Bobcats to show improvement under Dunlap

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.