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.