Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego hasn’t named a starter to replace injured Marvin Williams, and the way Borrego describes the situation, who starts at power forward might not be of great consequence.
Borrego said following practice Tuesday that both Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Miles Bridges took turns with the starters preparing for Wednesday’s road game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Borrego also said Frank Kaminsky might play some power forward in Williams’ absence.
Bottom line: There is no obvious best candidate to replace Williams, who will miss at least a week while recovering from a right shoulder strain suffered in Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. So the minutes distribution at power forward could fluctuate game-to-game based partially on the matchup..
“I don’t think we have an easy answer here. I don’t think there’s a perfect solution to this problem,,” Borrego said.
“We’re just going to look different no matter who we go with, whether it’s MKG or Miles or Frank. We have to adjust; injuries force you to adjust on the fly.”
This is only the second injury to a starter this season. Center Cody Zeller missed Sunday with sore ribs, but was back in practice Tuesday and cleared to play Wednesday. Williams is more of a problem both because he will miss multiple games and because he has such varied roles.
He’s the most experienced Hornet and keeps them organized on the court defensively. He’s a 3-point threat, which is important to spacing particularly with Borrego’s added emphasis on 3s. Also, the 6-foot-9 Williams has played significant minutes already as a small-ball option at center.
The three alternatives to pick up those minutes:
Kidd-Gilchrist: He brings the most experience, having been a starter for most of his six prior NBA seasons. He’s physical and consistently delivers great energy. While he is attempting more 3-point shots this season (13 so far, more than the previous two seasons combined) he can’t space the floor the way Williams does. Also, Kidd-Gilchrist has thrived in a sixth-man role this season, so starting him might weaken the bench.
Bridges: Of the three options, he’s probably the best balance of offense and defense. The question is whether a rookie is prepared to handle starting yet and the accompanying heavy minutes. It’s promising that Bridges, who started the second half against the Pelicans, finished that game with 16 points and eight rebounds.
The hardest thing for Bridges right now is probably the constant switches Borrego expects on defense. “Switching, you’ve got to have a lot of communication,’ Bridges said, “If you don’t communicate on switches a lot of things can go wrong; layups and wide-open 3s.”
Kaminsky: For the season’s first 15 games Kaminsky was as far outside the rotation as any Hornet on guaranteed contract. Then Willy Hernangomez missed a game with a sprained ankle, Kaminsky filled in as the backup center, and he’s performed well enough to play every game since.
While Borrego has used Kaminsky at center, Kaminsky was primarily a power forward in his three previous NBA seasons, so this wouldn’t be a big change. At 7-0, he’d be an alternative to Kidd-Gilchrist and Bridges both being somewhat undersized for power forward at 6-7.
After missing the Pelicans game, Zeller wasn ‘t listed on the Hornets injury report going into the Timberwolves game.
Following practice Tuesday, Zeller said he actually injured his ribs about two weeks ago in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Sixers center Joel Embiid hit Zeller’s chest with his knee. Zeller has been playing with pain since then, and the Hornets have fitted him with various padding for the injury.
“It gets hit every game with block-outs and all the screens I set,” Zeller said. “But it’s significantly better every day.
“Every little thing, even breathing. (hurts) with a rib injury. There’s not much you can do about it rehab-wise. It’s painful just doing everyday activities.”
The Hornets are 14th among 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency ranking, allowing 1.056 points per opponent possession. They have given up 119 points each in back-to-back losses to the Utah Jazz and Pelicans. New Orleans star Anthony Davis had probably the best individual game against the Hornets so far this season with 36 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists.
“We’ve got to be better defensively and more consistent,” Borrego said Tuesday. “It starts with our physicality, our presence on th ball, how we defend the paint.
“We can’t lack in that area especially night-to-night. Some nights teams are going to make shots, and we understand that, but we’ve got to continue to be a physical group defensively.”