My original plan was to turn from previewing the forwards in the first column to the centers in this column. But then I saw Gana Diop’s gargantuan landmass body and Louisiana Purchase-sized contract and realized I needed to turn away. I’m sorry, but I just can’t talk about him yet; there are still too many demons. Plus I just got through the Tyrus Thomas/Bismack Biyombo combo we’ve got going on at the 4-spot, and to go from there to the Brendon Haywood/Gana Diop platoon at center would be like having to review back-to-back screenings of Battleship and Sparkle. So instead I’m going to pace myself by hitting the guards next. I should have a hold of myself in time to talk to the centers later in the week.
As for the guards, to the extent that the Bobcats have a best unit, this is it. I was thrilled that Charlotte didn’t re-sign DJ Augustin, who had regressed last year and started suffering chronic injuries. For better or for worse, Rich Cho has shown that he’s not going to overpay anyone. In the case of letting Augustin walk (or limp out on his cracked feet) and signing Ramon Sessions to a stunningly reasonable 2-year, $10M deal, it’s all for the better. As the bigger player, Sessions is much more effective at getting to the rim than Augustin was and a more able rebounder and defender. If you want to be as conservative as possible, you can just consider his time with Cleveland last year and ignore his time with the Lakers, in which all of his stats got turbo-boosted (and, needless to say, Cleveland’s team is a far better comparison to Charlotte than the Lakers). With the Cavs, Sessions’ eFG% and passing rating were basically on par with Augustin’s, but he took more than twice as many foul shots and held opponents to a PER of 16.5—compared to Augustin’s 19.8. These might seem like small potatoes, but consider that the Bobcats would have had to make a qualifying offer of $4.4M to Augustin to retain him, and for just $600K more they got a better all-around player who has also played in over 95% of his games since 2008. The fact that I have had to justify this move more in accounting terms than in basketball terms is admittedly not very inspiring, but just remember all of this when we see Augustin sitting on the Indiana bench for a third of the season, nursing his cracked feet and tendinitis.
It’s unclear whether Sessions or Kemba Walker will be the starter, but it is clear that if Walker wants to get some meaningful PT, he’s going to have to shoot better than that 36% lugee he hocked up last year. Step one is regaining the form he had at UConn, and step 2 is to abandon his love for driving straight into a forest of bigs and launching up the ball with less aim than a snot-rocket. I’m willing to chalk much of his regrettable style last year up to his teammates’ lack of skills and coach Silas’s indifference. If new coach Mike Dunlap can somehow beat this habit out of him, it will not only improve Walker’s shooting but improve his sub-par assist rate as well. Otherwise, Walker’s actually a better rebounder than Sessions and his defense should be easier to mask with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson, and Jeffery Taylor able to come to his rescue. There’s also the unknown variable of how much press coverage coach Dunlap is going to institute. I find the press to be the schematic equivalent of underhanded free throws—embarrassing and childish, but perhaps necessary and effective, especially in the case of Walker. The press could mask some of his defensive inadequacies.
Someone who won’t be coming to anyone’s rescue defensively is offseason veteran acquisition Ben Gordon. I’m hoping Gordon’s been motivated by the fact that in the Charlotte media’s eyes, he was the third-most important feature of his own trade (the first being the draft pick that came with him, and the second being the dumping of Corey Maggette’s contract). But I doubt it. Even if he is motivated, it will be to just shoot more 3-pointers and spot-ups than ever before. Gordon is the one-dimensional-ist or one-dimensional players. He’s a 3-point threat for the opposing team and a threat to give Dunlap a cardiac arrest in all other facets of his game. I’m guessing that Dunlap has been showing Gordon endless films of hard-nosed defensive plays in hopes that Gordon will start to imitate what he sees, but he might as well be showing him footage of Superman shooting lasers out of his eyes; Gordon just isn’t capable of playing defense no matter how hard he’s taught. As I mentioned when we picked up Gordon, my biggest concern is seeing him paired with Walker on defense, which is bound to happen quite a bit. If it happens too often I guarantee myself many a night of drunkenly stumbling into the bathroom for long talks with the great white telephone.
Gordon will be backing up the incumbent Gerald Henderson. The best thing about Henderson is that he’s been on a steadily improving trend since he joined the league (with PERs of 10.28, 13.18, and 14.41 in the last three seasons). The second-best thing about Henderson is that no one besides Gilchrist should respond better to Dunlap’s coaching methodology. Henderson is definitely the Bodie Broadus of the team and won’t ask any questions about his orders. But Henderson’s usefulness goes well beyond being a good soldier. Okay, not “well beyond,” but definitely beyond. With his above-average defensive abilities, he and Gilchrist should be able seal off opposing wings and generate plenty of fast breaks, which Walker hopefully won’t screw up by doing things like running full-speed right into Al Horford’s groin. Offensively, Henderson is slow and frustratingly hesitant to go to the hoop, which is exacerbated by his inability to shoot 3’s. Still, his TS% was an acceptable 51% last year, and at least we now have Gilchrist and Sessions to throw some mustard and relish on Hendo’s hot dog of humdrum mid-range banality. I’m also worried that Henderson’s going to continue to struggle to stay healthy; he’s missed 17% of the team’s games over the last two seasons. But we’ve already jettisoned two of the biggest injury cases in Augustin and Maggette, and most fans would like the third, Thomas, to be injured more, so we’re making good progress in this area that I won’t jinx by saying anything else.
Finally, we have Reggie Williams. Well, we also have Matt Carroll, but I’m kind of denying that he exists. If I’m Mitt Romney, Matt Carroll would be my pre-2010 tax records. I’m happy to recognize that Carroll’s on the team and all, but in exchange, I’d like for it never to be mentioned again. Reggie Williams only has slightly more dimension than Gordon. If Gordon is a single point on a plane, Williams is a point with a small normal vector. He can shoot 3’s and doesn’t commit turnovers and almost nothing else—he’s basketball’s Benjarvus Green-Ellis. I won’t even talk about his defense for the same reason that I don’t about the Bobcats’ chances of trading for a minotour: neither exists. Williams also managed to underperform last season even against his shallow résumé. He missed half of the team’s games with a knee injury, and then he had his worst shooting performance of his career, 31%, a full 10 percentage points below what he did the previous year with the Warriors. Can Dunlap coax him into optimizing his performance, too? I’m concerned that I seem to be ending every player review with some version of this question.
And with that, I have nothing standing between me and the centers—our team’s equivalent of the fiery pits of Mordor. Just like Frodo, I’ll confront them in the third act of my season preview.
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