The Bobcats were arguably the story of the young NBA season on Nov. 24, after an OT win in Washington pushed Charlotte’s record to 7-5. Then, the Bobcats approached franchise-low levels of futility, running off an 18-game losing streak that began with a 45-point loss in Oklahoma City. Now, the Bobcats, headed into Wednesday’s games, are a league-worst 11-36, winning only 6 of 24 home games. Charlotte’s been so bad, some fans are even rallying with torches, calling on the team’s brass to fire rookie head coach Mike Dunlap.
Charlotte boasts (well, maybe a poor word choice) the league’s No. 23-ranked offense, averaging 94.5 points a night, and surrenders 103 to opponents, good for 28th (and their unexplainable propensity to play zone means opponents shoot a league-best 38.8% from 3). That 8.5-point negative margin is worst in the NBA, topping Sacramento’s 7.3 number. The Bobcats are 24th in the league in total rebounding, 28th in field goal percentage and dead last in assists; before his torn ACL, Rajon Rondo was averaging 7.5 less assists per game than the entire Bobcats’ team (in only 37.4 minutes, compared to 240 for 5 guys).
Let’s move to a few good signs. DeSagana Diop’s $7.3 million comes off the books this summer, and Charlotte’s core, namely Kemba Walker and stud rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, is in place with still enough wiggle room to bring in a max free agent this offseason, should one decide to sign. Charlotte has a team option for $4 million on Hakim Warrick they’re likely to not extend, considering his 239th-ranked PER and sub-40% field goal percentage. The Bobcats also hold all the cards on Byron Mullens, a versatile big with plenty of range (perhaps too much, as he’s shooting 37% from the field) and the team’s leading rebounder when healthy, who’s a restricted free agent probably back on a bargain next year.
With plenty more lottery picks to come, Charlotte has some attractive young assets. Kemba Walker has improved leaps and bounds in his sophomore year; he’s playing 8 more minutes a night, his scoring has increased 5.7 per, and his field goal percentage is up 6.6 points. Rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, recently battling a concussion, is giving the team a well-needed dose of defense and athleticism, as well as 9.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in less than 27 minutes. And though Gerald Henderson’s scoring numbers have dipped this year, he’s still the team’s 2-guard of the future, giving Dunlap & Co. 12.5 points in a slightly reduced role.
Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon lead the NBA’s highest-scoring bench at 41.2 points a night. Sessions brings a similar style of play to the table as Walker — an athletic slasher known for his ability to attack the rim. And Ramon is there on a budget, due to make $5 million as an expiring piece next year that could be attractive to championship contenders in February 2014. Gordon, at 13.3 points per game in 22.3 minutes, is enjoying his best scoring year since 2009-10 in Detroit while playing the least minutes of his career. But Gordon’s $13.2 million player option, which he would be crazy to decline, will sting next year, much like Tyrus Thomas’s roughly $9 million per year will through 2014-15.
For Charlotte, the Oklahoma City approach of building through the draft should continue, especially with a few bad contracts already on the books and no real ability to threaten anyone soon. As attractive as Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist are, Dunlap and GM Rod Higgins are still lacking at least one dynamic scorer, preferably in the frontcourt to complement 20-year-old project Bismack Biyombo (whom I doubt will ever evolve into what Charlotte might hope) and maybe even develop into the face of a franchise. Almost 9 years into their NBA existence, I’m not so sure Charlotte has ever had this luxury, outside of head of basketball operations Michael Jordan.
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