2013-2014 Charlotte Bobcats Season Preview
The Charlotte Bobcats tripled their win total from the 2011-12 season to the 2012-13 campaign, which represents a significant step in the right direction. But despite the improvement last season, the team still finished with 40 more losses than wins and, as a result, fired head coach Mike Dunlap. As a replacement, Charlotte hired former Los Angeles Lakers assistant Steve Clifford into the role.
The Bobcats were also active in free agency, solidifying their frontcourt by signing center Al Jefferson to a lucrative three-year deal worth $41 million. The talent level has improved in Charlotte, but the team is still quite a few steps away from competing for a playoff berth. Perhaps the team will be postseason ready next season to coincide with the franchise’s name change to the Hornets in 2014-15.
In & Out
Additions: Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller, Anthony Tolliver, Jannero Pargo
Subtractions: Reggie Williams, Byron Mullens, Tyrus Thomas
Five Guys Think…
After spending years as one of the league’s worst teams, the Charlotte Bobcats picked the worst possible time to decide enough is enough and splurge for a veteran free agent that could actually help them win some games. Al Jefferson comes to North Carolina this season, likely ruining the Bobcats’ chances of landing a top pick in what should be one of the most impressive draft classes in over a decade, but on the bright side this actually looks like a team that could flirt with playoff aspirations in 2013-2014. The backcourt is strong with Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon, and Ramon Sessions splitting minutes, and Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist give the team a couple of talented young players to build around. We’re accustomed to associating this group with mediocrity, but the soon-to-be Charlotte Hornets are actually quite a bit better than many realize. Not great, by any means, but better than they’ve been.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Joel Brigham
After losing 120 of 148 games in two years, the Bobcats entered this offseason determined to add a veteran who could lead the team to some wins. While enduring one more losing season may have been the smarter long-term move given all of the talent in the 2014 NBA Draft, losing that many games in a two-season period is extremely frustrating and clouds judgment. Al Jefferson was handed a lucrative contract to help Charlotte emerge from the Eastern Conference’s cellar. While Jefferson should help the team win more games than last year, it’s unlikely that they’ll make a huge jump in the standings. After all, this is largely the same roster that won just 21 games during the 2012-13 season. Cody Zeller is a solid rookie addition and Steve Clifford is a strong head coaching hire but at the end of the day, the Bobcats are still one of the least talented teams in the league. Unless Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Bismack Biyombo among others take a colossal step forward in the 2013-14 season, it’ll be another year with a lot of losses for Charlotte.
4th Place – Southeast Division
- Alex Kennedy
The Bobcats have made the playoffs just once in their nine year existence, so their fan base doesn’t want to hear about another year of needing to have patience. But that’s the reality of the situation in Charlotte. The team has significantly improved but is still a couple of pieces away from realistically challenging for a playoff spot. The club signed center Al Jefferson to a lucrative this summer in free agency and he will be relied on heavily to provide consistent offense in the post. Charlotte also drafted Cody Zeller, who showed positive flashes during Las Vegas Summer League, with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. Re-signing guard Gerald Henderson was a step in the right direction, but the team needs just a little more seasoning before being expected to take over prime time.
4th Place – Southeast Division
- Lang Greene
Bobcats owner Michael Jordan receives a lot of criticism, most of which he deserves. However, it’s only fair to give credit when credit is due as well. Jordan opened up the wallet this offseason to land one of the most reliable and productive big men in the league in Al Jefferson. Post play was a major weakness of the Bobcats last year, but with Jefferson and lottery pick Cody Zeller, they’ve upgraded significantly. Re-signing Gerald Henderson was also vital for the Bobcats, who looked poised to climb up a few spots in the Eastern Conference rankings. It’s going to be tough for them to finish any better than fourth in the Southeast Division, but first year head coach Steve Clifford is working with what may be the most talented team the Bobcats have ever assembled. Expectations are higher as they should be, but realistically just fighting for a playoff spot would be a tremendous feat.
4th place – Southeast Division
- Yannis Koutroupis
After posting a combined win percentage of just .233 over the past two seasons, the Bobcats finally won something—Al Jefferson. Jefferson is one of the NBA’s better post-players and will join a core that features Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Those four pieces should fit together seamlessly, but in the increasingly competitive Eastern Conference, the Bobcats will still be on the outside looking in come playoff time. In the Southeast Division, they will still be one of the bottom feeders. The main thing to keep an eye on in Charlotte is the potential to make a trade or two. Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions are both on expiring contracts, and Bismack Biyombo still has perceived trade value across the league.
4th place — Southeast Division
- Moke Hamilton
Top Of The List
Top Offensive Player: Al Jefferson. Jefferson is arguably one of the most talented players in the league without an All-Star appearance on the resume. The veteran boasts career per 36 minute averages of 19.3 points and 10.5 rebounds and does most of his offensive damage on the low block, which is a rarity in today’s face-up driven post game. The Bobcats will be leaning on Jefferson heavily every night to continue his scoring output as the younger players carve out their own niches.
