All right, it’s time to face the music and preview the centers. What would the “music” be in this case? Probably an endless loop of “Barbie Girl.” I’ll work my way up from Gana Diop to Brendan Haywood to Byron Mullens—in other words, in ascending order of functional basketball player.
Let’s start with the large, spherical humanoid Diop. To his credit, Diop did seem to shed some weight over the offseason, quieting the rumors that he was originally given up for adoption by Biggie Smalls and Aretha Franklin. But his pockets will continue to stay fatter than his belly, thanks to the $7.4M he’s owed this year. There was a good reason why GM Rich Cho didn’t amnesty him, though, which I’m sure Cho will tell us as soon as he thinks of one. In the meantime, we’re stuck watching him work on his 4-year single-digit PER streak like it was a stack of Triple Meat Whataburgers. He shot an amazingly terrible 34.7 TS% last year, probably because in order to make it to the hoop the ball had to first overcome Diop’s gravitational pull. Defensively, he can’t hold opponents any more than he can hold the barbecue sauce at Jack in the Box; opposing centers put up a 21 PER against him last year, meaning basically every big he went up against played at a near-Greg Monroe level. At least we shouldn’t need him for more than about 12 minutes per game this year, which is fortunate because anything more might cause his heart to suddenly explode.
Okay, got that out of the way. Let’s move on to Brendan Haywood, who compared to Diop looks like Elliot Richards in Bedazzled. Haywood put up a 13 PER last year for the Mavs while averaging about 21 minutes a game. He can block shots, play respectable defense, and provide the Charlotte Observer writers with endless articles about returning to his native North Carolina. He’s not a candidate to win the 3-point shooting contest anytime soon; in fact he only attempts a shot from greater than 9-feet about once every other game. (If Larry Bird goes to hell in the afterlife, his punishment will be watching Haywood, Diop, and Bismack Biyombo eternally challenge each other to a game of HORSE.) But his limited range is actually a nice complement for Byron Mullens, who is nearly Haywood’s polar opposite on the floor. Coach Mike Dunlap can go with Mullens if he wants a big who’s more perimeter-oriented, or he can go with Haywood if he wants a down-low banger. He can go to Diop if he wants to throw himself off a roof.
As for Mullens, he’s a taller, whiter, more wispy-mustached Ben Gordon. Both are guaranteed to shoot us into and subsequently out of numerous games this year. Mullens has a sub-average 13 PER and the rebound rate of centers who are a foot shorter than him. But he was good for 20 points per 48 minutes last season because of his shooting range and ability to stretch the defense. Thus, coach Dunlap wants to use Mullens at the 4 quite a bit and is imploring him to get to the foul line more. That might be difficult, because Mullens is less aggressive than Moby. However, it’s difficult to get too upset with BJ, because unlike the virtual planetoid of Diop, Mullens is cheap and still full of upside (while Diop is expensive and full of White Castle sliders). Because of that upside, Coach Dunlap has a chance to cement his legacy if he can build on young Mullens’ talent and make him a better all-around player.
All in all, I see this team winning about 20 games. The best thing going in their favor is that they’ll get 12 games with their division-mates the Magic, Wizards, and Hawks. They should be able to steal a few of those, as well as some one-offs with teams like the Rockets, Kings, Pistons, Raptors, Cavaliers, Hornets, Suns, Blazers, and Warriors. There’s even a chance they could finish ahead of Orlando in the final standings, but let’s not go crazy. In fact, let’s not even go mildly eccentric. The Bobcats are still undersized and/or slow and/and defensively-challenged at guard, barely anyone on the team can create his own shot, and rebounding remains mostly theoretical. The two pre-season games I saw against Detroit and Miami might as well have been games 67 and 68 from last season. If we can avoid any losing streaks in the high double-digits and coach Dunlap makes it through the season without strangling Tyrus Thomas, I’ll be happy. If coach Dunlap does end up strangling Thomas, I’ll be even happier.
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