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Bobcats end of season Rufus on Fire roundtable, part 1

Today we start the first of two roundtable questionnaires with our writers. This first one reviews the season that just concluded and the second, coming tomorrow, will review the Bobcats era and 10-year history before they become the Hornets this summer.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

1) What did you think this season would be like before it started? How did the end result compare to your initial thoughts?

Ben: I did not expect the season to go as well as it did. You can see our predictions here. They weren't so rosy. The first couple months were much more in line with my original 29-win prediction but even then, I was probably still underestimating them. They ended up winning 29 games from January on, losing 21 in that time. I'm not sure anyone predicted Al Jefferson being a defensive centerpiece in addition to an offensive one. I'm overstating that, but the reputation he had coming into this season was rather poor, and for good reason. But reputations can be broken. Jefferson, for those who watched the Bobcats, was clearly no longer the defensive sieve or offensive black hole he was made out to be in Utah and Minnesota. Paired with Steve Clifford's defensive schemes, Jefferson made up a dynamic duo that transformed Charlotte from bottom-dweller to the upstart squad we saw in the last couple months.

Chris: Before the season started I thought the Bobcats were going to be that bad team that if you didn't prepare for they could definitely beat you. The team would be competitive on most nights and get something around 28-30 wins.

The end result far exceeded any of my expectations. I never thought this team was going to go from a bottom 5 defense to a top 8 defense. There was no expectation that the offense was going to improve on a month to month basis. Even during the season I wasn't predicting that. Then of course there was the playoffs. While the team appeared to be on the right track towards them, the general idea was that it would be later rather than sooner. Finishing over. 500 and making the playoffs exceeded the expectations of just about everybody. This team blew any and all expectations out of the water.

David: I did not think the Bobcats would be as good as they turned out to be. I did not think Al Jefferson would be as dominant as he turned out to be. I did not think Steve Clifford would be as impressive a coach as he turned out to be so quickly. In short, this season was not what I expected it to be. I thought the Bobcats would be improved, but only slightly. The real difference was Clifford's ability to get the team to play consistently hard every night dedicated to his beliefs on defense. No one could have seen Jefferson being as important a factor in Clifford's defense as he was. Certainly Jefferson was a huge reason the Bobcats were successful, but 20 and 10 was pretty much what I expected of him. I thought he would, or at least could, make the All-Star team and had he been healthy from the start I think he would have. But the bigger picture was the team this group actually came together to form something more than the individual parts. The chemistry and the ability to be in every game, because of the every night attitude, was not something we've ever seen from a Bobcats team. Clifford surpassed all expectations and cemented himself as this team's coach moving forward.

Derek: I thought they would be improved, but they certainly exceeded even my most optimistic of expectations. I was thinking they would push thirty wins, but the additions of Steve Clifford and Al Jefferson put them over the top.

Tucker: I was optimistic going into the season. I had long been a fan of Al Jefferson's game, and I was encouraged by the potential improvement of the team's prospects going into the season. However, I did not expect a season over .500, or ... anything close to it. I would've predicted more wins than most others heading into the season, but I think my estimate was around 35 wins. This was much better than I had hoped.

2) Who was the Bobcats' MVP?

Ben: How can you not choose Al Jefferson? The Bobcats first player to win the NBA's player of the month won it twice, garnering him pretty much the NBA's best player of the Spring. He tried to battle through a torn plantar fascia in the Playoffs and though clearly in pain and wearing a walking boot every day, he managed to put up impressive performances in each of the first three games. The Bobcats have never had a scorer as dominant or consistent as Jefferson and they could rely on him every night when he was healthy, and sometimes even when he wasn't so.

Chris: Is it possible to give two answers here? For the first few months of the season the MVP was definitely Kemba Walker. Before Al Jefferson started going supernova, Walker was doing everything he could to keep a struggling offense going. If the team didn't have Walker early on, they might have not made the playoffs.

Of course after you reach January, it's all Big Al. Jefferson returned from his early season ankle injuries and tore the league apart. He never averaged below 22 points. He has played so well that he's getting All NBA considerations. While Walker was needed to keep the team afloat, Jefferson put the Bobcats over the edge and turned them into a playoff team.

