Once seen as a vital piece to the franchise’s transition into relevancy, forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has disappeared in the Queen City spotlight.
MKG became an innovator and crafty player last season for the Charlotte Hornets. Head coach James Borrego was in his rookie term, in which he experimented with lineups as a mad scientist would. This resulted in MKG playing both frontcourt positions at an all-time rate, a system that wasn’t so customary to him.
Being placed in this new role, he performed at a pretty successful level. In 64 games played, he averaged 6.7 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting a career-high 34 percent from three. His jump shot looked as fluent as ever, and even though he was a bench player for the first time ever, he didn’t shy away from making his presence known. Defensively, he was sometimes called upon and inserted onto the floor during the end of games to come up with key stops.
For MKG, things haven’t been so bright this year. He’s only appeared in two games. Injury isn’t the reason for this inactivity as there are no reported signs of any sores or stressed ligaments. This drop off in playing time has been noted as a coaching decision, often labeled as DNP-CD in box scores.
This coaching decision looks as though Borrego has shifted mindsets compared to last year. During that time, he was very loose with his rotations. He often rotated three or even four different Hornets players to play the center position, based on the skill set their opponent put out on the floor.
The same deal went for the forward spots. There were five players who were capable of playing either the three or the four at select times on the court. Unsurprisingly, all these players saw a significant role in the team’s penciled in the lineup. Each player in this group averaged at least 18 minutes per game.
This rotating door of players leaving and entering the court looked as though it would be part of Borrego’s long-term strategy in Charlotte.
But, that has seemingly gone by the wayside this season.
The number of Hornets players who average at least ten minutes of court time has dropped from fourteen to ten. Two of the biggest names snubbed from their conventional roles are Willy Hernangomez and MKG. Hernangomez went from averaging 14 minutes of court time in 58 games to playing 9.5 in just four appearances this year. As for MKG, his role went from 18.4 in 64 games to playing just 9 minutes over two contests.
Having a shorter leash on the rotation is quite an interesting move for a Hornets team that is looking to find the most quality production out of their existing players.
The Hornets’ 2019 second-round pick Cody Martin has quickly caught the eyes of the Hornets coaching staff. As a result, he’s been assigned to take over defensive duties late in games. This was a role that MKG took full control over last year and he did a respectable job in that area.
Borrego’s 11-man rotation, barring any injury, looks to be the team’s strategy moving forward.
While this does help some of the Hornets players in gaining sufficient playing time, it leaves a major uncertainty.
MKG’s future in Charlotte is a conundrum, leading to no sure answers.
At 26 years of age, he is beginning to hit his prime years of play.
Salary wise, MKG will be hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent after this season. Although not as appealing since his bird rights are gone, other NBA may look to snag the forward to propel them in a playoff push.
Leasing a half-year rental at or near the trading deadline has become a very common feature in today’s NBA. Harrison Barnes and Tobias Harris were the two biggest players dealt last season who were to-be free agents that following July.
For a trade package to work, a team would need MKG to fill a hole on the defensive perimeter. Perhaps it’s for a roster that’s missing a backup forward and needs that one piece to increase their intensity on the floor. Offensively speaking, the team inquiring should already have capable floor spreaders, leaving MKG to flourish as a cutter when need be.
As for who may call Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak, here are three teams that fit the initial bill.
The San Antonio Spurs have not been the defensive force that’s been a staple for over two decades now in 2019. They are giving up the fourth-highest three-point and overall efficiency to opponents on the defensive end. Slotting MKG at either forward spot should tremendously help reshape the team back to their old, gritty defensive identity.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been needing a stable defensive power forward for a long time now. Pairing MKG with Robert Convington, a defensive wizard, would add a whole new dimension to the Wolves on that end of the floor. Spacing wise, the team has enough outside shooters for MKG to do his work either facing up or running to the rim.
A third and final team who should be inquiring about MKG’s services is the Philadelphia 76ers. He could become a much-needed bench player in the playoffs who would provide coverage on players 2-5. With an already lengthy, defensive-minded team, he may very well be that key piece to help them over the hump in the eastern conference.
As for what the Hornets may receive in a potential MKG trade, it shouldn’t amount to much. Perhaps a second-round pick or a low-usage big are the most realistic outcomes. He is most likely departing this offseason so the Hornets might as well capitalize on whatever capital they can get.
The career of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been a roller coaster of events. 2019-2020 has placed him in a state that’s unfamiliar to him.
Luckily, if the right team construes a proper package, a change of scenery will be a great way to help rebound this rock-bottom stage in his career.