This is the first in a series of articles where an opponent of the Hawks is broken down by what they did in the off-season and where they stand now. It will contain comparisons to the current state of the Hawks to determine where we really stand by knowing thy enemy. The first of these articles concerns the Charlotte Bobcats. Not much of a threat right now, but you can't overlook anyone.Last Season – Worst winning percentage ever. Nothing more needs said.
Off-season moves – A season like that gives little incentive to re-sign any of your own free agents and they didn't. They didn't clean house on players under contract either though because it seems they've adopted the OKC model. Let me quickly explain the OKC model is to suck horribly for at least three years to hopefully land a quality core in the draft to build around and become competitive before you have to max out those high picks to keep the team together. It's a solid strategy reinforced with the changes to the latest CBA, but you have to make wise picks and you have to have patient fans. The jury is out on both those counts.
Trades - Back to Charlotte-specific moves beginning with the one trade they made. The first thing they did was trade the expiring contract of Corey Maggette for Ben Gordon's huge contract and a protected 1st round pick. The trade was both good and bad. The extra salary they took on was meaningless because they intend to suck for a couple yearsand according to the CBA they must spend a certain amount of money anyway and the pick could be useful. The bad part is that Ben Gordon if utilized will affect the minutes of the two of the best young players on the roster (Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker). Since they might not consider either Henderson or Walker keepers then it isn't much downside and until we see it minutes aren't certain for Gordon.
Free agency – The Bobcats did 2 things in free agency. First they used being under the cap to make an amnesty claim on Brendan Haywood for 3 years around 6M total. Definitely a bargain way to get a serviceable center. The only real concern is that Haywood has a reputation of only playing hard in contract years and possibly playing down to his situation. Still it was a sensible move to acquire a big on the cheap. The second move is a little confusing if you are a fan of Kemba Walker as a keeper to build around. To replace leading DJ Augustine walk to Indiana, they signed PG Ramon Sessions. Regardless of how you feel about Sessions, one thing seems certain is that Sessions would cut into Walker's court time.
Draft – The heart of the rebuilding plan. Charlotte got the 2nd pick in the draft and didn't fall into the trap of addressing their apparent biggest need first of inside scorer (that's next year). They instead used the 2nd pick overall on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a SF who does everything but shoot well and is said to play the right way in an infectious manner. Excellent first pick for core because he'll set the hard work and defensive intensity tone that a struggling roster will need to get better. In the second round they took another SF, but this time one who can shoot in Jeffrey Taylor. One draft and one roster spot fully manned, not bad in my opinion.
Their Roster – A little explanation as this is the first of the series. I'll break down each team's roster into 3 positions of point guard, wings, and bigs and quickly evaluate the players likely to log major minutes. Then most importantly I'll compare their players to the Hawks. I'll start with a little roster overview. The Bobcats don't have a balanced roster at this point in their rebuilding. The scoring is almost entirely on the perimeter along with some weak defense, while the bigs are offensively challenged they aren't true defensive stoppers yet at this point in their careers.
Point Guard – Regardless of whether Walker or Sessions starts the analysis is essentially the same. Can create for others, but will likely always be considered a shoot first player. Weak defensively. Expect both Pgs to struggle with efficiency and shooting percentages as they try to take too much on their own backs offensively. I see both of these players wanting starter's minutes and it leading to unrest. My theory is they signed Sessions to be a measuring stick. If Walker beats him out and outperforms him then they have a player to invest in. Anything less and they go another direction.
When comparing their situation to the Hawks, you see a lot of similarities and some of the same questions. I give the slight edge to the Hawks because of better defense at the position and a boost from have more shooters at other spots making the job easier. Teague, Harris, and Williams will like have similar production to Walker, Sessions, and Gordon head-to-head, but I think efficiency will be on our side. One negative thing to consider though is Jeff Teague's battles with confidence and assertiveness. Kemba Walker doesn't seem to suffer from waning confidence. He may shoot them out of a game but is unlikely to disappear.
