Team Preview: Charlotte Bobcats
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
After three years of slow but steady improvement, the Charlotte Bobcats have their sights set on the first playoff berth in team history. And if they can stay healthy and their young players continue to make strides forward that's not an unlikely proposition. Although the roster is young, the Bobcats are as athletic as any team in the Eastern Conference. New head coach Sam Vincent has said he wants to develop a more fast-paced, Western Conference style of play to take advantage of their strengths. The reason for all this optimism is because of a highly productive offseason. On draft night, the Bobcats drafted North Carolina forward Brandan Wright but shipped him to Golden State just minutes after he put on the Bobcats' hat. The fact is, however, that the team got better fast with the acquisition of 26-year-old Jason Richardson, who is the kind of scorer the franchise has always lacked. They also re-signed Gerald Wallace to a long-term deal, a critical move for the franchise, and brought back Matt Carroll, a highly underrated but valuable shooter off the bench. If Adam Morrison can improve, Emeka Okafor can stay healthy and Walter Herrmann embrace his role as a do-it-all player off the bench, Charlotte could be a force in the East sooner rather than later.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The current roster has several players that can play any number of positions. That's going to give the Bobcats a chance to play matchups with anyone in the East. They can go easily go to the three-guard lineup and also play a big lineup if they choose. The player logging the most minutes will undoubtedly be point guard Raymond Felton. He no longer has Brevin Knight in his way and is now backed up by 10-year veteran Jeff McInnis. Felton played 36 minutes a game last season, and Charlotte would like to bring that number down a bit. Beyond those two, there are no pure points on the roster, although the team is looking at re-signing Derek Anderson, who can play there in a pinch.
At small forward, the versatile Wallace is among the top all-around players in the league. He is a freakishly gifted athlete who averaged 36.7 minutes per game last season and will get plenty of playing time again this season. His backup is Morrison, who had a very uneventful rookie season. He was considered the team's answer as a scorer, but after one season, the team felt an upgrade to Richardson was a better answer. Morrison can be a fine reserve, however, and did average nearly 30 minutes a game in that role last year. The wild card in all this is Herrmann, who was arguably the league's best rookie down the stretch last year. Although he played small forward last year, Vincent envisions the Argentinean as more of a power forward. He'll improve on his 19 minutes per game.
With all the recent additions, Emeka Okafor can settle into the role that best suits him as a defensive force, rebounder and low-post scorer able to play the power forward or center spot. He's strong and very capable as a fantasy player when healthy, but he missed 15 games last season after playing just 26 the year before. The Bobcats want to keep his minutes around 30 per game. With Sean May out for the season following microfracture surgery, rookie Jared Dudley may also factor into the picture on the front line, especially at small forward, but he's behind Herrmann off the bench.
Center Primoz Brezec had a lost season due to injury last year, but he is capable of 10 points and six rebounds a game when healthy. We'll have to see what lineup the Bobcats start the season with now that May is out; Brezec could get the starting nod at center. Hollins is a nice project he's an athletic 7-footer who is a fine shot-blocker and he'll play more than seven minutes per game. Othella Harrington is on the roster, but he's a last resort.
The starting lineup is Felton, Richardson, Wallace, Okafor and Brezec, with McInnis, Carroll, Dudley, Herrmann and Hollins serving as the second unit.
* Emeka Okafor CHA [PF,C]: Once thought of as the Bobcats' franchise player, he's now in the more comfortable role of being a solid starter who doesn't have to score 20 points a game for his team to win. Despite a rash of injuries, Okafor averaged 14.4 ppg, 11.3 rpg and 2.6 bpg last year, and he might improve slightly on those numbers given less pressure to score.
Ryan Hollins CHA [C]: Hollins is a bit of a project, but he's more athletic than Brezec and might block two shots a game if he gets enough playing time. But he wont provide much offense, and even as the starting center at UCLA, he grabbed only 4.8 rebounds per game.
