Last season, the Cats were clearly the worst team in the NBA and certainly the least talented team. This year the Cats are no longer the worst team in the NBA but they are still the least talented. However, the roster is not as flawed as one might think. Here are my thoughts if I was the Bobcats GM:
~ Untouchable ~
Kemba Walker - PG - Walker is proving this season that he is an All-Star caliber PG for the Cats. As of this moment he is 15th in the NBA in Scoring - 20th in Assists - 8th in Steals. Among 2nd year players in the NBA he is 1st in Scoring - 1st in Rebouding - 1st in Assists. In my opinion, the Cats got the 2nd Best Player in the 2011 Draft with the #9 Pick. He is a Franchise PG.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - SF - Kidd-Gilchrist's game is a work in progress but you have to remember that he is only 19 years old. However, as a rookie and the youngest player in the NBA Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging 11.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.4 BPG, and 0.9 SPG. With his incredible work ethic his body will only grow stronger. His game on the offensive end will only continue to grow. Next year I see his stat line being 16.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.5 BPG, and 1.5 SPG. He is a true stat sheet stuffer and a glue guy for this team in the future.
Bismack Biyombo - C - In the month of December, Biyombo has seen his minutes rise to 30 minutes per game. He is averaging 5.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 1.7 BPG over that stretch. His skill set is still raw but his confidence is growing which is very good to see. His hands are getting much better and with more minutes over the rest of this season his basketball IQ should rise. He is never going to be a scorer but he should be a 12.0+ RPG and 2.5+ BPG game player.
~ Keepers ~
Byron Mullens - PF - Mullens is a RFA next season and his qualifying offer is $3.29 million. Mullens game has certainly evolved in terms of ability to play defense and rebound the basketball. However, his shooting percentage has seen a signicant decline this season. I would be very surprised if any team made an offer of more than $4-5 million per year because he is not an NBA starting PF for any other team. If the Bobcats can sign him to a 4-year deal between $16-$20 million I would do it. If it is any higher, let him walk.
Gerald Henderson - SG - Henderson unfortunately suffered a foot injury that kept him sidelined for a significant period of time. Henderson is also a RFA next season with a qualifying offer of $4.2 million. He has proven that he is a great competitor, very good athlete, solid defender and his offensive game continues to grow. Even though the sample size is limited because of injury he is shooting 52.6% from the 3 and if he continues to work on expanding his range I could see him becoming a solid 3-point shooter. My biggest concern with Gerald is his durability. It will be interesting to see what kind of offers come his way but he is in the most volatile position on the Bobcats roster in my opinion [His future depends on the 2013 Draft].
Jeffrey Taylor - SF - Taylor is a nice player who will never be an NBA starter but should develop into a very solid role player off the bench. He is an excellent on ball defender and should develop into a 3-point specialist on the offensive end. I think he is a nice piece for any NBA bench.
Ramon Sessions - PG - Sessions has proven that he is one of the top backup PG's in the NBA this season. He is scoring 14.6 PPG and playing good defense. He will continue to be a nice piece for the Bobcats next season and hopefully he will want to stay in Charlotte once his contract is up. He and Kemba form a great duo.
~ On the Roster ~
Ben Gordon - SG - Gordon can still shoot the ball but it he doesn't really fit in with the current youth movement the Bobcats are undergoing. He is averaging 20 MPG this season and scoring 12.8 PPG. However, I have the feeling his minutes will only continue to decline late in the season as the Cats continue to attempt to develop their young talent. He has a $13.2 million player option for next season and expect him to opt in unless he wants to take a big pay cut and go play for a contender.
Brendan Haywood - C - Haywood is a good bargin at $2 million per year and gives the Cats a 7-footer who can come in off the bench and grab some rebounds and give 6 fouls. Much like Gordon he doesn't fit in with the Bobcats youth movement so his minutes will likely decline as the season continues.
~ Time for the Amnesty ~
Tyrus Thomas - PF - If the Bobcats are going to make a jump in competitiveness next season they are going to need more salary cap space to pursue Free Agents. It is time to eat the rest of Tyrus Thomas's contract and free up another $8.6 million next year and $9.4 million in 2014.
The 2013 Draft
I believe it is becoming obvious by the Bobcats current 16 game losing streak that they will be competing for the #1 or #2 Overall Pick in the Lottery with the Washington Wizards. If they do end with the #1 or #2 Pick they can't go wrong but it will be interesting to see what the Cats would do if they got the #1 Overall Pick. I have watched a lot of college basketball this season and their are two players that stand above everyone else in-terms of potential on the NBA level.
(1) Shabazz Muhammad - 6'6 225 - SG - Shabazz is starting to get his legs under him on the college level and the results have been something special. He is averaging 18.8 PPG, shooting 49.6% from the field and 47.8% from the 3-point line. At the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit he also measured with a 6'11.25" Wingspan and 8'8" Standing Reach. He has an NBA ready body and a refined offensive game. I hear a lot of comparisons to James Harden but I don't like that comparison. I would compare him to a young Paul Pierce. I see him being a dominant NBA scorer.
(2) Nerlens Noel - 6'11 225 - PF - Nerlens Noel is not Anthony Davis. Davis is a once in a generation player in the mold of Tim Duncan that is mature beyond his years and has incredible fundamentals at a young age. Noel is averaging 10.7 PPG, 9.1 RPG and 3.7 BPG. At the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit he measured in with a 7'4" Wingspan and a 9'1" Standing Reach. I have a great feeling about his potential because of his desire to be great and his intensity and hustle on the floor. I think his floor is Marcus Camby and his ceiling is Kevin Garnett.
If I was the GM and I had the #1 Overall Pick I would draft Shabazz Muhammad. If you add him to this roster and have Kemba starting at PG, Shabazz at SG, and MKG at SF - I think you have a dominant young core at the 1-2-3 positions.
2013 Free Agency
Regardless of WHO the Bobcats draft they still need to add a high volume rebounder and 3-point shooting to the roster. The only difference is if you draft Shabazz Muhammad then you let Gerald Henderson go. Right now I have a list of the Top 8 Potential Free Agent Targets for the Bobcats. The order changes on who you draft
#1 Target - J.J. Hickson
#2 Target - Paul Millsap
#3 Target - Wesley Johnson
#4 Target - Tyler Hansbrough
#5 Target - Anthony Morrow
#6 Target - Brandan Wright
#7 Target - J.J. Reddick
#8 Target - Wayne Ellington
2013 Opening Day Roster
In my ideal world the following would the Cats Opening Day Depth Chart for the 2013 Season would be:
PG1: Kemba Walker
PG2: Ramon Sessions
SG1: Shabazz Muhammad (2013 NBA Draft 1st Round Pick)
SG2: Ben Gordon
SG3: Reggie Bullock (2013 NBA Draft 2nd Round Pick)
SF1: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
SF2: Jeffrey Taylor
PF1: J.J. Hickson (2013 Free Agent Acquisition - Brings high volume rebounder, back to the basket game, ability to play PF or C)
PF2: Tyler Hansbrough (2013 Free Agent Aquisition - Brings attitude, hustle, effort, rebounding, back to the basket game)
C1: Bismack Biyombo
C2: Byron Mullens
C3: Brendan Haywood