There are plenty of issues surrounding the Charlotte Hornets right now, and last night's loss to the Portland Trailblazers exposed them. The team didn't look healthy, the turnovers piled on, and the defense fell apart in the second half. The return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was supposed to mean a more energetic, and defensively stout team, but last night showed that MKG's return is just one part of the many needed for the Hornets to get back to the level of play they were at in December.
That said, MKG's first game of the season was an individual success. Finishing with 13 points on 5-8 shooting, to go with seven rebounds, MKG provided a few things missing from the Hornets lineup all season.
For one, Kidd-Gilchrist was very good at attacking the hoop, both in half and full court. He was able to attack with the ball, and absorb the contact while finishing at the rim. This has always been the best part of his offensive game, and he relied on it Friday night, with seven of his eight attempted shots coming within five feet. His two finishes to start the second half were classic examples of just how good of a finisher he is.
He did look hesitant shooting the ball, which wasn't that surprising, although his hesitation on a potential 3-point attempt was encouraging in that it suggested he's was at least thinking about that shot. His form also appears to have reverted slightly back to the old motion, but he still shoots the ball with much more fluidity than he used to. It's likely that he won't feel that comfortable shooting the ball in these early games, but that's probably all right. As opposing teams begin to compose a scouting report on him, MKG can focus on his strength of driving to the hoop. He won't be able to rely solely on it for long, but he should be able to get away with it for the next few games.
His ability to drive the lane in transition came from his good rebounding instincts. This part of MKG's game is also unique among the Hornets' roster, in that beyond Kemba Walker and maybe Nicolas Batum, MKG is the only player who can grab a defensive rebound, and then start and finish a break on his own. Where other players can get the break going before passing it off, MKG can do it all himself, and he did on multiple occasions against Portland. This adds another wrinkle to the Hornets' offense, which will hopefully have a bigger impact once the team can get healthy.
Beyond his offense, there was of course his defense, which looked great in the early parts of the game. MKG was matched up on C.J. McCollum to start, and defended him very well in the first quarter, playing tight when he was on the ball, and alternating his shot on a few occasions through strong closeouts. McCollum managed to pick up points as the night wore on, but he finished with an average performance of 17 points on 7-16 shooting. The points came tough to get, which is something MKG typically excels at doing.
By the end of the game though, he looked exhausted due to a lack of game fitness. It will take a few games for his fitness levels to return, but that certainly didn't take away from the effort he put forth Friday.
In any case, it was great to see MKG on the court again. The game was a mess, but it was fun watching him make plays on both ends of the court. It was a good first game back for him, even if the overall result wasn't.