Grading Every Key Charlotte Bobcats Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break
After the last two unbearable seasons, the Charlotte Bobcats will be heading into the 2013-14 All-Star break with much more positivity surrounding the team.
Charlotte is maintaining a light hold on the eighth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference at 22-29. The 'Cats are far from comfortable with two much more talented teams in the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks breathing down their necks.
The Bobcats have endured some fairly significant injuries, but for the most part have weathered the storm and managed to stay afloat in the putrid Eastern Conference. They have been given ample opportunity to tank just like in years past, but Steve Clifford will not allow them to give up.
As for the individuals on the roster, there have been more downs than ups. The young guys have not improved enough to get this team over the hump, and the veterans are only capable of so much.
When it comes to grading each Bobcat, we will look at their overall body of work, how they have lived up to expectations, and the general impact they have had. All will be factored in to determine just how vital they have been to the team so far.
Without further adieu, let's get into our All-Star break player grades.
In lieu of the crippling injuries suffered by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor, Charlotte added some thump on the wing by bringing in journeyman Chris Douglas-Roberts from the D-League in mid-December.
CDR hasn't seen heavy minutes, but he has given the team a shot in the arm when he does see extended floor time. Now that his fellow wingmen have returned to health, he has been relegated back to the bench, but CDR shot over 55 percent from the field in January including 50 percent from downtown.
For a team that at times struggles to throw it into the ocean, his contributions were invaluable. He hasn't been a priority at any point, but he has still managed to find ways to contribute effectively.
It is obviously difficult to expect much from a guy who started the season in the D-League. Douglas-Roberts has given Steve Clifford exactly what he needed since he got the call up to the big club. A reliably efficient scorer off the bench who can still hold his own on the defensive end.
It is a little hard to believe this guy hasn't stuck in the league anywhere. Maybe Charlotte will be different for him.
The salt in the wound is that Charlotte is so weak at the power forward position. On paper, Zeller was the perfect complement to Al Jefferson. His athletic mid-range prowess was supposed to play along with Jefferson's old school post game flawlessly.
Unfortunately, that has been a big swing and a miss up to this point.
Zeller is shooting 37.7 percent from the field, a ghastly number for anyone, but especially weak considering he is a legitimate 7'0". His athleticism has been outweighed by his Tyrannosaurus Rex arms as he struggles to get shots off over longer defenders.
A quick look at his shot chart tells you pretty much the whole story. Zeller has no back-to-the-basket game, his mid-range jumper has been an automatic miss all season as evidenced by his 4-for-39 shooting from the elbows, and his short wingspan severely hinders his efficiency around the rim, as he is shooting just 46.7 percent from right at the basket.
Zeller has been a very big disappointment in almost every facet so far.
Under Steve Clifford, Bismack Biyombo has seen a sizable dip in his minutes and his responsibility. The rookie head coach has mostly relegated his big man to hitting the glass and playing defense.
Given how inept Biyombo tends to look on offense, Clifford doing that was not exactly a bad thing since those are Biyombo's strengths. He has done a great job averaging 5.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in only 15.7 minutes a night, so his per-36 numbers are up drastically from last year.
It doesn't hurt that he is also converting a staggering 62 percent from the field in his limited attempts, a huge jump up from the 45 percent he shot last season.
It is difficult to accurately assess Biyombo's season. His play has warranted some extended minutes, but Clifford has stuck with McRoberts more often than not. Biyombo is still incredibly raw on offense, but that was supposed to be masked by the games of Jefferson and Zeller.
Biyombo could still stand to be more of an overall presence despite his lack of offensive ability. He is a very good shot-blocker, but his presence still needs to be felt more as a one-on-one defender. He still struggles at times bodying up bigger guys or covering stretch 4s.
As a former No. 7 overall pick, a lot is still expected of the 21-year-old. However, he has to be given some more responsibility if he is to fulfill his potential. Charlotte is still taking a bit of a "wait and see" approach with the youngster.
Anthony Tolliver has definitely been one of the bigger surprises down in Charlotte this year. Little was expected of him, much like it has been throughout his career, but he has been a vital member of this team from day one.
Out of the blue, Tolliver has molded himself into a three-point specialist. He is fifth in the league at 44.6 percent from beyond the arc for a team so devoid of outside shooting.
Take it as you will, but in the Bobcats' 22 wins this season, Tolliver is shooting a sky-high 59.3 percent from the field. Conversely, he shoots just 34.7 percent when they lose. That is a pretty telling stat that when their sharpshooter off the bench is on, the team becomes much more dynamic and effective.
Tolliver has had little impact outside of his shooting, but the man knows his role. He has surprisingly become by far the most electric outside shooter on the team, and in order for the Bobcats to keep winning, they desperately need to squeeze every ounce of Tolliver that they can.
Getting these kinds of contributions from unexpected sources is what keeps a team in the playoff hunt. Tolliver has been one of the true unsung heroes on the roster.
A broken hand really disrupted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in year-two of his career, and the Bobcats paid for it.
Early on this season, MKG was showing some solid aggression on offense. He scored at least 14 points in six of the team's first nine games. Sadly, he has not eclipsed 14 points since.
The broken hand is clearly affecting MKG's already shaky offensive arsenal. His free-throw shooting took a nosedive down to 41.9 percent in the month of January and his aggressiveness has cooled off considerably.
Charlotte has invested a lot in the young Kidd-Gilchrist as a former No. 2 pick. The team already feeds off his ridiculous defensive intensity, but the Bobcats are at their best when MKG is exerting some of that energy on offense as well.
