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Team Previews: NBA Preview-Charlotte Bobcats

John Clemeno

John Clemeno

John Clemeno writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
By John Clemeno
RotoWire Writer




STATE OF THE FRANCHISE


After improving its win total each year since the franchise’s inception, the Bobcats stagnated last season under first-time coach Sam Vincent. Vincent never settled on a rotation, moved players around the lineup and had a rocky relationship with Emeka Okafor. It all resulted in Vincent being let go in favor of noted franchise-rebuilder Larry Brown.


The first major move under Brown was the selection of point guard D.J. Augustin with the ninth overall pick in the draft; surprising considering they already had Raymond Felton and a gaping need at center. Then the Bobcats re-signed Okafor long term and he’s on the record as saying he’s happy again and wants to be in Charlotte. Keeping Okafor is a wise move because he’s the team’s best defender.


Brown still has some work left. This team needs another big man to help out Okafor in the middle. Their second first-round selection, Alexis Ajinca, needs some development before he can do that. The club also needs to clamp down defensively. Defense is a Brown specialty, but aside from Okafor, he doesn’t have a lot of options right now. Depth could be a concern, too, as Sean May and Adam Morrison are coming off significant injuries.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION


The knowns in Charlotte’s starting lineup are Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson and Emeka Okafor. Each one of those players will log minutes in the mid-to-high 30s. Where these players fit is another matter. In an ideal world, Okafor is at power forward with Wallace at small forward and Richardson at the two. These three should be Charlotte’s leading scorers this season. The problem is the front court is rather thin and Okafor, as he did last season, may need to play center, leaving a big hole at the four. The organization saw the toll taken on Wallace last year when he was asked to move to power forward (two concussions), so it would really help matters if Sean May is healthy. Still, given health from May, how many minutes will his knee allow him to play? A healthy May slots in at power forward with Nazr Mohammed backing up at both positions. Without a healthy May, expect to see Mohammed at center and a bigger role for Jermareo Davidson or Ryan Hollins.


At point guard, the starting position appears to be Raymond Felton’s. But for how long? The club drafted D.J. Augustin with its first pick in the 2008 draft and he’ll need minutes to develop his NBA game. Felton, who averaged over 37 minutes last season, will suffer a reduction in playing time to accommodate coach Brown’s need to get work for the rookie. Richardson will get the bulk of the shooting guard minutes with Matt Carroll providing scoring off the bench.


Wallace will play primarily small forward, leaving Adam Morrison and Jared Dudley to fight for the backup minutes there, depending on what Brown wants at that particular time of the game. Morrison essentially duplicates Carroll’s shooting game, while Dudley plays better defense and doesn’t need the ball to contribute. The Bobcats will use training camp to determine what they can expect from Morrison and May, giving us a clearer indication of Charlotte’s rotation.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS


Center


Emeka Okafor: Okafor’s offensive game gets a bad rap, but he’s developed a reliable low-post game, posting consecutive seasons with a field-goal percentage above 50, after shooting just 43.9 percent from the field his first two years in the league. He’s still a bad free-throw shooter, but Okafor is more confident on offense these days and is averaging a double-double for his career (14.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg). Okafor also played the first full season of his career in 2007-08, following two seasons cut short by ankle and calf injuries. Defensively, he’s as good you’ll get in the low post. Now that new coach Larry Brown is running the team, it’s not entirely clear where Okafor fits in offensively, but his defense and rebounding should keep him on the floor. Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace will continue to take a good deal of the team’s shots, but we still expect Okafor to be involved roughly as much as he was last season.


Nazr Mohammed: Potentially, Mohammed could be this team’s starting center and earn himself 25-30 minutes a night, as he did when starting last season. He’s not very quick defensively, but gets in a good position to rebound and doesn’t stray too far from the basket on both ends of the court. If he were to play more consistently, coach Larry Brown will continue to give him playing time. Mohammed can be part of the solution to Charlotte’s thin front court.


Ryan Hollins: Charlotte’s thin front court got Hollins some consideration early on last year, but he quickly found his way to the end of the bench. Despite re-signing him in the offseason, Hollins was not featured during the summer league and you can see where his 2008-09 season is heading.


Alexis Ajinca: The 20-year-old Ajinca is very skilled with a long wingspan and runs the court, but his body is not ready to play center in the NBA. He suffered a couple of minor injuries during summer league play, but should be ready to start training camp. He’ll end up in the D-League this season, and quite possible the next one, too.

Forward


Gerald Wallace: In 2006-07 Wallace was a defensive juggernaut (4.6 steals/blocks, 7.5 rpg), but merely adequate as an offensive threat (15.2 ppg, .3 threes, 61.4% FT, 1.7 apg). Last year, Wallace broke out on the offensive end (career-highs of 19.4 ppg, 1.1 threes, 73.1% FT, 3.5 apg) but regressed a bit defensively (3.0 steals/blocks, 6.0 rpg). While the emphasis of his game has changed, unfortunately his weakness is
still the same – he can’t stay healthy (20 missed games last season, 57 in last three seasons). Wallace is a 6-7 high flying combo forward that plays above the rim at both ends of the floor and seemingly has no regard for what he runs into or who he’ll land on when he comes down. Based on his averages, Wallace should be one of the better options in the league, but since he still lives up to his nickname “Crash,” odds are he’ll miss his share of games again this year.


Sean May: May dropped some weight and has been working out regularly in preparation for a return to the lineup in 2008. He underwent microfracture surgery last October to correct a chronic bone problem, that’s limited him to just 58 games in three seasons. If healthy, he gives Charlotte a desperately needed big man in the front court rotation. He’s got a soft touch around the rim, is a good rebounder and has the same North Carolina basketball roots of coach Larry Brown. Monitor him in training camp for a possible late-round reserve flier.


