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Henderson or Kidd-Gilchrist: Does it Matter?

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Steve Clifford is using training camp to decide if Gerald Henderson or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be the fifth starter for the Charlotte Hornets when the season starts. The two have different skill sets and to truly see a difference on the court you have to look pretty hard.

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Now that Steve Clifford has settled on Marvin Williams as his starting power forward and resident stretch-four, the only remaining spot up for grabs is on the wing. With Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, Williams and Al Jefferson starting, the only question is whether it will be Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Gerald Henderson joining them.

Both were starters last year and bring different skill sets to the floor.  Hendo can shoot some. MKG can't (or can he?). MKG can play D. Hendo can play D sometimes.  They're both athletic.

Even though his jump shot is supposedly vastly improved (we still need to see that J uncoiled at game speed but those grainy, X-Files moving images went viral faster than any non-TMZ video you'll see) Kidd-Gilchrist makes this team better with his defense.

MKG was often the guy they felt comfortable leaving out on an island or pulling more of the weight in the team defensive concept. More to the point, his ability to let other lesser defenders not worry about one-on-one situations as much, making their jobs easier and the team defense better is vital.

Henderson is not that type of defender. He's not a bad defender but he's probably not in the upper echelon of elite wing defenders, certainly not on a night-in-night-out basis and sure as hell not in the playoffs last year against a creaky Dwyane Wade.

We know that Clifford is building on a base of tough defense but he's also painfully aware that the Hornets need as much shooting and scoring punch as they can get. Henderson is clearly the better shooter (as far as we know...the truth is out there) but as we're aware Henderson has not been able to develop the consistent jumper or above average three point shot (just 35% from three last year.) you would really like to see from your starting two guard. Still Henderson shooting is more of a threat than Kidd-Gilchrist and surrounding Jefferson with more shooters isn't a bad idea.

But if this was just about pure shooting or scoring Henderson would get the nod.  Heck, Gary Neal would be in the conversation, but he's not.  So if it's not solely about scoring then it seems to come down to who makes the team better.

First off, Henderson and MKG are heavily used in the most used lineups for Charlotte last year. Not shocking.  The best scoring lineup (net per 100 possessions), which was used for only 65 minutes all season, didn't feature either one.

Per Basketball-Reference.com, the lineup with the best net effective field goal percentage per 100 possessions however did feature Kidd-Gilchrist, but used Chris Douglas-Roberts in place of Gerald Henderson to round out the five on the floor. Still, that lineup only played together for 60 minutes.

Of course the team is different this year. The addition of Stephenson creates this conversation and will have an effect on how this team plays. We can't really be sure what the overall effect will be until we see some on court combinations come together. (But if you want to check out what these lineups might look like, Bryan Mears did a great job of using some advanced stats to predict what the difference might be here.)

Just to see how close these two are, here are some advance stat comparisons from last year.

Gerald Henderson Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Win Share per 48 Mins Played 0.071 0.098
PER 13.1 12
eFG% 0.455 0.475
Offensive Rating 101 104
Defensive Rating 106 103
Usage% 22.1 16.7
Team Offensive Rating On Court 103.8 103.6
Team Offensive Rating Off Court 104.5 104.3
Opponent Offensive Rating On Court 105.1 102.4
Opponent Offensive Rating Off Court 102.8 105.3

Perhaps the more telling look at what kind of difference these two make is to take a look at how the team performed when they were on the court versus when they were off.

Last year Charlotte was roughly the same with both Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist on the floor as opposed to without (an offensive rating of 103.8 and 103.6 respectively) but Charlotte was about three points better on defense when MKG was on the floor and about three points worse with Henderson (Charlotte's opponents had a lower offensive rating with MKG on the floor.) His presence makes a lot of what Clifford wants to do possible.

Take a look at the comparison of the two in win shares per 48 minutes, or the estimated number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes played.  That's where the biggest gap is when it comes to win shares between Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist.  The league average is about .100.

Of course basketball is only part science. That win share per 48 minute thing?  That's about the biggest statistical gap you'll find.  And what does that even mean?  It means they're pretty close when it comes to quantifying just how important each is.  There's something to be said for chemistry and one player can make a difference in how an overall unit will perform.

Additionally, Henderson played about 8 minutes more per game last year than did Kidd-Gilchrist.  And the big reason why was the Kidd-Gilchrist still struggled with staying out of foul trouble, especially early.  Often times he'd pick up two early fouls, get subbed out, and then found it difficult to slide back in once the flow of the game picked up.  And as the season wore one his offensive confidence sunk so low that Clifford couldn't really afford to have him out there because the other team simply ignored him when Charlotte had the ball.  Playing four on five is no way to go through life.

The other off-the-wall thing to consider is, would the Hornets want to showcase Henderson to entice other teams to trade for him?  Could be. There is a logjam at the shooting guard spot with him, Gary Neal and rookie P.J. Hairston. The market for Henderson is not great and the Hornets might like to swap him for some more depth down low. (Of course with Jeff Taylor's status being up in the air, and Hairston being a rookie, having an available Henderson at their disposal becomes more valuable.)

It seems unlikely that just being a starter is going to make a team want to trade for a player who has plenty on tape already, but it couldn't hurt.  During training camp both will get their chances to run with the first team and make the impression that matters on the coaching staff.  The dirty little secret of basketball is that it doesn't really matter who starts, it matter more who plays starter's minutes and finishes.

So while a lot of the focus is on who will start, for the betterment of this team the Hornets need to have MKG improve in his ability to stay on the floor so he can continue to positively affect that win percentage.  So too they need Henderson to be better than he was in the playoffs last year and establish some consistency.  Improved shooting efficiency wouldn't hurt either.

At the end of the day you would probably give Kidd-Gilchrist the edge.  And having a locked in Henderson come off the bench could be a major bonus for this team.  Regardless we're talking about moving a starter to the bench and while that may not be great for the player, it's a good problem to have if you're the Charlotte Hornets.

All stats credited to the great and powerful Basketball-Reference.com.