The Charlotte Hornets didn’t disassemble their roster this summer and instead focused on re-tooling and re-examining their approach. However, no matter how positive a spin you put on it doesn’t change the fact that this roster has been mediocre the past two seasons.
Is there a playoff squad in this group? Probably. Maybe. I really hope so. But a combination of things (a few of them performance based) have prevented the Hornets from jumping into the Top 8 of the Eastern Conference.
So with new head coach James Borrego, you’d expect changes. We know they want to play faster and with more space and shooters on the floor, and doing so may mean changing the positions of a couple of players.
In a report for the Charlotte Observer, Rick Bonnell indicates that the Hornets may try two players at two different positions: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at power forward and Frank Kaminsky at center.
It’s roughly a month until the Hornets open training camp in Chapel Hill, and here are two potentially key changes for rotation players: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist playing more at power forward and Frank Kaminsky playing more at center.
Are these changes set in stone? No, but experimenting in these directions is definitely on the preseason agenda, according to sources familiar with the coaching staff’s thinking.
Depending on how you view it, one move is in response to the other. Moving MKG to power forward has been hinted at before, but the sense was he was a bit too small for the position. That’s easy to understand, especially for those who remember the ill-fated Gerald Wallace experiment at power forward, a move the player detested and that left him with a concussion.
But the NBA is “smaller” today, with a lot today’s power forwards the type of players you previously expected to play small forward. Charlotte’s own Marvin Williams is a great example of this.
Moving MKG to power forward raises the question of space and perimeter shooting, though. He wouldn’t play the role Williams does, since he can’t shoot from the outside. So how would this work?
The big man has played center sporadically before, and there have been stretches where he looked pretty good. Most notably was a stretch during the month of February in his second season, when Kaminsky averaged 18.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in 11 games, 9 of which were as a starter. His shooting percentages were solid as well, sitting at 43.2 percent from the field and 38.6 from 3. These are above average numbers, and yet Kaminsky went back to playing primarily power forward when the team got healthy.
That may not have been the right move, but with the likes of Dwight Howard and Cody Zeller also on the roster, and the lack of a stretch four outside of Williams, it’s understandable why Kaminsky went back to the four for most of last season.
Playing Kaminsky at the five and MKG at the four should improve the team defensively, since Kaminsky’s biggest issue playing the four was defending quicker players. It also means the team maintains a stretch big on the floor.
Trying players at new positions is worth experimenting with, and while moving MKG to power forward should free up minutes for Nicolas Batum, Miles Bridges, and Dwayne Bacon to get minutes at small forward, Kaminsky’s move to center creates a new log jam at that position.
It’s fairly clear at this point that one or two players who might expect to get playing time this season are getting left out. If Kaminsky is going to play more five, one or two of Zeller, Willy Hernangomez, and Bismack Biyombo aren’t touching the floor (at least not every night).
Or, it could end up being Kaminsky. We can spin the position changes as a positive thing, and in Frank’s case it could be what he’s needed all along. But these changes could also indicate that neither Kaminsky nor MKG are viewed as dependable at their current positions. It’s not as if Charlotte doesn’t have solid options at the four and five spots (though I recognize their is a lack of depth at the four). So while these moves signal trying something different in an effort to maximize the skill set of both players, it may also mean that this is the last chance for both to prove they should remain in the rotation.
Borrego has no loyalties to anyone on this team. Kemba Walker is obviously going to play, but beyond that, Borrego could theoretically go with whomever he feels gives the Hornets the best chance of winning. In an effort to figure that out, trying players previously part of the rotation at new positions makes sense, but if neither show they can produce at these new positions, they could end up left out of the rotation.
As Bonnell points out, this experimentation isn’t necessarily going to happen. Training camp could start and it could be business as usual for both players. But this information at least suggests that a lot of spots could be open as preseason begins, and we could end up seeing more competition for minutes than we’ve seen in years.