Top Defensive Player: Bismack Biyombo. While the Bobcats will rely heavily on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to stop opposing wings, the team’s best defensive player is forward Biyombo. The third-year player has continued to earn respect around the league for his defensive prowess. Biyombo isn’t as skilled on the offensive side of the floor but rebounds at a high clip and is excellent at contesting and blocking shots.
Top Playmaker: Kemba Walker. The third-year guard made a significant jump in his sophomore campaign. Walker improved his field goal shooting, three-point accuracy, free throw percentage, scoring and assists outputs last season. Even more will be expected of Walker this season and after participating in mini-camp with Team USA this summer, the guard may be ready to take another step.
Top Clutch Player: Al Jefferson. The big man was signed to be a steadying veteran influence and also alleviate some of the pressure on the developing core. As the team’s highest paid player this season, Jefferson will also be called upon to deliver results in the clutch in pressure situations on a nightly basis.
The Unheralded Player: Jeff Taylor. The second-year forward won’t become a household name this season or anytime soon, but the former Vanderbilt standout did a bunch of everything for the Bobcats as a rookie last season. Taylor plays within himself, doesn’t force the action and is the type of player a coach loves to have on the roster. Every successful team needs a glue guy and Charlotte is hoping Taylor continues to develop into one.
Best New Addition: Al Jefferson. The selection of Zeller in this year’s draft puts the talent pipeline in good shape looking forward, but the signing of Jefferson is the team’s marquee acquisition of the summer. Jefferson is the type of high producing, proven player that will help elevate Charlotte’s emerging young core to bigger heights.
Who We Like
1. Steve Clifford: The Bobcats will have a new sideline general calling the shots in 2014. Former head coach Mike Dunlap lasted just one season in the Queen City, but Clifford has already received rave reviews for his level of preparation. Clifford, formerly an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers, spent the summer bonding with his core group of players, securing buy-in and setting expectations. Clifford is off to a good start and could be the man for the long haul.
2. Al Jefferson: Critics will point to Jefferson’s gaudy offensive stat lines and cite his team’s lack of regular season success. Others will nitpick about his weakness on the defensive end of the floor. But on this Bobcats team Jefferson fits everything the franchise has been looking for – a low post scorer who can shoulder an offensive load. Jefferson will give Charlotte a legitimate 20 point threat on a nightly basis, alleviate some pressure off Kemba Walker and allow young bigs Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller to develop at a slower pace.
3. Cody Zeller: The Bobcats shocked many by using the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft to select Zeller. But after Zeller put up a strong showing in summer league critics of the selection may be silenced quickly. Clifford believes Zeller can contribute to the rotation from day one and plans to throw the rookie into the fire to get early experience. We think the kid has a chance to outperform expectations.
4. Kemba Walker: The former UCONN product may be a future All-Star in the making. Walker increased his productivity virtually across the board in 2013 and with Jefferson now commanding attention on the low block will be even more dangerous. Walker also spent time with Team USA mini-camp over the summer and the exposure playing with some of the game’s best should pay immediate dividends.
5. Jeffrey Taylor: Some players will never a win popularity contest, but every team needs a glue guy, someone willing to do the dirty work, not have plays called for them, set hard screens, take tough defensive assignments and not complain about their role. Taylor is that guy and while there are more talented guys in Charlotte that could have been named here, the former Vanderbilt standout will be an important part of Charlotte’s bench this season.
Last season, the Bobcats were one of the least efficient teams in terms of frontcourt scoring. The addition of veteran center Al Jefferson via free agency and the selection of Cody Zeller, No. 4 overall in this year’s draft, will immediately provide an upgrade to the unit. Forward Bismack Biyombo averaged over two blocks per 36 minutes last season and gives the club an additional defensive and rebounding presence. Kemba Walker gives Charlotte a consistent scoring option in the backcourt, and he’ll likely continue his development this season.
The Bobcats have amassed a quality set of young players which includes Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller, Biyombo and Jeff Taylor as building blocks. However, at the end of the day, experienced teams win at a higher level in today’s game. The addition of Jefferson will help alleviate some pressure on the youngsters, but the team will undoubtedly continue to experience some growing pains as the young players adjust to the league. The team will also be adjusting to Clifford, who is their third coach in three years, which complicates things further.
The Burning Question
Will the players buy into new head coach Steve Clifford’s system?
Since 2010 four different head coaches have led the Bobcats. Larry Brown, Paul Silas and Mike Dunlap all stumbled before bringing Charlotte basketball to the level of respectability. Steve Clifford is the latest to get an opportunity and the former Lakers assistant spent a good portion of the summer pushing his message and successfully gaining buy-in from his core group of players.