Wings – The wing position of SG and SF should be an area of strength for the struggling Bobcats. The top returning player on the squad by most statistical measures is Gerald Henderson and he's also a solid defender. Ben Gordon is a solid scorer off the bench in spite of his drop in production in Detroit. His playing time was also down 7 mpg there. I think the extra court time would help him in the production area because of streakiness, but I'm not sure the Bobcats are willing to take those minutes away from Henderson (and Walker) to test the theory. SF is manned by the two rookie draft picks and should be held down nicely. Matt Carroll and Reggie Williams each finish out their contract but I don't see either doing much unless injuries create playing time. As long as the Bobcats don't humor Tyrus Thomas by playing him at the SF position they should have a solid wing contingent this year.
When comparing this position to Hawks, we become the uncertain team. It's unclear whether the Hawks will go small and essentially play a PG at the SG spot or how minutes will be split among the hordes of sharpshooting Sgs on the roster like Morrow, Jenkins, and Korver. Honestly we don't even know the plan at SF, so I have to give the advantage to Charlotte, but with a caveat. Prior to this year, Atlanta dominated this part of the matchup as a young Henderson couldn't handle the size of Joe Johnson. It's ironic that by trading Joe away we've negated what would have been a big plus for Charlotte. Kidd-Gilchrist would lock down Joe with his size while Henderson would defend Marvin Williams. Atlanta has struggled offensively in the past with teams that could hassle Joe that way because we would still force a good amount of offense through Joe. Now that the Bobcats have improved their wing defenders they are faced with defending off-the-ball players and potentially 4th or 5th options meaning the caveat is that for now the wing position is de-emphasized.
Bigs – The weakest point in the Bobcats arsenal in my opinion is their bigs. Brendan Haywood, likely becomes the starting center from seniority, but is equally likely to lose the gig to someone who just tries on the floor. They have a young shot blocking machine is Bismack Biyombo, but he's so raw that he's a negative in all other aspects of the game. Byron Mullens has the potential to be a stretch 5, but at this point in his career his shooting percentages make it a bad gambit. He also is notoriously soft on rebounding which is unbecoming in a 7 footer. Finally you have Tyrus Thomas who was once considered to be a stat stuffer like Josh Smith, but now you don't want what he stuffs the sheet with (last year was ugly). DeSagana Diop is around to finish out his huge contract, but doesn't play enough to talk about.
The bigs (PF and C) are where Atlanta has the clear advantage. Al and Josh are borderline all-stars and solid on both ends of the floor. Charlotte's bigs are too soft to be defensive specialists and provide little threat on the offense end. Even if Mullens gets hot from mid-range or Haywood plays will a pulse on a given night, you never really doubt that it won't take long to return to normal, below-average play. Bobcats have length but they don't really have complete players at these positions and Atlanta must exploit this. Al mobility should enable him to take Haywood away from the basket. Josh should be able to put moves on Bismack and Byron all night long. The Bobcat bigs will likely get a couple blocks but at the end of the night I would expect some monster lines from Josh.
Coaching – Mike Dunlap is a big unknown. He was interim coach at St. John's while Steve Lavin dealt with prostate cancer, so his head coaching experience is limited. He has some assistant coaching experience and a strong background in player development which is most likely what landed him the job. Give Charlotte credit for realizing the state of their franchise and executing a plan. I'm not a big fan of Larry Drew, but his advantage in experience should translate to an in-game coaching edge on Dunlap at this point.
Outlook – Franchises might expect to suck as part of a bigger plan, but players don't go on the court trying to earn ping pong balls. They want to win and that means you have to take them serious as a team or you risk blowing an easy win. When I look at the Bobcats I see fundamental flaws in their lineup that are going to make it difficult for them to win many games in spite of the strong effort I expect from Kidd-Gilchrist, Walker, Hendeson, and Taylor. It means they should compete for the top spot in the lottery and it probably goes another year before they become a real threat. Head-to-head, Josh, Al, and even Zaza should be able to punish them inside and with our plethora of shooters the Hawks should be substantial favorites whenever we play them. Additionally our 4 meetings are in the first half of the season with them before the young team likely gels. The games are on November 23rd, 28th; December 13th; and January 23rd. The trip up games may be November 23rd on the road before hosting the Clippers the next night and December 13th at home after playing the night before in Orlando. Still the Hawks should have the depth and veteran leadership to win all 4 against the Bobcats this season.
Please let me know what you think about both the overall series and the analysis. Are the Bobcats dangerous? Are they on the right track? What do you think are the keys to the Hawks success against the Bobcats?