Their season opening matchup with the Indiana Pacers will be a solid, although not unbeatable, test to begin the year. In fact, Indiana’s defensive tendencies sync right up with a historically slow-paced Charlotte offense, as well as a Bobcats teams that has relied on it’s defense in the past.
There have been a lot of changes to this current Bobcats roster, however, and some offer encouragement for an improved season.
With that said, let’s dive into some specific keys for this game, and see how the Bobcats might fare:
1. The Point – The Return of D.J. Augustin
Augustin isn’t listed as the official starter for the Pacers, but he will undoubtedly be seeing a good chunk of minutes on the floor with a rotation with George Hill. He’s clearly not a big guy, but Augustin can facilitate offense and can really light up the floor when he gets himself going. More importantly, he knows the Bobcats and won’t have much trouble getting around as he pleases against Kemba Walker or Ramon Sessions.
Add in the versatile Hill, and the Pacers look to have the edge at the point on paper.
2. The Wings – Potential vs. Experience
I’m giving Charlotte a slight edge here from a depth stand-point, simply because for the moment it looks like Ben Gordon is coming off the bench. Offensively, Gordon packs a mean punch, while the always improving Gerald Henderson has a solid mid-range game. The Bobcats have the best “ceiling player” in this matchup in fresh 19-year old rookie small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but he’s unlikely to make a huge impact in this game – let alone the entire year.
Ultimately, the Bobcats are pretty over-matched here, as they don’t have anyone big enough or strong enough to take on either Paul George or Danny Granger. Even worse, Gerald Green isn’t a bad sub behind George, and the Bobcats probably can’t handle him due to his range and athleticism, either.
The Pacers just give Charlotte all kinds of matchup trouble at guard and forward, and it might take a bad shooting night or some unlikely amazing defense to keep them from getting into a groove.
3. Battle of the Bigs – Youth vs. Experience
David West isn’t quite what he used to be, but he has to be loving this matchup. Byron Mullens has a nice jumper and a really smooth all-around offensive game, but he’s still in no shape to take on and handle West consistently. The same can’t be said for Tyrus Thomas, who can block shots and make life difficult for the opposition on defense, but he won’t be as fluid offensively. Both big guys for Charlotte can help in spots, but both also clearly have their weaknesses.
On the flip-side, West can body up both of those guys, and he’ll be able to knockdown open shots all day. The same can be said for his top backup, Tyler Hansbrough, who can hit open shots, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll likely out-work everyone else for rebounds.
With that said, Charlotte’s two big guys are younger and quicker, collectively much more athletic, and carry more upside into the new year. If they’re on top of their game, they can give West and Hansbrough a tough go of it in the first game of the year.
4. Center Duel
Unfortunately, this one really isn’t even close. Bismack Biyombo is a fine defensive specialist with tons of potential, but he has a ways to go to become a consistent contributor. He’s got a lot of holes to his still fairly non-existent offensive game, and his defense can be sporadic. If he can avoid foul trouble, he’ll make an impact on this game, but with the 7-3 Roy Hibbert (15 pts per game vs CHA last year) owning the paint, that might prove to be very difficult.
Hibbert also isn’t a polished offensive player just yet, but he gets better every year, while he’s just as viable on the defensive end. Biyombo’s short-comings on offense are likely to be even more exposed in this matchup, while veteran backup Brendan Haywood is arguably very much in the same boat.
I really like Biyombo going forward this year, but I expect him to struggle in this one.
5. Coaching Battle
Frank Vogel takes his Pacers on the road to take on Mike Dunlap’s Bobcats in Charlotte. Vogel is a sound all-around coach who emphasizes defense, toughness and a steady offensive pace. His coaching and quality strategy in the post-season advanced Indiana last year and actually had them up 2-1 in a second round series with the eventual champion Miami Heat. His team is mostly filled with solid no-namer guys, but collectively he gets them to play competitive ball almost every night, and has the Pacers looking like a playoff team once again heading into the season.
Dunlap’s only real NBA connections reside with the Denver Nuggets as an assistant, so both he and the Bobcats could be traveling into the Twilight Zone this year. With that said, he’s had solid success at the college level, and was brough to replace the horribly ineffective Paul Silas.
Clearly the battle of skill and experience belongs to Vogel here, as we have no idea what Dunlap brings to the table just yet. There is potential there, but we’ll need time to make any bold predictions on Dunlap’s future. Needless to say, the Pacers win the battle between the coaches in this one.
The verdict appears to be in. While NBA games aren’t always so cut and dry, it looks like a home loss to start the year is in the cards for the Bobcats. I really see a lot of nice potential on both sides of the ball for Charlotte, but Indiana is a well organized and well-coached team. They won’t be remotely interested in coming into Charlotte and taking a loss. I think the Pacers take this one, 107-89.