David: Al Jefferson was the MVP for this team. If he didn't prove it during the regular season, in particular the second half of it, he showed it by dominating the Miami Heat on one leg in the playoffs. Jefferson's low post arsenal is one of those skillsets that is effective even if you know what is coming. You know he's going to use the shot fake. You know he's going to use his body. You know he's going to try and duck in, up and under. But his ability to mix up the combinations and get to his spot on the floor so he can shoot his little push hook, or soft jumper, or lay it in off the glass, make him close to unstoppable. It was a very special treat for Bobcats fans to be able to watch him work in the post this season. He's not going to knock your socks off with his explosion, which almost makes his success rate even more surprising. But he does things in such a simple manner and at the same time still leaves you shaking your head wondering how he succeeded. His leadership and attitude were invaluable as well. For a signing that was at least equally chided as it was praised, the Bobcats hit a home run adding Big Al in the offseason.

Derek: Al Jefferson. Jefferson was supposed to be the long-awaited low post scorer for this team, and he certainly delivered. The season would surely have been different without him.

Tucker: I know just about everyone will have the same answer here, but that's just a testament to how good Al Jefferson really was. The Bobcats have never had a player as good offensively as Big Al, and he's one of the league's best rebounders on top of that.

3) Who had the most disappointing season?

Ben: Aside from the disappointment of Jeff Taylor's season-ending injury, I think I'll go with Kemba Walker, since this response is going to be based on expectations we had coming into the season. I thought he'd maintain a decent shooting percentage and add on some better assist numbers. the Bobcats' offense took some time to get going, hitting their stride after the All-Star break. When they did poorly, it was when the team had little spacing. Walker has had shoulder a large burden of the offense, but I feel he needs to get a feel for controlling his shot attempts and balancing with passing. He got much better as a passer as the season went on, obviously taking advantage of much more space to work with for him and his teammates. But still, his shooting inside the three-point line sunk from 45.9 to 41.7 percent, helping drop his overall scoring efficiency despite better three-point shooting; and I'd like to see his assist improve upon his 33.8 assist percentage this season after January 1. Were it not for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tying the team's defense together, he might have earned this spot, but I'll let him slide after being the true key component on the floor in Clifford's defense.

Chris: While the easy answer would be Michael Kidd-Gilchrist due to his lack of progression on offense, I'm going to go with Gerald Henderson. Henderson has never been much of a floor spacer and not a guy you can give the ball to and expect offense. But he's always been a consistent player. I didn't see that consistency from him this season that we saw over the last couple years. He posted some of his lowest efficiency numbers since his sophomore season and this mixed with his lack of floor spacing hurt the Bobcats far too often. Henderson's saving grace throughout the years has been that he's an above average defender but his defense has never been good enough to sacrifice floor spacing. At least not in a starter role, which is where Henderson spent all of his time this season.

David: Gerald Henderson had the most disappointing season to me. He's the first choice third option and he simply didn't show up on too many occasions. His vanishing act in Game 1 against the Heat was probably the most glaring, but he had nights like that all season. When Kemba Walker went down late and didn't play against the Celtics, Henderson really had a chance to step up and lead the team in a needed game, against a wounded opponent. He just didn't do enough. He's not the third option and likely not a starting shooting guard for an NBA team. Seems like the Bobcats kept waiting and waiting for his jumper to be more consistent or for him to attack when it wasn't falling but neither ever materialized. His refusal to give Dwyane Wade any resistance at all in Game 1 was the most disheartening. And perhaps the last straw for Michael Jordan and Rich Cho. He's a very professional guy, by all accounts, and has certainly been a nice contributor for the Bobcats but at this point is what he is I'm afraid.

Derek: Jeff Taylor. I love his game, but he struggled even before his season-ending injury. However, I still believe in him when he returns next season.

Tucker: This pains me, as a fan of both the Bobcats and UConn basketball, but I have to say Kemba Walker. After a very promising sophomore campaign, Kemba had less of an offensive role to shoulder with the addition of Jefferson, but responded with subpar shooting numbers, and regressed a bit on defense as well. This is not to say that all is lost with him, as he's still young and has a lot of room to improve, but I would have liked to see him shoot the ball much better than he actually did, especially given how badly the Bobcats needed a consistent outside threat in the backcourt.

