The Charlotte Bobcats got a bit better this offseason when they signed Al Jefferson. Big Al is no worldbeater, but he’s an above average player who commands a double team pretty much anytime he touches the ball on his beloved left block. He’s a good offensive player who struggles defensively due to his relative lack of lateral quickness. He blocks a lot of shots and grabs a lot of defensive rebounds, so he helps from time to time, but overall he hurts his teams defensively with his, frankly, woeful help defense. Modern NBA defenses simply require so much intelligent, agile help from the men manning the middle, and Al, despite his best efforts and his self-awareness about his defensive flaws, just can’t get things right on that end. All in all, though, Jefferson is a player worth having, especially for a team as bad as the Bobcats were last year and have been since they became a franchise. Charlotte also drafted Cody Zeller, a player who I liked a lot prior to this year’s draft and continue to like.
How much, based on the numbers, should we expect the Bobcats to improve with Big Al and Zeller on the roster?
After adjusting for the projected league-wide context, the Bobcats projected Net Rating is -3.44, which translates to approximately 32 wins. Thirty-two wins is not a season to write home about, but it would represent an 11 win improvement over last year’s Charlotte squad and 11 extra wins is something worth smiling over. Charlotte won’t be good, but they’ll be better.
There’s another way in which they could be even better and that’s if they simply don’t play Ben Gordon, who projects to be absolutely terrible next season after several seasons of being awful. If GM Rich Cho is able to find a taker for Gordon’s hefty expiring contract and the team is able to simply play Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist more minutes, they could even climb as high as 36–38 wins. For the long-term health of the franchise, though, shooting for a few extra wins at the cost of reduced lottery odds in the mythical 2014 draft seems unwise. It will be interesting to see which way Charlotte decides to go. Given that they have already chosen to try to get better by signing Jefferson, that might indicate they will go all in on winning as many games as they can. It would be hard to fault them for wanting to win as many games as they can, given how bad they have been the last two years, but if they can resist the urge to squeak out 4 or 5 extra wins, they might be rewarded in the draft lottery.
Charlotte has a near handful of projected above average players, namely: Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo, and Al Jefferson. Cody Zeller also projects to be nearly average as a rookie, according to the Hickory-High rookie projections, which is really pretty great for a rookie. There are no stars on this club, which is the primary reason they won’t win a lot of games, but there’s a lot of slightly above, slightly below, and right at average talent. It’s a team that will probably look great some nights, when Kemba’s hitting his jumpers, Jefferson’s working at the peak of his post powers, and Kidd-Gilchrist is slashing and dunking and hounding the opponent’s best wing, and there will be other nights where they can’t throw it into the ocean and their spacing issues come home to roost. They’ll be better, though, and that’s not nothing. Enjoy the ride this year, Charlotte; maybe that franchise savior is just around the corner in next year’s draft and, hey, now he might actually have a decent supporting cast to join.