By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
November 9, 2012
Though you probably wouldn’t have guessed it from the way each team began the 2012-13 campaign, the New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats finished last season with the worst records in the Western and Eastern Conference, respectively. Following a few fortunate bounces of the ping-pong balls at the NBA draft lottery, the Hornets and Bobcats earned the top two picks in the June 28 draft. Both teams selected a University of Kentucky standout, with New Orleans choosing Anthony Davis, followed by Charlotte tabbing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It was the first time in NBA history that picks 1 and 2 came from the same college, but the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats were a special team, one that captured the national title in dominant fashion. Four other Wildcats were drafted into the NBA in June, including Hornets second-round pick Darius Miller.
Friday’s Hornets-Bobcats game was supposed to mark the first time Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist met in an NBA regular season contest, but Davis’ playing status is uncertain due to the concussion he sustained a week ago vs. Utah. Kidd-Gilchrist started the Bobcats’ first three games, averaging 8.0 points and 6.7 rebounds. New Orleans finished 21-45 overall in 2011-12, but opened the current season with two victories in its first three games, highlighted by a Nov. 3 road victory over Chicago, 89-82. Meanwhile, Charlotte went 7-59 last season – representing the worst regular season record in NBA history – including losing its final 23 games. The Bobcats ended that frustrating 23-game losing skid in their ’12-13 opener, however, by edging a quality Indiana club, 90-89. Charlotte lost in Dallas the next night, then dropped a 117-110 shootout against Phoenix on Wednesday.
Intriguing matchup: Small forward, Al-Farouq Aminu vs. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Aminu is off to the best start of his three-year NBA career, serving as a catalyst in New Orleans victories over Utah and Chicago. The 6-foot-9, 215-pounder has been an all-around force in the early going, averaging 12.5 points and 9.3 rebounds, but perhaps just as importantly, contributing 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. The rookie Kidd-Gilchrist is a similar type of player, projected by many NBA analysts to deliver in various aspects, including rebounding and defending. The Bobcats have utilized a pressing, trapping defense under new coach Mike Dunlap, which plays into the strengths of the versatile 6-foot-7, 232-pound Kidd-Gilchrist.
The Bobcats would prefer to forget last season, after finishing 7-59 for the worst record in the history of the NBA. The previous poorest-ever mark was 9-73, set by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1972-73, meaning the undesirable record had stood for almost four decades. Charlotte capped 2011-12 by losing 23 consecutive games, a streak which also threatened to set the NBA record of 26 straight defeats. However, the Bobcats began turning the page on the recent past by winning their first game this season, a one-point thriller over the Indiana Pacers. As you’d expect from a team that struggled as much as the Bobcats did a season ago, they made plenty of changes, bringing in a new head coach and several proven veteran players from other NBA teams. They even remade their uniforms, adding a shade of blue that is reminiscent of Bobcats owner Michael Jordan’s college teams at the University of North Carolina.
Charlotte’s hopes of becoming a much more competitive team in 2012-13 rest partly on the handful of new faces added during the offseason. The headliner is No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was chosen ahead of a few flashier collegiate prospects, including Bradley Beal (No. 3 to Washington) and Thomas Robinson (No. 5 to Sacramento). In the second round, the Bobcats picked small forward Jeff Taylor, a native of Sweden who excelled in college at Vanderbilt. A trio of veterans should also provide the Bobcats with help across the board. The 7-foot center Brendan Haywood immediately moved into the starting lineup for Charlotte, while point guard Ramon Sessions and shooting guard Ben Gordon give the Bobcats a level of backcourt depth that they’ve never had in the past.
Second-year point guard Kemba Walker entered the NBA amid much fanfare, after leading the University of Connecticut to the 2011 NCAA title. Walker struggled as a Bobcats rookie, however, shooting below 40 percent from the field and playing inconsistently. In Game 1 of this season, Walker provided a positive omen when he poured in 30 points in a win over the Pacers. At his best, the 22-year-old is dangerous from three-point range, as well as on quick drives to the basket.
On the rise
While buried on the depth chart of a talented Oklahoma City team during the first two seasons of his NBA career, Byron Mullins didn’t necessarily appear to have a long-term future in the league. Since coming to Charlotte, though, he’s been a vastly more productive player. His scoring average jumped from 1.9 to 9.3 points last season in his debut with the Bobcats. The 7-footer from Ohio State has an above-average combination of size (8.5 rebound average early in 2012-13) and skill (82.1 percent on free throws last season).
For a team projected by pretty much everyone to finish near the bottom of the standings, the Bobcats have a better bench on paper than you might expect. Charlotte guards Sessions, Gordon and Reggie Williams have been solid NBA players, while forward Tyrus Thomas can be a helpful rebounder and defender. Second-year former lottery pick Bismack Biyombo is a work in progress, but helped beat the Hornets last season by blocking a Trevor Ariza dunk attempt at the buzzer.
On the sideline
The Bobcats made an unconventional hire when they brought on Mike Dunlap, who has no prior head-coaching experience in the NBA. Dunlap is expected to make the Bobcats an up-tempo team that will play more aggressively on defense. His fullcourt defensive trap could lead Charlotte to use 11 or 12 players each game and substitute frequently.
Did you know?
The Bobcats joined the NBA in 2004-05, making this their ninth season of existence. They’ve only qualified for the playoffs once, in 2010. Orlando swept Charlotte in the Eastern Conference’s first round.
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