4) Just how bright is the Bobcats' future? What do they have going for them and what do they have going against them?

Ben: I went over this a little bit in a post last week, but to sum it up: I'm encouraged by their flexibility, but they still have little room for error. They have cap space to work with and a first round draft pick (or possibly two) but managing these well will be important. The window for the Bobcats to capitalize on Al Jefferson's peak won't be open forever so they will have to acquire assets more focused on the present without compromising their future flexibility too much. The draft picks and youth will help that, but Jefferson is their rock for the next two years it looks like. This past offseason gives me hope, though, so I'm eager to see what they do in free agency and in the draft.

Chris: The Bobcats future is bright, but questionable. The team is young enough to where the Bobcats have a decent sized window to work with. Thanks to Al Jefferson the team has gotten rid of the losing culture that had plagued them for so long and they have a lot of cap space. However, the team is officially too good to build through the draft. They have one possibly good draft pick left in the Pistons pick whenever they end up getting that. But most of their picks from now on should be later in the first round. This means the Bobcats are going to have to put that cap space to work and finish the construction of the team through recaps and trades. As long as the front office is smart they can do this successfully, but they're one wrong signing or panic move away from it all falling apart.

David: They have a point guard. They have a center who can score with anyone. They have a real NBA head coach. And they play in the East. Now that last item can swing of course but for the foreseeable future that should be in their favor. They also have a lot of cap room and flexibility and a bevy of draft picks over the next two years. They also have a young core, and none of their young players (Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller) have maxed out yet. So from that standpoint the future is pretty bright for Charlotte. Just how bright depends on how much those young guys can continue to improve, how long Jefferson can keep going at the rate he did this year, and if they can add a third guy and some depth through free agency, trades or the draft.  The draft history is not a positive, and they'll likely only get one first round pick in the late 20s this year. So that is not ideal. They need to start hitting on these draft picks so they contribute much earlier, or at least eventually. And Charlotte is still a small market that will be pose challenges in signing some free agents. But between Jefferson, Walker and Clifford they have a pretty good pitch.

Derek: It's fairly bright. They'll have some cap space to play with, but will need to continue to develop Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo in order to sustain success.

Tucker: Well ... moderately? They have a smart, innovative general manager in Rich Cho, which is a huge part of the equation. The Bobcats also have a star player in his prime on a bargain contract, a multitude of young players who could settle into a role or be competent starters, and they've found quality talent for premium prices in free agency. What they have going for them is their youth, cap space, strong front office and coaching, and openings for star players to come to Charlotte. What they have going against them is a ceiling that falls short of championship caliber, and that another star player might not be interested in going to a small-market team.

5) Is this the foundation we've been hoping for to build for a consistent future?

Ben: I mean, is it exactly what I hoped for? Not quite. I had hoped for big impact rookies to be their foundation. That ... hasn't happened so much. But the draft is a crap shoot sometimes, so you take it for what it is, I suppose. Kidd-Gilchrist's ability to stay on the floor being an offensive liability wasn't what we hoped for, nor was Zeller's season of struggle. Still, with Jefferson in the post and Kemba at point guard, they've probably got as good a duo as they ever had, not to mention one of the best new head coaches in Clifford. Being savvy with cap space and building to the culture change they had could have a big effect, however.

Chris: I'd say so. Already one of the best young coaches in the NBA, a young PG in Kemba Walker, a veteran presence that looks like he still has plenty of years ahead of him in Al Jefferson, a fairly young core to build and still flexible enough to shape, and tons of cap room. There's still some work to do but this foundation has to be generally what Bobcats fans were hoping for.

David: It's as close as you're going to get. Again, I think you would ultimately like to see a third offensive option, better scoring from your wing positions but they have two of the most important spots on the floor locked down with Walker and Jefferson, and they have their coach. Walker needs to keep improving, but there is no denying how bad he wants it. If he can improve his shooting and consistency from outside it will really benefit him, because his size is always going to put him at somewhat of a disadvantage. But the team is young, and they just need to add a few more pieces, preferably some that can score.

