Even though next year will be a "rebuilding" year and we are all looking forward to who our next piece will be coming out of the draft, next year will also be an evaluation period for the young players on the roster and will help identify which young guns are worthy of being handed long term starting positions. A complete NBA roster, as we all know, generally consists of a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and a center. As I look over our squad and all of the young pieces we have in place, we have something pretty similar to a future starting lineup, other than Dante Cunningham who is more of a tweener than a true SF and the raw Bismack Biyombo who will more than likely start out playing PF and will probably end up eventually moving to center as the years progress. Either way, we're all looking towards the future, but in reality, the future is now.
D.J. Augustin and Kemba Walker (PG) - It seems almost written in stone that D.J.'s days as a Charlotte Bobcat are coming to a close, mainly due to the fact that Walker was drafted with a top 10 selection. My answer to that, not so fast. Even though Augustin's shooting hasn't always been consistent, last year he still made great strides towards developing his overall point guard skills finishing with avergaes of 14.4 ppg, 6.1 apg, and finishing sixth in the entire NBA with an assist to turnover ratio of 3.21. Walker, on the other hand, is fresh off a national championship run with the UCONN Huskies in which we seen him display some Wade-like abilities that could prove to be a great benefit at the next level. Though not a pure point guard, good basketball players always find ways to make themselves effective when on the big stage. It'll be interesting to see how this one turns out. I'm still wondering why everyone thinks D.J. needs to be traded. At the very least, I think one of these players should be used as a 6th man. As the Mavericks showed us in the championship series against the Heat, having a deep bench can be extremely beneficial and having a player of the caliber of either Augustin or Walker leading your second unit is absoultely a luxury. Size shouldn't matter that much, it's not like either player's defensive deficiencies are going to disappear if the other is traded. I can still see the team signing a third PG with good size (Tracy McGrady has been mentioned by ESPN and our own Focus in recent weeks) to help close games if we need a stop, but from the way I see things, we have a very solid point guard rotation to look towards the future with.
Gerald Henderson (SG)- Hendo has a lot of work to do on the offensive side of things, particulalry with his outside shooting, but last year showed great promise and even inspired some (including myself) to believe that he may one day achieve all-star status. Larry Brown and a birth defect (which has since been corrected) limited Henderson's ability to contribute much coming out of college and everyone (including myself) was moving towards being ready to label him as a bust. Turns out that Larry Brown was a bigger problem than any of us initially expected and Henderson wasn't really able to show us much until Paul Silas took over. At least twice, to my recollection, Henderson was able to come in the fourth quarter and use a simple screen and pop to secure wins for the team. Personally, I'm excited to see what he can do over a full year as a starting shooting guard for our club and how he will be able to handle actually having plays run through him. Either way, he will be given every opportunity to succeed next year and prove himself capable as being our SG of the future. I fully expect him to improve immensely on his 2010 averages of 9.6 ppg and 3.0 rpg. 15.2 sounds about right for next year.
Dante Cunningham (SF/PF)- Cunningham will spend time next year splitting between backing up Corey Maggette at SF and our plethora of PF's. Although not particularly strong or advanced in any facet of his game, he, at the least, should be a contibuting player off the bench. He doesn't have a very high ceiling, but could be a stabilizing presence for our squad with his somewhat solid mid-range game. He's a true tweener, but is still a cheap and able body that should pick up the pace of our rebuilding, even if it's just by a little.
Tyrus Thomas and D.J. White (PF) - The Bobcats front office really believes in Tyrus' ability to contribute and play at a consistent high rate, as the contract he signed last year would demonstrate. He got off to a pretty good start last year before injuries disrupted his progress, and I'm excited to see how Silas' plans to use him in this new uptempo offense that he's promsied to install once the lockout is over. I'm not sure how much he will improve on his 10.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg averages of last year, but the numbers don't do justice for the energy that Tyrus brings to the floor. He still has potential to be an "elite" player, he just only has to get his head on straight and learn to play within himself. Perhaps being on a rebuilding team is just the opportunity Thomas needs to showcase his true talent. As for White, I was very impressed with his play after the Oklahoma City trade and still feel as though he's the closest thing to a true PF that we've ever seen in Bobcats history. Although his skill level isn't extremely high, he still does the things that you love to see a big man in the post do (rebounding, easy putbacks, backing down defenders). Much like our situation at PG, we could actually have our PF of the future and his backup in place. It just really all depends on how well they perform next year.
Bismack Biyombo (C/PF) - Bismack will spend time shifting between PF and C as he learns the ropes, but from all indications, the Bobcats drafted Biyombo to be their center of the future. His incredible 7'7 wingspan makes up for his lack of height, (he's only 6'9) and he'll definitely need to add muscle weight to his frame (229 lbs) if he's going to ever become a true center. But from everything I seen, he definitely has the potential to become a defensive powerhouse much like Ben Wallace was during the days of Piston glory (seems like so long ago). Supposedly, Rich Cho's research began on Biyombo while he was still GM of the Portland Trailblazers and he feels as though he is a solid investment. We'll see. My only concerns at this point revolve around how much room for improvement Biyombo actually has as his age has been a mystery. If he's as old as some have suggested (26), then his ceiling isn't high and we've made a terrible decision. If he's as young as others have suggested (19), he's got plenty of room to improve. His demeanor is that of a player who wants to do everything to get better, so keeping his head on straight doesn't seem like it'll be a concern. But Biyombo is a boom or bust player. If he turns out into a boomer, we probably have our center of the future.
You've probably been reading and wondering what the whole purpose of this post is and not much of the information presented helps make one. So in closing, gentleman and gentleman, for our own sake, we can't expect the team to be "that horrible" next year as a lot of our pieces that we will be depending on for future sucess are already in place. I know we're all looking forward to next year's draft and whether we will have the opportunity to draft Harrison Barnes, Jarred Sullinger, Austin Rivers, or another prospect, but the truth is, if our team is ever really going to be a contender, then the players we already have on the roster are going to have to play the biggest role in getting us there. One of the biggest key factors separting everyday players from superstars is the level of confidence these guys play with, and next year we'll be in a position to give our young guys significant confidence boosters with significant playing time. I'm not so convinced that we'll be one of the worst teams in the NBA.