Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looks ready for return

Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14), here guarding Washington Wizard Paul Pierce, impacts his team’s bottom line with great energy.
Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14), here guarding Washington Wizard Paul Pierce, impacts his team’s bottom line with great energy. AP

Over this season and last season the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets are 10 games above .500 when small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist plays.

They are 14 games below .500 when Kidd-Gilchrist sits out.

Coincidence? Hardly. Hornets coach Steve Clifford has an expression for what Kidd-Gilchrist does for his team’s bottom line. Clifford says Kidd-Gilchrist “does winning things.”

Those things don’t always pop off box scores. Kidd-Gilchrist is top 50 in the NBA in only one statistical category this season (40th in rebounding average at 7.2 per game).

But how he impacts games, particularly defensively on a defense-centric roster, is significant and growing.

“He’s one of the few guys in this league who can at least make it difficult on a primary scorer,” Clifford described Thursday. “I mean, nobody can guard a (Kevin) Durant or a (Russell) Westbrook by himself. Nobody! But he is smart enough with good enough technique and instincts that at least you have a chance to game plan to make them do certain things. Not many people can do that.”

“Then his team defense is equally good because he’s tall, smart and talented. With what he’s done offensively, we can play a smart, tough game with him on the floor. And he’s an elite rebounder. He plays well in all aspects of the game.”

Kidd-Gilchrist was a topic of conversation Thursday because he fully practiced Thursday for the first time since suffering a right hamstring strain Feb. 7 in Philadelphia. Kidd-Gilchrist sat out the last two games before the All-Star break and those games illustrated his importance. The Hornets lost to the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, giving up 103 and 106 points, well above their defensive average.

Assuming there is no setback at practice Friday, Kidd-Gilchrist plans to play Saturday at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Obviously his defense would be a big plus versus Durant, tied for second in the league in scoring at 25.9 points per game.

“I feel fine. I’m ready to get back to it. I feel like this is a new season for all of us now. I’m excited,” Kidd-Gilchrist said when asked about his hamstring.

At 19 Kidd-Gilchrist was the youngest player in the 2012 draft when the then-Bobcats chose him second overall. He didn’t have much skill offensively as a rookie, but the trait Kidd-Gilchrist most demonstrated his one season at Kentucky – exceptional energy – is still what the Hornets like best about him.

“I bring energy to this team each and every night,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “That’s what I’m here for especially at the defensive end. And the offense is coming. I’m not worried about myself, I’m worried about my team – winning games, that’s it.”

An improved jump shot has made him more of a factor offensively. Now opponents can’t just play him to drive.

Kidd-Gilchrist always had leadership abilities, but he was reluctant to speak up much his first two seasons. Now it’s clear he’s at the core of what the Hornets are about – defense, rebounding and low-turnover execution.

“I’m just being me. I’m a leader by example; I think people see I’m always working.” He said. “I feel like my game is expanding every year. I feel like I’m getting wiser.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell