The Charlotte Hornets have looked like a totally different ball club after the All-Star break. With a major lineup change that placed rookie Miles Bridges at the starting small forward spot, it has allowed guard Jeremy Lamb to become the team’s sixth man, to which he has done an excellent job.
More players are also breaking away from their recent trends and have now become more aggressive with the basketball. Both Nicalous Batum and Cody Zeller have never been thought of as a for-sure scorer, but the two have modified their overall games. Between driving more inside and settling for respectable open shots, there is a new attitude on the Hornets offense.
Of course, I have to mention the emphatic game that big man Frank Kaminsky had recently against the Brooklyn Nets. After rumors questioning his future with the team, the former Wisconsin Badger had the best game of his season so far. He finished the game with fifteen points and seven rebounds. He looked like a man on a mission that night, which carried over to another fifteen point outing, this time against the Portland Trail Blazers two days later.
With three Hornets players shifting their overall game for the better, there has been one player that has been shunned out of the spotlight: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
MKG was making the startings of a career-year at the begining of the 2018-2019 campaign. By having the Hornets new coach James Borrego be very open to making nonconventional lineups, it seemed like the perfect match for the two. After all, MKG has made his career as a switchable, versatile defender who can effectively guard positions one through four. His 6’7” height also makes it accessible for Borrego to use him in lineups with him at the center position, if the Hornets go small.
This experimental campaign was a success through the first twelve games of the season. MKG averaged 8.6 points, and six rebounds while shooting a modest 48 percent from the field in that stretch. It was during this time that MKG played almost exclusively at the four spot, with a few moments at center. Moving into the frontcourt was a new challenge that he was ready to embrace, and it proved early on.
He was able to be an efficient cutter, especially when the Hornets rolled out centers who could stretch the floor, like Marvin Williams and Willy Hernangomez. It allowed for bigger court spreading that lead to more attacks along the baseline, which MKG did at an impressive pace. Rebounding also became an apparent part of his game at the four, which allowed for easier transition opportunities at the rim.
It had the makings of a breakout season for the former number two overall pick. He was producing at a level he never amassed before, and one that could have centered him as the third best player on the team behind Kemba Walker and Lamb.
But, as quickly as MKG adapted into his new role, the chance he had at efficient minutes dwindled out.
A large part of this has been the rise of Charlotte’s wing players. As mentioned previously, Batum has been a totally different ballplayer in post-All Star break. Borrego has logged him for more minutes per night as he has new confidence for the Frenchman. He has quietly been the team’s second-best player during this time and has improved on both ends of the floor. With this level of new play, it makes sense that a portion of MKG’s suspected minutes would go to Batum right now.
Both Bridges and Lamb, as also stated earlier, have been on a tear post-break. They have clogged up the wing position minutes, as they should, which has limited the amount of time MKG can be inserted in the lineup.
The play from others has essentially shifted MKG into a permanent frontcourt role. This is where the main question comes into place. Current Hornets starting power forward Marvin Williams has not been able to maintain his early success this year. He is shooting just 28 percent from beyond-the-arc post-break, which has greatly impacted Charlotte’s court spacing. Although averaging a modest point total, Williams still hasn’t proven to be a true impact player that the Hornets need in this critical stretch. His defense has looked shaky at times, and he doesn’t assert his dominance with the ball in his hands as you would want from your stretch floor.
All of these factors still don’t add up to the question of why MKG in this key stretch. He is by far the best defensive player on the team and has shown his ability to hit more mid-range shots while also being able to slash inside.
Could it possibly be that Borrego has decided to play less amount of players per game in order to maximize their outputs? Sure.
Is there also an underlying factor that Borrego has seen enough of his experimental lineups and, as a result, has relied on more conventional units? Absolutely.
There’s one thing for certain. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went from being on a tear to riding the bench almost over night. He, along with Hornets guard Malik Monk have seen their floor time diminish towards the latter half of the season.
If things go south towards these important next ten games, it may be time for Borrego to call on MKG to help create a new defensive identity for them. One that could hopefully catapult them to the area that the Hornets so desperately want to be.