Ben Swanson runs SB Nation's Bobcats blog Rufus on Fire. You can follow him on Twitter at Cardboard Gerald. To see my answers to the questions he asked me about the Mavs, head over to his site.
There was a bit of a thing on Twitter last year about "pray for Cardboard Gerald" because you had to cover the Bobcats during their 7-59 season. What's the feeling around the team like now and how did fans react to all the losing that year?
The morale among fans has definitely improved. The team improved across the board and will undoubtedly perform better than last season with an energetic coach that accepts nothing less than full effort. The core of young players still has plenty of flaws and the team undoubtedly has one of the least talented rosters in the league. And yet there is no pressure on this team, no expectations - this season should be much more fun. I think fans will react better to this team, which will be a welcome change from last year's trying season that only produced groans.
How has No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looked in the preseason and do you think he'll be a factor in the Rookie of the Year race?
MKG has been decent in the preseason, but not outstanding. His best game was in their first game, their sole preseason win, where he got 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals against the Wizards. After that he struggled somewhat, at least as a scorer. The thing about Kidd-Gilchrist is that he's not going to score well every night just yet. But he will contribute plenty at nearly all other facets of the game. He is very agile capable of defending multiple positions, uses his body well when blocking out for rebounds and is active in transition. MKG probably won't be talked about much in Rookie of the Year conversation because his play won't be flashy enough, but he should be noticed by attentive fans.
In terms of entertainment value as a player on a bad team who does not play within himself whatsoever, I think Byron Mullens is prepared to take the baton from Javale McGee. You very, very rarely see a 7'0 shoot 42.5% from the floor. What's his deal?
Byron Mullens wants to be a Dirk Nowitzki-esque player, but he's just not good enough a shooter or playmaker. He hasn't shown the ability to create his own shot whether off the dribble or with his back to the goal. This is very much in part because he's not a talented ballhandler and doesn't have the footwork to have a decent post game. All this was exacerbated last year because the team was so lacking scoring threats and Mullens has a shooter's conscience. That said, he seems to have improved his three-point shooting and is a solid finisher at the rim.
Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo both struggled last year, but it would be hard to find a rookie who wouldn't in that situation. Do you expect significant improvement from either one this season?
I prefer to be surprised so I like to go into seasons with no expectations. I think they can improve, Kemba Walker especially. Biyombo's so limited offensively, he has plenty of room to get better but those strides will be hard to come by. Defensively, he can improve in the post but he's already shown to be a good defender. Kemba, on the other hand, could significantly improve with better shooting. Defenders tend to go under screens against him pretty often, but if he becomes a better shooter, he'll open up a lot of option on offense. People tend to say Walker's a poor passer, but I think that's in poor judgment. Only 14 other guards last year that played more than 40 games and totaled over 1700 total minutes posted an AST% above 30 percent. He is surely not an elite passer but he has the skills to be a fine point guard. At least in this one dim bulb's opinion.
Do you think the plan to make Charlotte the next Oklahoma City will work, and if it does, would that be good for the league, in terms of setting a precedent?
The Oklahoma City plan is much more difficult than people make it out to be. So much of it relied on luck that people assume is all strategic genius. Regardless, they drafted brilliantly and built a great core that unfortunately had to trade away James Harden last week. The Bobcats are somewhat building in that same methodology, but they haven't had that same luck of being able to begin from the basement with that franchise star like Kevin Durant.
Now they have some questionable young building blocks that could pan out but still need to find their go-to scoring threat. There's a chance and I like the plan better than the old one of building on a low-ceiling group of veterans, so there's that. If it does succeed, I think it would be good for the league. The NBA yearns for parity and for the Bobcats to pull themselves up out of the muck and bring back the city to loving pro basketball like they had would be a wondrous thing in proving how a record-setting awful team can bounce back. Plus it would just be really neat to see Michael Jordan rub everyone's face in his success again.