30 Teams, 30 Days
Charlotte Bobcats Season Preview.
The Charlotte Bobcats kick-off our Southeast Division previews. You can read past previews here.
Since 2004, the Charlotte Bobcats have been nothing short of a punch line for NBA teams and fans alike. A young expansion squad, the ‘Cats boast zero winning seasons, zero playoff berths, poor fan attendance and have never had a superstar wear the blue and orange. But amidst those traits and a dismal overall regular season record of 144-266, there has been one bright spot for the faint franchise: they’re getting better.
In four of their five years as an NBA team, the Bobcats have increased their win total and finished higher in their conference. Last season under Larry Brown, Charlotte was a mere four games out of clinching the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference last season. LB and company have a few things to look forward to in 2009, and it all starts with two promising draft picks.
With the 12th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, the Bobcats selected Gerald Henderson out of Duke to give Charlotte an all-around talent and a legitimate offensive complement to Gerald Wallace. As a senior with the Blue Devils, Henderson averaged 16.5 ppg, five rebounds and 2.5 assists. Throughout his collegiate career, Henderson was a workhorse, a clutch performer and Coach K’s pride and joy. He may put a few more fans in the seats as well: his above-the-rim abilities have been well-documented. It may surprise you to know that this super-flyer is only 6-4.
His draft counterpart, Xavier’s Derrick Brown, should provide much needed depth off the bench and also give Charlotte another reliable offensive player. The 6-8 forward, who had the talent to be taken in the first round, is a high percentage field goal shooter who averaged a sensational 54% over his college career.
While Henderson and Brown should develop nicely under Larry Brown, it may take a season or two for the rookies to feel their way into the NBA. Charlotte will, however, feel an immediate impact from the departure of Emeka Okafor.
After parting ways with their former rookie-of-the-year center this past July, Charlotte must be expecting big things out of Tyson Chandler to fill the void left by the skilled 255 pounder. I just don’t see this happening. Okafor has been known as defensive specialist (621 blocks over his franchise career), but what is often overlooked about his game are his offensive capabilities. During his career, Okafor has averaged 14 ppg on better than 50 percent field goal shooting; Chandler has averaged just 8.2 ppg. While Okafor has averaged a double-double throughout his entire NBA career; Chandler hasn’t recorded a 10+ rebound season since 2007.
What bodes worse for Charlotte is that their new center, along with the majority of the Bobcats starting five, is very injury prone. For nearly half of his NBA career, Chandler has played in 45 games or fewer each season. Entering 2009, “Slim” a.k.a. “Baby Tyson” is still nursing a bum ankle and is “hoping” to be ready to go by late October.
Gerald Wallace, now arguably Charlotte’s best player, has never played a full NBA season and has logged only 468 games as an eight-year pro. It’s not easy to replace his 16.6 ppg, 7.8 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.7 steals of 2008 in any starting lineup.
Raja Bell’s age may be catching up with him as well; the three-point specialist has played in only 67 NBA games over the past two seasons. The Bobcats’ front office also has little faith that the guard will be able to hold up for an entire season. The Charlotte Observer reported last week that the franchise signed Flip Murray to be an insurance policy for Bell.
Perhaps the worst news for Charlotte is that their division has gotten significantly stronger from 2008. With the addition of Vince Carter, the Dwight Howard-powered Orlando Magic should run the table in the South East. Atlanta, a solid postseason contender over the past two seasons, added talent by signing a feisty 20 ppg scorer in Jamal Crawford this off-season. Dwyane Wade, who has a talented big man in Jermaine O’Neal this season, is a perennial superstar with the ability to lead the Heat into the playoffs on his back alone. And Washington, who finally has a healthy Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison to start its season, added solid players Mike Miller, Mike James and Randy Foye to bolster the depth of the roster. There is no doubt that all four of these teams are better than the Bobcats.
Unfortunately for Charlotte natives, it will be even easier in 2009 for NBA fans to heckle the young, Okafor-less, injury-prone ‘Cats. All you have to do is take a look at their new jerseys, and then watch them play basketball. You would have to pay me $65 to wear that.
I am predicting yet another losing season for the Charlotte Bobcats.
Predicted ’09-10 record: 20-62.
Playoffs? Right, you must be joking.