MKG is not a good scorer by any means, but what he is good at is playing to his strengths. He is not taking a page out of Josh Smith's book and throwing up as many threes as he can until a couple go in. MKG still has shot a reasonably good percentage in his two years because he can attack the paint when given space. The Bobcats need more of that.
MKG's defense is second to none. He is the heartbeat of the team on that end of the floor, but Charlotte is much better when he is contributing on offense as well. The team is 5-3 when he scores in double digits and needs him to be more aggressive because they do not have the weapons around him to mask his shortcomings.
Ramon Sessions has been the exact type of veteran point guard this young team needs.
Sessions has been the first man off the bench all year for Steve Clifford and has been extremely adept at protecting the ball. After six seasons in the league, the jury is out on Sessions. He is a very safe and efficient player that never leaves his head coach second-guessing.
Sessions' percentages have taken a bit of a dip this year, but he is still key to the Bobcats as a low-risk ball handler and a guy that runs the offense like no one else on the team is capable of doing. Kemba Walker is much more of a shoot-first type of guy, so Sessions backing him up is ideal.
At times this year, Sessions has clearly felt some added pressure of trying to score more than he is capable of. He is at some fault, but the Bobcats need their points to come from somewhere. He does not exactly have a stable of shooters ready to fire amongst his second unit whom he can rely on to knock down open looks.
The 27-year-old point guard has seen a dip in his production from last year, but still has been valuable in the sense that he keeps this team from ripping apart at the seams. His veteran presence and calming effect are crucial to such a young team.
All of the ball movement problems plaguing the Charlotte Bobcats have nothing to do with Josh McRoberts. He is having a very uncharacteristic season, but dishing the rock has not been a problem for him.
McBob is currently averaging four assists, good for second on the team. That number should be as much of an ode to the spirited play of McRoberts as it is a black eye on the rest of the team. Josh McRoberts should never be second on any team in assists.
Another thing McRoberts shouldn't be doing? Shooting 3.5 threes a night is on that list, but someone has to do it on this roster and surprisingly, McBob has actually hit a quality 37 percent from distance.
McRoberts should be given tons of credit for giving this team what it needs. He is playing virtually the exact opposite brand of basketball that he played for Charlotte last season, but it is just what the doctor ordered. He has missed only one game and been the quiet jack-of-all-trades that every team needs.
The former Dukie is playing the best defense of his career and has kept the young guys Zeller and Biyombo on the bench. There are surely a handful of fans clamoring to see what the 21-year-olds can do, but for now McRoberts gives the Bobcats the best chance at winning.
Moving forward, a few less threes would help the cause. Charlotte is just 2-8 when McRoberts attempts five or more in a game. Despite that, his impact has been profound due to his unique skill set and ability to give the game what it needs.
Gerald Henderson's numbers over the past three seasons have been mostly identical across the board. His points, rebounds and assists per game have all fluctuated by 0.6 or less for each of the last three years.
That's nice an all, since every roster needs consistency. Especially a roster so barren of explosive scoring.
It would have been nice to see Henderson take a step forward this season.
Three straight years of the same exact numbers indicates that Henderson has likely peaked. He is nothing more than a 15-points-per-game scorer on a middling team. His three-point shot and overall shooting percentage have taken a step back this year.
Many thought that the addition of Al Jefferson would help elevate a guy like Henderson to the next level. Henderson has spent the last couple of years as the de facto number-one option on offense for the Bobcats. Now that he is nowhere near option number one, the 15 points a night are still nice, but some sort of improvement didn't seem like a huge task.
But, I digress. Henderson is still a very solid player on both ends of the court. He has been a model of consistency for Steve Clifford even if he does not have another level to his game we haven't seen yet.
Kemba Walker's recent sprained ankle sadly came during the midst of the best stretch of basketball he has played as a pro.
After a slow start to the year that saw Walker shoot 36 percent through the month of December, he began lighting it up at the turn of the new year. He has continued to improve and hopefully can get right back on track to make that final playoff push over the home stretch.
Walker's improvement is not only apparent on offense. Everyone knows he can score and facilitate, but he has undoubtedly bought into Clifford's schemes and blossomed on the defensive end. His rebounds are up to 4.3 a night this year, very solid for a point guard.
During his brief absence, opposing point guards had their way with the 'Cats. Charlotte saw Goran Dragic go for 25 points, D.J. Augustin erupt for 28 and Randy Foye blow up for an eyebrow-raising 33 points on the depleted defense.
Walker continues to grow into the type of franchise point guard this team needs. He is not only a fearless leader, but now has become a capable defender who is more than willing to go over the 40-minute threshold.
Clifford has taken the handcuffs off of Walker this year. It goes without saying that he is well along his path to stardom.
Some questioned the motives of the lowly Bobcats dishing out $45 million to Al Jefferson this past offseason, but the idea was simple. They were tired of waiting around to strike gold on a draft pick, and they had to start moving in the right direction by making a splash.
Jefferson has provided much more than a splash. Big Al has flourished in his bigger role much like he did back in his days with the Timberwolves.
Jefferson started the season rather slowly after easing his way in from an early injury, but has been an absolute beast of late. He is one of just four guys in the league averaging 20 points and ten rebounds. He amped his game up once the calendar turned as well, posting averages of 23.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 54 percent shooting in January.
He also went on a run of ten consecutive 20-point games with five 30-point nights sprinkled in as well. Being the anchor on both ends of the floor is something that has agreed with him very well.
When Jefferson is going well, which by all means has been the case, he is an automatic double-team on the low block. This is especially true on a weak offensive team like the Bobcats. Moving forward, Charlotte needs to continue to learn how to play off of Jefferson and convert open shots around him.
Jefferson has made every bit the impact the team could have hoped this year. For a team desperate to change the culture and get into the playoffs, he has been money well spent.