The Charlotte Bobcats are catching fire at just the right time and seem to be clicking on all cylinders during the final quarter of the season. Players have figured out how to embrace their roles and are lifting this team to new heights.
If coaches could be on this list of power rankings, Steve Clifford would be at the top. His defensive schemes and magnetic personality have transformed the culture of this franchise from top to bottom.
Every opportunity to hit the tank bottom has come and gone, as this team refuses to quit. From the injuries of Jeff Taylor, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the five-game losing streak to usher in the new year to LeBron James' 61-point effort, this team has persevered. Bobcats teams of years past may have mailed it in when adversity struck, but this season, each scenario made this team stronger.
As we make our way through the list, we will examine each player's overall body of work with a little added emphasis on what they have done lately.
He is an accomplished veteran point guard who has had a nice career, but he has performed poorly since arriving in Charlotte. He has shot just 33 percent from the floor while averaging 12 minutes per game.
Ridnour was expected to fill the role that Ramon Sessions played as the backup point guard to Kemba Walker. Charlotte needs a veteran at the spot off the bench to keep things together, and he should be that guy even if he hasn't proved it yet.
Ideally, he will find a way to contribute more, but for now he is mostly an afterthought.
9. Bismark Biyombo
His minutes have shrunk because Al Jefferson is so good that Charlotte cannot afford to take him off the floor. When Biyombo sees the court, he still brings the instant defense and rebounding that no one else on the bench is capable of.
He still looks uncomfortable on offense but has shot a much-improved 61 percent from the floor this year. He knows his role and never steps out of it, especially on the offensive end.
He is the only big man on this roster who is more of a defensive player than an offensive one, and for that he holds value, despite many fans remaining upset with his development.
8. Anthony Tolliver
Tolliver's reinvention of his game has provided Charlotte with a punch off the bench that the team has come to rely on.
For a team that ranks near the bottom of the league in three-point shooting, his 41 percent success rate is all the more valuable. He has hit a bit of a shooting slump lately but is sure to come out of it.
Here's a stat for you: Charlotte is 15-5 when Tolliver converts at least half of his three-pointers this year. That is a testament to just how valuable his outside touch is to the success of the team—something that no one would have claimed prior to the season.
He has struggled with consistency and finding his place in the offense lately since Gary Neal joined the team at the trade deadline. While they do not play the same position, they more or less share the same role on the team as a shooter off the bench. Neal has been hot of late, which has had an adverse effect on the incumbent Tolliver.
He is sure to find his stroke again soon. He has been a nice find in the free-agent pile for this club and will continue to be exactly that.
7. Cody Zeller
It took longer than expected, but Cody Zeller has started to make more an impact over the past few weeks.
Early in the season, his jump shot was essentially a lock to brick every time, and he showed plenty of tentativeness on the offensive end. He was consistently struggling on defense against lankier or stronger big men, which forced Steve Clifford to lean more on Josh McRoberts and Al Jefferson.
The rookie has been making the most of his minutes during March, however, shooting just a tick less than 60 percent for the month from the field, which makes it by far his best month. He has been visibly more decisive, getting out on the break more often where he can use his athleticism.
Zeller finally looks like he is not thinking too much and is just being himself on the court. He has been a solid contributor in every aspect, and it is great to see the No. 4 pick starting to round into form as the season winds down.
6. Gerald Henderson
Since the Gary Neal addition, Gerald Henderson has battled some injuries but has since found his way back to the court. During his brief return, less has been asked of him, but in this sense, less may actually be more.
He has had a typical year, but Charlotte had been struggling with floor spacing around Jefferson because of the dearth of shooters on the roster. Henderson has never been a knockdown jump-shooter and has been much more of a slasher throughout his career.
He was maybe expected to do a little more with the post presence of Jefferson taking some pressure off him, but instead Neal has seemed to free him up.
Henderson has shot 57 percent since coming back from injury, knocking down his threes with more regularity as well. He never will be a go-to scorer in this league, but adding parts around him has increased his efficiency and production.
Now that he is in a more appropriate role and doesn't have to shoulder such a big scoring load, Charlotte is reaping the benefits.
5. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Complain all you want about his slow-developing offensive game, but there are almost no 20-year-old players in the league with as much value to their teams as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has to the Bobcats.
He has plenty of time to develop offensively, and while his reputation has been slightly tarnished due to 60-plus scoring efforts from LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, he is still an elite perimeter defender. Charlotte is just 7-12 with him out of the lineup this season and has given up 100 points just one time since LeBron's outburst.