Adam Morrison: Morrison returns after missing all of 2007-08 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He’s back and working out, but still has trouble with changing directions. Defensively, Morrison isn’t a whiz, so he’ll have to use his scoring ability from the perimeter to find minutes. And he’ll have to show better percentages than his rookie season (37.6% FG, 33.7% from three). Right now, knocking down shots is a skill better provided by shooting guard Matt Carroll, so let others bid for/select Morrison in fantasy auctions and drafts.


Jared Dudley: Dudley’s the type of player that can find a significant role in Brown’s rotation, using his high basketball acumen and penchant for team play at both ends of the floor. He’s not terribly quick, but uses positioning well on defense. He can pass a little, score a little, rebound a little, but will be fighting for limited backup minutes with Adam Morrison behind Gerald Wallace at small forward. He could be a nice reserve on fantasy teams if he’s getting 25 minutes a night, but will need an injury to get that kind of run.


Jermareo Davidson: Davidson could have used a season in the D-League, but the shorthanded Bobcats needed the depth last year. Even in the late season with Charlotte out of playoff contention, Davidson didn’t get a whole lot of action. He played well in the summer league, showing his experience on an NBA bench helped. If Sean May (knee) is healthy, he may get that year in the D-League this year.

Guard


Jason Richardson: Last season represented a significant bounce-back year for Richardson. In 2006-07 a combination of injuries and the emergence of Monta Ellis limited Richardson to 51 games, many of them
played in an unfamiliar and unwelcome bench role. The trade to Charlotte represented an opportunity to re-emerge as a starter, leader and elite scorer, and he was three-for-three. He was particularly effective during stretches when forward Gerald Wallace was out due to injuries, but may have been negatively affected by rookie coach Sam Vincent’s unsettled rotations. This year, Vincent is out and Larry Brown is in. Brown’s experience and focus on fundamentals should suit well-rounded players like Richardson, Wallace and Emeka Okafor. But as happened in Golden State, a logjam in the backcourt and on the wing could be developing. The Bobcats drafted D.J. Augustin – in theory, to be the long-term answer at point guard, meaning Brown doesn’t like Raymond Felton at the point. If Felton shifts to off guard on a regular basis, he’ll take minutes from Richardson. Richardson could shift to small forward, but the team has Wallace at that spot – and has said they won’t use Wallace at the four any more in an attempt to prevent further concussion problems. Then there’s three-point specialist Matt Carroll and lottery-pick Adam Morrison, who should be back from a severe knee injury. Richardson is probably the best of the bunch, but it’s not hard to envision him getting squeezed for minutes again.


Raymond Felton: New Charlotte coach Larry Brown expects a lot from his guards. Brown’s time in Philadelphia – though it included a trip to the Finals, was marked by near-constant butting of heads with Allen Iverson. In Detroit, Brown had the ultimate “play the right way” point in Chauncey Billups, and won his only NBA championship. So Felton already had his work cut out for him to maintain his role as the team’s starting point. And that was before Charlotte selected the guy most considered the second-best “pure” point in the draft, Texas guard D.J. Augustin. That probably tells you all you need to know about Felton’s future in Charlotte. Unfortunately for Felton, playing the two isn’t really an option either – not with Jason Richardson on hand. We expect Felton to open the season as the starter – rookie point guards as starters are exceedingly rare. But don’t be surprised if he winds up in a job share – or as trade bait – by mid-year.


D.J. Augustin: The Bobcats surprised a lot of people by using the ninth-overall pick on a point guard, just three years after using the fifth-overall pick on Raymond Felton. Apparently new Bobcats coach Larry Brown wanted another lead guard prospect; if Augustin plays well in the pre-season he has a decent chance to earn some minutes as a rookie. Augustin is a quick, athletic point guard with excellent passing skills and legit three-point range on his jumper. He's a good scorer who also finishes well in traffic and draws fouls, but at his size (about 5-10) he may not be big enough to do that in the NBA.


Matt Carroll: Carroll’s ability to score off the bench and drill three-pointers comes in handy. He’s a career 41-percent shooter from three-point range, so he will have a role despite not being very quick or a good defender. He and Adam Morrison bring the same skill-set and look to carve out minutes in coach Larry Brown’s rotation.


Shannon Brown: Brown’s looking at very limited minutes behind Jason Richardson and Matt
Carroll, but that could increase because he defends better than Carroll. Brown enters training camp as long shot to be part of the back court rotation, but could unlock some of his potential under new coach Larry Brown. He’s an athletic player who can create his own shot, but has size problems at the two. He needs to improve his ball handling to be considered a combo guard.

Sleeper:


Sean May: The knee makes him a big risk, but if last October’s surgery corrected a chronic problem, May could be in line for a big role in 2008-09. Not only are the Bobcats thin up front, May has classic power forward skills that any team needs. The knee may prevent him from playing 30-plus minutes a night, but he’s a smart enough player to be effective in limited minutes. Playing in the final year of his contract (Charlotte can make him a qualifying offer) and after three injury-riddled years, May has the incentive to produce and the Bobcats need him to.

Bust:


Adam Morrison: Morrison’s only full season was painful as the biggest skill he brings to the game – scoring – never materialized. He now comes back to a new coach (Larry Brown) who preaches defense. That’s a part of the game Morrison has never been noted for. With Charlotte having an established outside scoring threat like Matt Carroll on the roster, Morrison may not find the available time to regain his touch.


Article first appeared on 9/30/08