This article is part of our NBA Team Previews series.
By John Budrow
RotoWire Staff Writer
STATE OF THE FRANCHISEOwner Bob Johnson has been actively trying to sell a franchise that has yet to put together a winning season, but this has not caused the 'Cats to stop making moves. They traded their former first-round draft choice and starting center Emeka Okafor in the off-season for a taller and longer pivot in Tyson Chandler. This will make an already-athletic team even more mobile, while saving a little cash -- ChandlerÕs contract is worth about $40 million less than Okafor's.
The team is deep with athletic and offensive talent at multiple positions, and last year, coach Larry Brown did a good job of convincing them to be less selfish with the ball and to play better defense.
The Bobcats have improved their record in each of the five years they've been in existence, and they were in the playoff discussion up until the last weeks of the 2008-09 season. Even though it appears that Johnson has been attempting to unload large contracts, the team should be competitive and could potentially post its first winning season and playoff appearance in franchise history.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTIONMinutes for both guard positions will be shared by Raymond Felton, D.J. Augustin and Raja Bell in various combinations. Felton will play 35 minutes -- the majority of them at point -- and Bell about 35 with the majority of them at the two. Augustin will be the first guard off the bench and could average 30 minutes this year. Gerald Henderson will still be learning but has the talent to give about 15 to 20 explosive minutes at guard and small forward.
Gerald Wallace owns about 38 minutes per game at small forward if he can stay out of coach Larry Brown's doghouse and Boris Diaw will take 35 minutes at power forward. Vladimir Radmanovic will step into either forward position and tally 25 minutes. Without depth at the forward positions, look for the rookie Derrick Brown to potentially receive about eight minutes per game and one of the backup centers, possibly Alexix Ajinca, to move down and take five minutes or so at power forward when the Bobcats want to go big.
If Chandler is healthy, he will play 35 minutes-per-game at center and DeSagana Diop will be the first backup off the bench or even play along side Chandler when Larry Brown opts for a big lineup. Nazr Mohammed and Ajinca would get a couple minutes every other game in mostly mop up duty at center.
Center:Tyson Chandler: After surgery on his toe and ankle last May, Chandler should be healthy enough to help both on the defensive end and in the open court. Last year with the Hornets, he played in just 45 games, and his per-game numbers dropped off slightly from the two previous years. He has certainly benefited the last few seasons from playing with a great passing point guard, Chris Paul, but the Bobcats have several good passers so his production shouldn't suffer much. He has shown in the past that, if healthy, he can easily average a double-double with multiple blocks each game.
DeSagana Diop: A very good shot blocker but poor offensive player, Diop is on the team for defensive purposes and could also find himself playing alongside Tyson Chandler at times. He won't generate big offensive numbers - his game is limited to put-backs - but he is an exceptional shot blocker and will grab a handful of rebounds each game.
Nazr Mohammed: Mohammed gets the majority of his minutes in mop-up duty and we don't see this changing any time soon. It has also been reported during the off-season that the Bobcats have been looking at including him and his large contract in various potential trade scenarios.
Alexis Ajinca: This will be Ajinca's second year in the NBA. He is a long, athletic seven-footer who could see minutes at power forward and even play next to Chandler when the Bobcats want to go big. He averaged under six minutes per game in just 31 games last season but those numbers could increase slightly this year.
Forward:Gerald Wallace: Wallace is the Bobcats' best all-around player. He isn't an exceptional outside shooter, but can create his own shot as well as anyone in the NBA and is the BobcatsÕ first option on offense. He led the team in scoring, averaging 16.6 points per game, and was second in rebounds, steals and blocks last season. The addition of Chandler could benefit him by requiring attention underneath the basket, allowing Wallace more room to drive to the hoop. And now that he's had a season to get used to playing with one of the league's best passing forwards, Diaw, we can see Wallace potentially scoring 20-plus points per game while maintaining his rebounding and defensive averages.
Boris Diaw: Some feared Diaw's stats would take a dive after leaving Phoenix, but he had an excellent year last year. He is one of the best passing power forwards in the NBA, but sometimes looks to pass too much. He is a good, but not great scorer. He averaged over 15 points per game and shot just under 50 percent from the field, and showed glimpses of dominance, occasionally scoring 20-plus points and grabbing double-digit boards. He has the talent to put up a triple-double on any night and for a short period last season could have been considered the Bobcats' most valuable player. One negative -- he didn't play in the middle much last season, and is no longer center-eligible in many leagues.
Vladimir Radmanovic: Radmanovic will come off the bench at either forward position when the Bobcats need a shooting jolt from the outside. He is a good -- not great -- outside shooter, capable of putting up 20 points in 25 minutes on occasion. The fact that the Bobcats are not deep at the forward position will allow Radmanovic to get plenty of playing time and aggregate some decent numbers.
Derrick Brown: The BobcatsÕ second-round draft choice in 2009, Brown is a combo-forward with decent size and a solid offensive game. He wasn't a huge scorer at Xavier, never posting more than 23 points in a game, but was a consistent performer and projects as a better-than-average defender.
GuardRaymond Felton: Felton is a very good all-around guard who has not yet lived up to his advance billing. He can lead the team competently, but is not a great shooter and has been guilty of not protecting the ball at times. Last year his point and assist numbers dipped slightly from the 2007-08 season, but he played better defense. He is a lock to give fantasy owners a steady 14 points, seven assists four rebounds and a steal in most games. The talent is there, and the fact that this is a contract year may provide the motivation for him to produce his best numbers to date.
Raja Bell: Bell shoots the ball well and can cover the perimeter on defense, but the veteran could lose minutes this year with all of the talent at the guard position; both D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson could give Bell competition for playing time. Bell cannot create his own shot, which limits his potential as a scorer.
D.J. Augustin: Augustin has shown that he can be a prolific scorer in the NBA. He led the Bobcats with 108 three-pointers made and in free throw percentage last season. His role will likely increase in the 2009-10 season, and we can see him taking minutes from both Raja Bell and Raymond Felton. He is a small guard but is quick and has a knack for scoring. He is not necessarily a great "floor general" and will likely get most of his minutes at the two next season.
Gerald Henderson: Henderson is an explosive player who has the tools and athleticism to develop into a big-time contributor. He does not have a great outside shot; he's more of a slasher who can create shots off the dribble. Henderson has the talent to put up big fantasy numbers for owners but may not see the minutes at least in the beginning of his rookie year.
Sleeper:D.J. Augustin: It's a difficult choice between Augustin and the rookie Henderson, but we have to go with Augustin, who will get a larger share of playing time in his second NBA season. He's established himself as part of the future guard lineup on the Bobcats and had a good enough year to be voted onto the NBA All-Rookie second team. He is quick, has very good ball handling skill and can shoot well. His minutes will likely continue to increase, and we can see him averaging close to 15 points, five assists and a steal per-game.
Bust:Raja Bell: Bell can shoot, but doesn't do much else very well, and with several other scoring options on the team, it's not hard to imagine his role decreasing this season. Augustin and Henderson are major threats to cut into Bell's minutes.
Article first appeared on 9/29/09