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2018-2019 Player Preview: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will contribute, but in a different way

The Charlotte Hornets wing will have a better opportunity to display his skills, but not in the perceived one.

NBA: Preseason-Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Out of the many questions surrounding the Charlotte Hornets roster, the small forward position has been one of the trendiest discussions. The team is essentially loaded at that spot as they have five legitimate candidates who can be very successful in that role. Between established veterans like Nic Batum to an up and coming young talent in Dwayne Bacon, there is a lot of optimism surrounding the position in the starting lineup.

While this excitement has been ongoing, it seems to be that the jury’s out on the team’s starting three last season. That, of course, is none other than 6’7” wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG, despite his defensive prowess, has rarely shown to be a valuable piece in the starting lineup. His jumper has turned from sickening to somewhat-respectable in terms of form. However, the magical touch of former Hornets assistant coach Mark Price hasn’t propelled his offensive game out to the perimeter. This lack of spacing has been detrimental for the Hornets over the past few seasons, especially during crunch time scenarios. In fact, there was a discussion a couple years ago on if Marco Belinelli or MKG would be more beneficial in crunch time for the Hornets.

But we shouldn’t give up on MKG as there’s an opportunity waiting for him to succeed.

That would be at the backup power forward position.

You may be thinking: how could one of the leagues better overall defenders be efficient in a role off the bench?

Well, the answer is quite simple in fact. I have been harping for the idea of a small-ball MKG for a while now. He has the body mass to go up against modern NBA backup fours. This is because of the growing trend of space-and-pacing in the league. The need for rapid movement throughout the court setting has lead away from having two bigs off the bench to run the frontcourt. Instead, we’re seeing more and more of a combination of a big paired up with a more explosive player who can help switch on defense while also being a threat in transition. This style of play has been a successful schematic to almost every team, and its time for the Hornets to jump on board.

In MKG’s case, defending backup power forwards will make him more impactful. By defending a bench player as opposed to a starter, he could become more effective not only on his individual assignment but for the second unit as a whole. He won’t have to worry about guarding the team’s best player like in year’s past. Instead, he would be expected to guard a player that’s less talented offensively than the ones in the starting lineup. He should become the team’s vocal leader on that end of the court for the reserves and I expect him to be running a lot of team-oriented defense instead of individual matchups, a strategy that should prove successful.

Offensively speaking, this move should be beneficial for both MKG and the entire Hornets roster. By playing at the power forward position, it can allow him for more cuts inside as the team will most likely have a capable shooter on the two wings. Plus, he has shown in the preseason that he could be more deadly cutting in the paint than ever before. He has seen an increase of free throw opportunities as a result, a mark that he isn’t awful at (70.7 percent). More frequent cuts to the basket should open up for looks from the mid-range, an area MKG showed great improvement in last season. These increased opportunities to score should help the bench maintain sustainable spacing throughout.

The removal of a non-shooter in MKG puts the Hornets in a position to be creative in the starting lineup. They will most likely fill that void with veteran Nic Batum, who has shown his passion for playing at the small forward position this offseason. This adds another void at the two-guard spot that could be filled by either Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, or Jeremy Lamb. In essence, the removal of MKG in the starting five would provide an incredible amount of spacing for the offense to flow.

We could see a revitalized season this year from MKG. Playing in this new role may be for the better as playing against the “weaker” opponent night after night could see his efficiency rise. He could be the leader on the second unit that the team is desperately wanting on the defensive end.

He could be the MKG we all expected him to be.