It isn't as if MKG is completely inept, as he is shooting a very nice 53 percent from the field in the month of March. There just hasn't been much of a need for him to increase his scoring with the guys that Charlotte has around him. Getting a handful of buckets a game on putbacks and backdoor cuts is sufficient for the time being.
His value cannot be measured by any stat whatsoever other than the fact that Charlotte's record is 7-12 without him and 26-23 with him. Of late, he has been as tenacious as ever. He is hitting the glass and has been efficient from the field while solving his early-season struggles from the foul line.
4. Josh McRoberts
Just about every playoff team gets to where it is because of some unexpected uptick in performance by a lesser-known guy on the roster. For Charlotte, that guy has been Josh McRoberts.
He has been a model of consistency all season for Charlotte. He does a ton of the work but gets very little credit. McRoberts fills up the stat sheet with threes, rebounds and assists while never turning over the ball and holding his own on defense.
Nobody could have seen this coming at the start of the season.
The power forward position was supposed to be occupied by youngsters Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller, but McRoberts forced Clifford's hand. He has been irreplaceable by providing an unlikely source of assists at 4.2 per game, which is more than double his career average. His ability to be so effective playing off the ball by feeding Jefferson and Walker has made both of them more effective.
Most of all, Charlotte is an overwhelmingly poor outside shooting team. Aside from his passing, McRoberts has given Charlotte a huge boost from distance. He has made 88 threes this season after canning just 50 in his first five seasons.
3. Gary Neal
Trading for Gary Neal was a subtle deadline move that has paid immediate dividends. Charlotte needed some shooting, and that's what it got.
He has been a sixth-man extraordinaire since his arrival, instantly lighting a fire under his feet that was absent when he wallowed away on Milwaukee's bench.
He stirred headlines earlier in the year for calling out then-teammate Larry Sanders for not earning his new hefty paycheck. In the process, Neal didn't last one season in Milwaukee.
He has shot 53 percent since joining the team and has hit 24 of 25 free throws for 13.3 points per game. He has adapted to the sixth-man role, giving Charlotte a scoring option off the bench unlike anyone else has done all season. That is why he is so high on this list after only nine games with the team.
The Bobcats now has the veteran scoring threat off the bench with playoff experience that they thought they were getting with Ben Gordon. Their playoff trajectory was bleak prior to this trade, but now they are that much more threatening.
2. Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker has improved more on the eye test than the stat sheet this season. He looks much more like a veteran as opposed to a kid who is getting his feet wet in Year 3, and it shows in Charlotte's record.
He has displayed an ability to be less of a chucker and more of a savvy point guard who gives the game what it needs. His shot has been off of late, but his assists have gone up as a result, which has benefited the Bobcats.
For the season, he averages just five assists in the team's losses as opposed to 6.6 in wins. He is starting to realize that while he can still be the main scoring option on the perimeter, his main task is to involve everyone, especially Al Jefferson. The two have meshed better as the season has gone on and have set the team up to be no easy out in the postseason.
Walker has made it clear that he can be relied upon down the stretch in big games, as he has stepped up to drill cold-blooded shots time and again for Steve Clifford. It has been a pleasant sight to see a high draft pick finally work out for Charlotte.
He has only improved in his third season and is inching his way toward stardom. The Bobcats are in good hands.
1. Al Jefferson
What can you even say about Al Jefferson this season?
The biggest All-Star snub in the Eastern Conference is posting one of his best years. He started the season slow due to an injury, but since around mid-December, he has been on a tear with no end in sight.
He is averaging 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds on 50.5 percent shooting, which is his best mark since 2006-07. The big man has relished the opportunity to be the unquestionable No. 1 option on offense and has given this team everything it could have asked for in free agency.
Jefferson also has bolstered the defense despite his blocks being slightly down. He has had a contagious effect on his teammates, as they now know it is not an automatic layup if they get beaten off the dribble.
Having a big man who can score the way he can opens up the entire floor. Clifford has multiple options on offense and has gotten this team to adapt to having a viable post presence. As a result, the team is coming together and producing wins.
For a while, Charlotte was simply the Al Jefferson show, but now his teammates have gotten more involved and helped deliver victories.
The Bobcats have gotten every penny's worth that they spent on Jefferson. He has brought instant credibility and a winning attitude to a young team. Come playoff time, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with, given his 25 points per game since the All-Star break.
This Charlotte squad is looking like a real threat in a very weak Eastern Conference. Because many teams are tanking, whether on purpose or by accident, the Bobcats are taking advantage.