Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak recently used the word “cluttered” to describe the team’s wing situation. I agree, and that’s why I wonder if Michael Kidd-Gilchrist becomes the odd man out.
Small forward Kidd-Gilchrist was drafted second overall in 2012. He has started all but four of the 357 NBA games he's played, all for this franchise. He is still young by NBA standards at 24.
However, with the trade of center Dwight Howard Friday, I think Kidd-Gilchrist became the Hornets starter from last season most at risk to be de-emphasized. Kidd-Gilchrist was such a favorite of coach Steve Clifford the past five seasons, and with Clifford gone I suspect change is coming.
Whether that’s big change or small change, I don’t know. But new coach James Borrego has a mandate to try new combinations and strategies, and circumstance sure conspires to put Kidd-Gilchrist at risk of a demotion.
The Hornets came out of the draft with Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, whose primary NBA position is small forward. Bridges and Kidd-Gilchrist are both 6-foot-7 and they also share this primary attribute: the ability to defend a wide spectrum of NBA players.
The difference between Kidd-Gilchrist and Bridges is Bridges has offensive skills, particularly as a jump shooter, that Kidd-Gilchrist lacks. Kidd-Gilchrist has taken 36 3-pointers in his six-season NBA career, making seven of those. I don’t see Bridges being a prolific long-range shooter, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he passes 36 3s attempted by the All-Star break of his rookie season, and I bet he makes more than seven of those.
Kidd-Gilchrist is a specialist, and it’s harder than ever in this era of the NBA to live with a player who impacts the game at only one end of the court. A few years ago, MKG told me he considers himself this team’s “middle linebacker,” and I thought that was an insightful description of his role.
Unfortunately, basketball is not a two-platoon sport like football. Kidd-Gilchrist is a liability at the offensive end.
He has averaged 9.2 points each of the past two seasons, shooting 49 percent from the field in that span, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Kidd-Gilchrist’s field-goal percentage plummets to 36 percent more than 16 feet from the basket. That’s a significant problem in the NBA because it hinders the Hornets’ spacing, allowing opposing teams to clog the lane defensively without fear Kidd-Gilchrist will beat them with jump shots.
The other day an executive from another NBA team asked me when the Hornets are going to give up on Kidd-Gilchrist as a starter. I hear that a lot.
Drafting Bridges doesn’t by itself change Kidd-Gilchrist’s status, but this was a question as the roster stood before the draft.
Borrego sounds committed to featuring Malik Monk far more than Monk played as a rookie under Clifford. At 6-3, Monk is a combo guard, but I suspect his future in the NBA is more as an undersized shooting guard than a true point guard. Drafting Devonte Graham and coming to terms with veteran Tony Parker creates plenty of options at the point behind Kemba Walker.
If Monk gets a bunch of minutes at shooting guard, then those minutes must come from somewhere. I suspect that means Nic Batum and Jeremy Lamb will play as much at small forward next season as shooting guard.
Batum has already endorsed that idea on Twitter: Friday, Batum praised Monk for his 23-point summer-league performance, and a fan suggested in reply that Monk will be appropriating Batum’s minutes. Batum responded that his natural position is small forward and implied the new coaching change might shift how he is used.
Beyond that, Dwayne Bacon, the second-round pick from 2017, has already demonstrated enough potential that he deserves some minutes. At 6-7 and 220 pounds, Bacon is also best suited to play small forward.
To use the word Kupchak did recently in a radio interview with ESPN 730, that’s “cluttered.”
So what do you do with Kidd-Gilchrist, who is guaranteed $13 million for next season and has a player option he’ll almost certainly exercise for another $13 million in 2019-20?
Clifford loved using Kidd-Gilchrist as a designated stopper against various elite scorers, whether that be a LeBron James at small forward or a Russell Westbrook at point guard. But that was Clifford’s choice, not a mandate from the organization. Borrego might feel differently, particularly with Bridges and Bacon available to be defenders and shooters.
I don’t know how effective Kidd-Gilchrist would be with the second unit. His best contribution is probably guarding the opposing team’s primary scorer at a game’s outset. Clifford, now coaching the Orlando Magic, often sat Kidd-Gilchrist in the fourth quarter, so Borrego doing that wouldn’t change much.
Would Kidd-Gilchrist be available in trade? Of course, but all the other general managers know he’s a one-way player in a time when everyone lusts for two-way players.
It’s a quandary and there might just not be a true solution. But the clutter is there, and that signals some sort of change.