If you had to choose from the smorgasbord of misery that the Bobcats fed their fans last season, a lack of adequate inside play would be the pi√®ce de résistance. With no discernible post presence—sorry, Byron Mullens—Charlotte averaged just 38.6 points in the paint, 24th in the league. The Bobcats overhauled their frontcourt in the off-season, signing All-Star center Al Jefferson and drafting 7-foot power forward Cody Zeller. New coach Steve Clifford has implemented an offensive system similar to the one in Orlando (where he was an assistant from 2007--08 to '11--12), which featured four shooters around Dwight Howard. Jefferson will play the role of Howard, with the hope that his diverse skill set—a deft touch on a jump hook in either direction coupled with the strength to make a power move—will force teams to double him.
Concerns about Zeller's perimeter shooting last season caused his stock to slip, but he has showcased a good-looking J in the preseason, and his athleticism—at the combine Zeller exhibited a 35½-inch standing vertical and ran the three-quarter-court sprint in 3.15 seconds, best of any big man—will make him a weapon in the open floor. Charlotte will also need consistent perimeter shooting from the backcourt of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson to keep defenses from packing the paint. But hey, for a team that has made the playoffs just once in its nine seasons, one problem at a time.
COACH STEVE CLIFFORD (1ST SEASON WITH BOBCATS)
2012--13 RECORD 21--61 (4TH IN SOUTHEAST)
WHAT'S NEW Another rookie coach, plus a pricey free-agent signing (three years, $41 million) in Al Jefferson.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG KEMBA WALKER
17.7 PPG; 5.7 APG; 42.3 FG%; 32.2 3FG%
SG GERALD HENDERSON
15.5 PPG; 3.7 RPG; 44.7 FG%; 33.0 3FG%
SF MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST
9.0 PPG; 5.8 RPG; 0.9 BPG; 45.8 FG%
PF CODY ZELLER (R)
16.5 PPG; 8.0 RPG; 1.3 BPG; 56.4 FG%
C AL JEFFERSON
17.8 PPG; 9.2 RPG; 1.1 BPG; 49.4 FG%
SG BEN GORDON
11.2 PPG; 1.9 APG; 40.8 FG%; 38.7 3FG%
NEW ACQUISITION (R) ROOKIE (COLLEGE STATS)
PLAYERS WHO had a field goal percentage of better than 45.8 last year for the Bobcats. Reserve forward Josh McRoberts, who was only with the team for two months, hit 50.8% of his shots.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE BOBCATS
Steve Clifford is going to be so much different from the last three coaches because he is really defensive-minded. Mike Dunlap tried to be, but Clifford is. He will give them no leeway when they make mistakes.... They have two guys, Cody Zeller and Josh McRoberts, who are good ball movers. Both can shoot. Both can catch, pass and drive, and that gives a team matchup trouble. They can play inside out, and that's important for Steve.... Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's shot is the same, which is to say it sucks. Last year he had a couple of hitches. This year he is down to one hitch, so I guess that's an improvement. He dips it as he is shooting. The guy he is going up against gets the night off because as long as you keep him out of the paint, he can't hurt you.... Zeller is an unbelievable athlete for his size. He is already dunking hard on guys. He's a great fit with Al Jefferson. Once he stretches his range an extra four feet, he will be tough to guard.... Jefferson can give you 20 points and eight rebounds almost every night. You have to double him. He's fine playing one-on-one defense in the post. As a team defender, though, he's awful.... Playmaking is not Kemba Walker's strong suit. As time goes on, he may be able to get there. But he has had three different coaches with three different philosophies to juggle in such a short career. At UConn they gave him the ball and said, "Win the game for us." You start every game giving him the jumper until he makes one or two.
GARY DINEEN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (ZELLER)
PAINT PRESENCE ZELLER
KENT SMITH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (WALKER)