By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
Posted Sep 18 2012 3:29PM - Updated Oct 16 2012 2:21PM
They make an interesting trio, the most famous owner arguably in all of sports, the least recognizable coach in the league and a rookie believed by all to be a future star.
It's not hard to pick out the hoops trinity in this latest act for the Charlotte Bobcats, who are trying to put last season's epically awful, record-breaking seven-win season behind them.
Bobcats owner Michael Jordan will stay away from the spotlight as best he can, the same way he always does. Mike Dunlap, the new coach, is busy trying to figure out a way to provide some schematic punch to a group that hasn't had much in quite some time.
So most eyes will be on the youngster both Jordan, Dunlap and the entire city of Charlotte is hoping to ride back to respectability. That's the mercurial Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a 6-foot-8 dynamo whose versatility, energy and raw talent make him impossible to ignore.
"With Michael, our biggest job is to stay out of his way," Dunlap told reporters after Kidd-Gilchrist dazzled with 12 points, six rebounds and three steals in a preseason win over the Wizards. "He's so instinctive. If you give him a thousand plays you hinder that."
The best part for Dunlap and the Bobcats is that Kidd-Gilchrist doesn't have to be the biggest star on the team for him to serve as the most important player. He served in a similar capacity in his one season at Kentucky, where he teamed with No. 1 overall pick and New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis to lead the Wildcats to the NCAA title.
Davis garnered most of the headlines and just about all of the individual hardware. But ask anyone what made that team go and Kidd-Gilchrist was the unanimous choice. He has the intangibles that always translate well.
Dunlap saw it up close at St. John's when they faced Kentucky.
"He's smart with people. That's where his intelligence is the highest,'' Dunlap told the Charlotte Observer. "He's very humble and that's attractive to our players. When they talk about him, they say they want to take care of him. I found that was the case at Kentucky -- he had an average game to a poor game against St. John's, but his teammates always rallied around him. He has whatever it is.
"When he got drafted, people would say this or that, that he couldn't shoot or whatever. But across the board, people said this guy will bring a good feel to your locker room and is a tough competitor. Those things aren't so sexy, but they're very attractive to teammates.''
That's why the Bobcats didn't hesitate to grab with him the No. 2 overall pick and why they won't saddle him with any more orders than is necessary this season. He'll be allowed to play with freedoms suitable for a player of his talent and stature, a player whose instincts have proven to be beyond his years.
The Bobcats already have a player capable of serving as their offensive catalyst in fourth-year shooting guard Gerald Henderson. What they don't have is that ever-crucial lockdown wing defender.
Kidd-Gilchrist is ready for that assignment and much more, especially with Dunlap installing a system that calls for controlled chaos in an effort to maximize his team's youth, athleticism and length.
The approach resulted in a spike in free-throw attempts during the Bobcats' preseason opener. It's a similar approach to the one Southeast Division foe Atlanta used six seasons ago when they rode a young roster filled with length and athleticism from the lottery to a regular perch in the Eastern Conference playoff pecking order.
"This is all about pushing the ball into the paint," Henderson told the Charlotte Observer about Dunlap's system. "It's just naturally what happens when you attack more ... We're trying to push the ball every time we get it. Off a steal, off a made basket, off a free throw."
For an owner in need of a boost in his franchise's Q-rating, a rookie head coach trying to make his mark and a star rookie eager to make a good first impression, it seems like the logical approach.
1. The Bobcats have had other hot-shot draft picks before and they've faded into obscurity rather quickly. Kemba Walker, the ninth pick in the 2011 NBA Draftl, is doing his best not to be one of them. If Dunlap uses Walker as his starting point guard and asks him to be the playmaker he was in college at UConn, he could spark a sensational sophomore season.
2. Dunlap will be under the microscope simply because he came to the Bobcats from outside of the usual channels. He's already made some serious headway with his players, though, giving them all a fresh slate to earn their way without being knocked for what transpired before he arrived.
3. All of the good vibrations in the world won't change the fact that the Bobcats will start this season with an ugly stain on their shirt from that seven-win season from a year ago. In Las Vegas the odds on the Bobcats winning the title are 500-1. It's going to take more than an impressive summer league or preseason showing to chase away those demons.
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LAST YEAR: 7-59, 5th in Southeast
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
RAMON SESSIONS, POINT GUARD
11.3 PPG | 3.3 RPG | 5.5 APG
His time as the Lakers' point guard of the future ended abruptly, despite Sessions putting up career scoring (12.7) and shooting (48 percent, 49 from deep) stats in L.A.
GERALD HENDERSON, SHOOTING GUARD
15.1 PPG | 4.1 RPG | 2.3 APG
Henderson has been one of the bright spots during an otherwise dark time for the franchise. He has to improve his 3-point shooting (23 percent) if he's going to take the next step.
MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST, FORWARD
He blew people away at the Las Vegas Summer League. The ringleader for a Kentucky team that was filled with first-rounders, the Bobcats need him to be a factor.
TYRUS THOMAS, POWER FORWARD
5.6 PPG | 3.7 RPG | 0.6 APG
Thomas was actually better in a reserve role for this team two seasons ago. Maybe the new coaching staff can get out of him what seemingly no one else has.
BRENDAN HAYWOOD, CENTER
5.2 PPG | 6.0 RPG | 0.3 APG
Haywood is an active force with the length and size needed for the position. He's never been a defensive stud, which isn't good news for a team in need of an anchor.
|Kemba Walker||6-1||184||G||A wicked scoring option off the bench.|
|Ben Gordon||6-3||200||G||He and Walker could be a potent reserve duo.|
|Bismack Biyombo||6-9||245||C||An active-but-still-raw shot blocker worth watching.|
ADDED: F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F Jeff Taylor, G Ramon Sessions, C Brendan Haywood, G Ben Gordon
LOST: G D.J. Augustin, F Corey Maggette, F Jamario Moon, F Eduardo Najera
BEN GORDON, GUARD
The Bobcats acquired Gordon in a summer trade and are banking on him returning to the scoring form that earned him the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2005. He didn't produce nearly to that level in Detroit. A change of scenery could be the trick to a fresh start.
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