The pieces are in place to set up Jeff Taylor with a healthy sophomore campaign. He's had a terrific offseason in Summer League and playing internationally for Sweden and a decent preseason even though he's not dropping the stat lines that draw much attention. With his first NBA season under his belt, I think he'll be more confident and consistent on offense and defense. His three-point shooting will be a valuable asset to help balance the Bobcats' new scoring talent in the post and helping the team get into transition.
Brandon: Bismack Biyombo. Too much has been put on Biz's plate through his first two years in the NBA. Steve Clifford is going to bring him off the bench in a defensive role, which is the best thing for him now. Biz needs to be an energizer off the bench that comes in, blocks shots, hustles and grabs boards. He'll have a place in this league for a long time if he is able to excel in those areas despite his offensive deficiencies.
Chris: Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo has improved every season so far and I've seen nothing from him so far to tell me why he can't keep improving especially when coming off the bench. Biyombo's role is no longer an expectation to be a fairly dependable scorer down low. He can still score off cuts and I think he'll finally start catching balls better off of those cuts. This should reduce the amount of turnovers he has, although I don't expect him to be able to put the ball on the floor. It'll be good for Biyombo to come off the bench and be asked to prioritize on playing defense: It fits his current skill set a lot better.
David: Jeff Taylor. You see players make the most improvement between their first and second seasons, as they say. And between Taylor and MKG it's tough to argue against Taylor showing the most improvement, so far. A summer league darling and summer time hoops junkie superstar, Taylor showed he's an NBA player against mostly non-NBA competition. Now, we should see Taylor make some impact plays in official NBA league games. I don't think he'll supplant MKG but it shouldn't shock anyone to see Taylor in the starting lineup over the course of 82 games.
Derek: Based on everything I've seen out of Jeffery Taylor this summer, he'll be the most improved. It's been a pleasure to watch Taylor grow from being a spot-up shooter early in his rookie season to a player the Bobcats have been able to incorporate into their offense more and more as time has gone on. It seems that after strong showings in summer league and preseason that Taylor is going to have more asked of him and Taylor seems ready. Sure, he may not start at small forward with Kidd-Gilchrist entrenched ahead of him on the depth chart, but he should be the first player off of the bench. It's also a plus that his offensive strengths do not duplicate Kidd-Gilchrist's and he is also a capable defender. Not bad for a 2012 second-round pick.
Evan: I'm rolling the dice on Jefferson being healthy all year, but I see a monster season popping up in my mind with neon lights. This year, Jefferson has the capabilities of becoming one of the top, if not the best, big men in the East this season. Seriously. Without Paul Millsap around to sponge-up some of his potential numbers, Big Al is going to get major numbers this season. A 24 and 12 stat line could be realistic with Jefferson, so I'm going all-in on him taking advantage of the limited offensive options down low.