* Gerald Wallace CHA [SF,PF]: Always known as a stellar athlete, Wallace came into his own last season as one of the game's best all-around players and a quality fantasy option because he's a four-category fantasy star. He was rewarded with a six-year, $57 million deal this offseason and spurned free agency. He averaged 18.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.0 spg and 1.0 bpg while shooting 50.2 percent. He wore down some late in the year, but because the team was out of playoff contention, he could afford to sit.
Walter Herrmann CHA [SF,PF]: The Argentinean barely played when the 2006 season opened, but he was the team's top scoring option when the season ended and was a second team all-NBA rookie. There may be a problem going forward, however Herrmann is a 46 percent three-point shooter and projects as a small forward because of his ball handling. But Vincent needs him to play more power forward. If Herrmann can find a role and embrace it, he's a nice sleeper option.
Adam Morrison CHA [SG,SF]: The third overall pick a year ago, Morrison never responded to being a reserve and lost the scoring touch that made him a college legend. He averaged just 11.8 points in almost 30 minutes a game last year and shot just 37.6 percent from the floor while serving as a swing player off the bench. Matt Carroll took his place as the team's top scorer off the bench and will fill that role again. This may be a make-or-break season for Morrison going forward, because if he's not going to score, he's a liability as a defender and rebounder,
Jared Dudley CHA [SF,PF]: The 22nd pick in the draft, Dudley was an outstanding college player who might be a man without a position in the NBA. Although he's smart and has great instincts, he may be too small (6-7, 225) to play power forward and not quick enough to play small forward. But he's known as a winner and good team player, so he's got value, though it may not be realized this season.
Jermareo Davidson CHA [PF,C]: The Warriors selected Davidson with the 36th pick in the draft, then traded him to Charlotte along with Richardson for Brandan Wright. Davidson is 6-10, but he might even be a small forward because of his nice mid-range jumper and ability to run the floor with guys much smaller. He's a nice athlete whos worth the risk as a project for Charlotte but won't have much fantasy value this season.
Othella Harrington CHA [PF,C]: He's a nice veteran presence on the bench, but he won't play much at all unless May and Brezec get hurt. For all intents and purposes, he's the third center on a team that will play without a center for the majority of minutes of most games.
* Raymond Felton CHA [PG,SG]: The team's point guard is a very coachable, likable guy whose teammates love him. But if he's going to take the next step as an elite fantasy point guard, he'll have to improve on his 38.4 percent shooting. He did average 14.0 ppg, 7.0 apg, 3.4 rpg and 1.5 spg. The good news is that his shooting improved somewhat as last year wore on. And with Richardson, Wallace, Carroll, Morrison and Herrmann all on the roster, he doesn't need to shoot from long range for the team to succeed. He's much better when he focuses on running the offense and driving to the basket.
* Jason Richardson CHA [SG,SF]: Although he averaged just 16 ppg in an injury-plagued season last year, Richardson scored more than 21 ppg the two previous seasons. Richardson is actually in an ideal position with the franchise he's going to be able to shoot and score as much as he likes, but he'll never bear the weight of the franchise like Wallace, Okafor and Felton will have to do. And he might not even have reached his prime yet as scorer as he's only 26 years old. Expect a career year from Richardson, the key to the team's playoff hopes this season.
Matt Carroll CHA [SG,SF]: He signed a six-year, $27 million deal in the offseason and is set as the team's sixth man and primary offensive threat off the bench. He's coming off his best season, averaging 12.1 points while shooting 41.6 percent from three-point range. He could be a 15 ppg scorer this year and a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
Jeff McInnis CHA [PG]: The veteran basically takes Brevin Knights place as Felton's backup. He's an ideal backup for this team, but he won't contribute much as a fantasy player unless Felton is hurt.
Derek Anderson CHA [PG,SG]: He's currently a free agent, but the Bobcats hope to have him locked up for next season. Anderson won't play too much, but his ability to play either guard slot will help a team that has depth at forward but is a little thin in the backcourt.