Bobcats to show improvement under Dunlap

With new additions and a new coach, the Bobcats are improving and should avoid the NBA's worst record.

While technically it could get worse than last season’s 7-59 record, which gave the Charlotte Bobcats ownership of the worst winning percentage in NBA history, theoretically it can’t.

No way the Bobcats -- with their new look, new coach and some interesting additions to the roster -- can possibly be as unsuccessful as last year’s squad. At least that’s the attitude within the franchise, and why not? A plausible case can be made that the team will finish well above last year’s squad.

Owner Michael Jordan has decided to scale back his involvement in the day-to-day operations of the franchise and trust the brass he hired. In exercising his expanded role, general manager Rich Cho hired long-time assistant coach Mike Dunlap as Paul Silas’ replacement as head coach.

Silas did a nice job taking over nearly halfway through the 2010-11 campaign, but was dealt a rough hand last season. He preached for his players to shoot the ball every time they were open and too often looked like a defeated man, even early in the season. He knew what lay ahead.

Dunlap is known as a patient teacher of the game, something that will come in handy with such a young roster. He also wants to play fast, to speed up the game, use defense to get some easy baskets and wear down older teams. He wants the team mindset to be aggressive.

It’s part a solid plan in a conference that is less finesse than the West, but also a good approach to purging the past from everyone’s hoops souls.

Charlotte opens its season Friday night at home versus the Indiana Pacers. Here’s a quick look at the Bobcats as the season tips off:

Last season: 7-59, no playoffs

Coach: Mike Dunlap, first year

Top returnees: Gerald Henderson (15.1 ppg in 2011-12); Kemba Walker (12.1 ppg, 4.4 apg); Byron Mullens (9.3 ppg, 5 rpg); Bismack Byombo (5.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg).

Key additions: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2nd overall pick, Kentucky); Brendan Haywood (5.2 ppg, 6 rpg with Mavericks); Ben Gordon (12.5 ppg with Pacers); Ramon Sessions (11.3 ppg, 5.5 apg with Lakers); Jeff Taylor (2nd round pick, Vanderbilt).

X-factor: Kemba Walker enters his second season and must develop some veteran attributes to keep the job from Sessions. Walker possesses significant upside and plays with the pressure of being hand-picked by Jordan. He must get his teammates involved while also increasing his personal production.

Strengths: Four starters are 24 years old or younger, but the Bobcats will bring some quality experience off the bench in Gordon and Sessions, among others, who are a healthy upgrade from last season. The addition of 32-year-old Haywood in the middle of the defense should also help.

Weaknesses: Gordon and Sessions will help offensively, but this team must improve its ability to score. Henderson and Walker, in particular, must produce more, but also Mullens and Byombo. Defense is one of Dunlap’s points of emphasis, but points must come from somewhere. Period.

Outlook: Adding Haywood, Gordon and Sessions gives the team needed gravitas but also players who understand how to win in the NBA. Charlotte’s last two top picks (Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist) were national champions in college, so the vets should be well-received. They will teach the younger players how to carry on over the long 82-game season. Yet, scoring may still be an issue. With Dunlap’s attitude, the emphasis on improvement and an uptick in overall talent means the Bobcats have a chance to avoid the worst record in the NBA.

Prediction: 19-63. 

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