Derek: Yes. In the least it appears they've built a solid foundation for the years to come, especially in the East.

Tucker: Yes and no. The current foundation is more than capable of contending for the playoffs every year, but I have a feeling that's not what anyone in the front office wants. This is a better core than the earlier Bobcats squads that annually seemed to be just a step away from being in the playoffs, make no mistake. I just don't think Cho and Michael Jordan will be content with just that.

6) How confident are you in the Bobcats/Hornets to make another big splash this summer?

Ben: I'm cautiously optimistic, I guess I'd say. Last summer's signings and subsequent results impressed me, but 10 years being a Bobcats fan tends to temper your expectations to brace for when things don't go so well. So I guess I'm in the middle.

Chris: Not very confident. Outside of Carmelo Anthony, who I highly doubt is coming to Charlotte, this free agent class isn't very overwhelming. If a superstar becomes available to trade for then you can expect the Bobcats to be in the discussion but right now the Bobcats summer looks like it will be spent improving their roster instead of making big splashes.

David: How confident are you in the Bobcats/Hornets to make another big splash this summer? - They will have the money but the options on the wing aren't quite as good as they were in some areas last summer. You don't anticipate them being able to sign a wing (in maybe Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Lance Stephenson) that is going to play at an All-NBA level like Jefferson. So from that standpoint the splash may not be as big. But they'll have to add someone, and they will certainly try. Hayward is restricted, and will command a pretty big price tag. Stephenson will be a risk but is talented across the board. Of course Melo could be out there as well but that's unlikely to impossible. But I think the addition of Aaron Afflalo would be big. Perhaps not as sexy as some of the other names, but he could add more reliable scoring and has been on the Bobcats' radar according to reports. The team should be active though so it will be fun for fans.

Derek: You figure they'll try to make a splash and try to generate as much excitement as possible as they transition back to the Hornets.

Tucker: Pretty confident. Without a top-ten draft pick for the first time since 2010, when the Bobcats had no draft picks (Those were ugly times. Let's forget them.), they'll need to make moves in free agency. They have the cap space to do just that, while having a team foundation that wouldn't be shook by another big addition. I don't want to give anyone unrealistic expectations, but there's some big stars in free agency this summer. And while I doubt signing him is in any way possible for the Bobcats, try telling me that Dirk Nowitzki wouldn't be absolutely perfect for this team. (Also a  free agent this summer: the entire Miami Heat roster, apparently.)

7) Name your favorite part (or two) from this season

Ben: It's hard to nail just one down. Narrowing it down to specific moments, Chris Douglas-Roberts' gamewinner and beating the Pacers by 21 points at home were two terrific moments. The victory over the Pacers almost seems like not a big deal after their huge downturn to end the season, but at the time it helped establish the Bobcats as a team to watch out for. In the grand scheme of things, the Bobcats just getting much better coverage was fun to see. Jefferson even had a profile feature in Sports Illustrated. One of the fun basketball things the internet and online media has done to shrink the world is to spread greater widespread knowledge and awareness with the advent of League Pass and being able to gain other perspectives you don't normally get just at home. Oh! And I can't forget the unveiling of the Hornets logo. That was a big moment.

Chris: My favorite part of the season is probably the Kemba Walker game winner in Toronto. It was an exciting end and it kind of solidified that his Bobcats team wasn't going to regress to a mean. Also, being right about them being an actual good basketball team all season before others bought in was always fun.

David: NWatching Jefferson and Walker form a nice little two-man game giving the Bobcats legit threats at the post important positions on the floor. It's not a singular moment (I choose the Josh McRoberts two-handed thunder dunk in traffic) but the maturirty Walker demonstrated and the dominating force Jefferson brought was something truly new for the Bobcats. You could count on both almost every night as the season wound down. Of course making the playoffs and being part of the national conversations was fun as well.

Derek: The playoff run and everything that came with it. When I started, spirits were low among Bobcats fans. Yet, as the months have gone on that optimism has become founded and its been fun to be a part of.

Tucker: Chris-Douglas Roberts' ridiculous improvised buzzer-beater against the Bulls at the end of the season.