In the NBA today, most players are drafted based on their skill, potential, and athleticism, three aspects of the game that are becoming more and more important to getting involved in the game at the NBA level right away; gone are the days where fundamentals and basketball IQ were considered to be key facets of an NBA players’ game.
Yet with the focus on skill, athleticism, and –primarily- potential, the Bobcats have seemingly backed themselves into corners in recent years, and need to work on getting away from the mindset that potential trumps all. While potential is great, if it hasn’t been tapped or harnessed before entering the league (or at least begun to be tapped or harnessed), teams will have a difficult time developing those young, athletic players.
Players with this type of description are most commonly referred to as “projects”, and unfortunately for the Bobcats, they have selected “projects” in each of the last two drafts in Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Kidd-Gilchrist, selected 2nd overall in June, has shown an innate drive and determination on the court. His defense has been great for an otherwise lackluster defensive team, and his effort on the offensive low block is very impressive for someone who doesn’t fit the mold of a big man. Yet, MKG’s overall offensive package is dismal at best, with most of his points coming within the restricted area on dunks, put-backs, and layups, or at the free-throw line; MKG’s hitch in his jumpshot has seemingly prevented him from taking his game to the next level, and prevented him from working more on his outside shooting.
To say Kidd-Gilchrist hasn’t been a welcomed change to the Bobcats would be foolish. His defensive intensity has been apparent from day one, and there’s no denying his drive to get better; yet his offensive game is a project –one that is stalling the overall product that the Cats are putting on the floor every night. While his numbers of 9.0 ppg and 5.6 rpg this season are respectable, MKG’s has only averaged 5.8 ppg and 4.0 rpg on .321% shooting from the field in his last ten games, a sign that this project is still in its very early stages.
Biyombo was selected due to his athleticism and defensive potential. Not much was known about his offensive game, and very little is still known about his offensive game. Thought to have been one of the better pick-and-roll players in the 2011 Draft entering a pick-and-roll league, Biz looks out of place when running the play; he has been consistently slow when rolling to the basket, taking away easy looks for himself and stalling any offensive rhythm for the team as a whole. While his rebounding numbers have improved (7.3 rpg this season; 5.8 last season), Biyombo’s offensive numbers have also taken a hit; he’s averaging almost a full point less (5.2 ppg 11-12; 4.5 ppg 12-13) on a worse shooting percentage (.464% 11-12; .434% 12-13). Even worse, Bismack looks out of place on the offensive end, looking surprised and slow to react whenever the ball comes his way.
Biyombo’s defense hasn’t changed; he’s still eager to swat anything that comes his way, and it’s because of his last second game-saving block against the New Orleans Hornets last season that the Bobcats didn’t finish with an even worse winning percentage. Yet his overall raw game is almost becoming too large and distracting of a task to focus on as the Cats try to continue to grow and improve, both individually and as a team.
The Cats need to focus on drafting somebody this June who’s talented, with plenty of skill, athleticism, and potential, but potential that’s already been tapped. Mike Dunlap and his staff can’t be expected to turn into Mr. Miyagi every time a Daniel Larusso walks through their front door; they can’t try to teach a player so much of what he should already know. It would serve the coaches and the organization much better if Dunlap and his staff are only expected to act as an Apollo Creed to a Rocky Balboa; continue to harness and refine what is already there in getting players ready for the next level.
With that in mind, here are a handful of players who have established themselves as NBA ready, and who only need a mentor, not a karate master, to get more out of them at the next level:
Cody Zeller, F, Indiana University: Zeller has been close to the top of Charlotte’s draft board since the midway point of last season. Zeller’s size and strength have been tops in college ball this season, and he would help to improve the Bobcats frontcourt overnight. While some may look at him as a player with a low ceiling, Zeller is a polished product who has an index of low-post moves. The Indiana project is no slouch away from the low post, either. Zeller has posted a .575 field-goal percentage this season, and a .759 free-throw percentage. Creed-Balboa moment: Attacking the boards
Ben McLemore, G, University of Kansas: McLemore has been an absolute gem for Kansas this season, averaging roughly 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists per contest in a Jayhawks uniform. His percentages have been sound (.493 FG%, .423 3FG%, .880 FT%) and he’s been no slouch on the defensive end, either (1.2 spg, 0.8 bpg). The best part about McLemore’s game? Although he’s been posting great numbers, some say that his potential could lead to him putting up outstanding numbers. The difference between he and recent draft picks, though, is that his potential has already been tapped. Creed-Balboa moment: Defensive intensity
Shabazz Muhammad, F, UCLA: While the Bobcats are set at the small forward position, one can’t help but get caught up in the hype about Shabazz’s game. His numbers have been similar to that of Harrison Barnes in his time at North Carolina, and his ball control and self-control (1.8 turnovers, 1.4 personal fouls) have been top notch. The Cats would be foolish to draft someone at a position they spent all of last years’ draft on, but you can’t help but acknowledge what he’s done in his time out in LA. Creed-Balboa moment: Needs to be more aggressive on defense
Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV: Bennett has been another spectacular freshman performer amongst the college ranks this season. Posting numbers of 17 ppg, 8.4 rpg, and 1.3 bpg, Bennett has impressed in helping to lead UNLV to national prominence once again. Bennett has been able to stretch the floor for the Rebels, too, shooting .372 from three-point land, making him an ideal four-man and ideal draft pick for the Bobcats. Creed-Balboa moment: Better consistency from downtown
Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga: While many are probably hesitant to see anyone from Gonzaga on this list, Olynyk is no Morrison. After redshirting last season, Olynyk has provided a huge presence inside for the Zags, giving them a consistent offensive weapon that has been able to assist on the defensive end as well (1.2 bpg, among countless other altered shots). Yet offense isn’t everything in the NBA (something Morrison learned the hard way), and a strong inside presence will help Olynyk like the Bulldog bigs before him who have found their way into the League (Ronny Turiaf, Robert Sacre). Creed-Balboa moment: Hit the weight room