James Borrego wasn’t hired as the Charlotte Hornets coach to maintain status quo. This team missing the playoffs back to back with 36-victory seasons caused Steve Clifford to lose the job Borrego now fills.
It’s roughly a month until the Hornets open training camp in Chapel Hill, and here are two potentially key changes for rotation players: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist playing more at power forward and Frank Kaminsky playing more at center.
Are these changes set in stone? No, but experimenting in these directions is definitely on the preseason agenda, according to sources familiar with the coaching staff’s thinking.
Kidd-Gilchrist, drafted second overall out of Kentucky in 2012, has played mostly small forward over his six previous NBA seasons. At 6-foot-7, he’s somewhat undersized for a power forward, but his rugged disposition — he’s called himself the Hornets’ “middle linebacker” — suits that position.
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Kaminsky, the ninth pick in 2015, played center in college at Wisconsin, but was mostly a power forward his first three NBA seasons. He has center size at 7-foot and has struggled with the mobility to guard power forwards.
The thing Kidd-Gilchrist and Kaminsky share is they are both one-way players in an NBA increasingly demanding on players to excel at both ends. Kidd-Gilchrist might be the Hornets’ best defender, but he has no 3-point range. Kaminsky is offensively skilled, but has been somewhat a liability defensively.
Depth at the wings
A lot goes into these potential changes, including the abundance — a virtual glut — of rotation-worthy Hornets small forwards and shooting guards this fall.
Consider the options: Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon and rookie Miles Bridges, in addition to Kidd-Gilchrist, who has started all but four of his previous 357 NBA games.
Borrego has said often since being hired in May that he hopes to pack the rotation with 3-point shooters. That leans toward finding minutes for Lamb and Monk, either of whom could start at shooting guard. That would mean using Batum more at small forward after he played primarily shooting guard for Clifford his prior three seasons as a Hornet.
Switching to small forward would neither surprise nor bother Batum. During NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, when Monk played well before injuring a thumb, the 6-foot-8 Batum said on Twitter he considers small forward his natural position (where he played his first seven NBA seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers) and he’d be fine returning to that spot.
Borrego said heading into summer league that developing Monk, the 11th pick in 2017, is a priority. Likewise, as the new coaching staff looks for ways to take some offensive burden off All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, raising or at least maintaining Lamb’s minutes has merit.
Also, Bridges showed enough potential at summer league that working the rookie small forward into the mix will be explored.
All that adds up to finding an alternative use for Kidd-Gilchrist, who can guard a wide spectrum of players. Sharing minutes with Marvin Williams at power forward looks like that alternative.
If Kidd-Gilchrist takes up minutes at power forward, either as a starter or a reserve, then Kaminsky might need another position; the center spot is as unsettled as any for the Hornets going into training camp.
General manager Mitch Kupchak traded last season’s starting center, Dwight Howard, to the Brooklyn Nets in part because Howard’s role was likely to diminish in the quick-ball-movement system Borrego is emphasizing. That leaves an open competition for minutes between Cody Zeller, Willy Hernangomez and Bismack Biyombo, acquired in trade in July. Add Kaminsky to that mix.
Kaminsky’s struggle at power forward has been all the court he has to cover to defend so-called “stretch-4s”: Players as likely to operate offensively at the 3-point line as in the lane. The hope in playing Kaminsky more at center is he could still play along the perimeter or in the lane offensively, but he’d likely spend less time straying from the lane on defense.
This would require some adjustment by Kaminsky: He’d have to be a more productive rebounder than his average last season of a board for every 6 1/2 minutes played. He’d also have to be more physical matched against the biggest and often burliest players in the league at center.
But that is what the preseason is for: experimentation. If ever there was a mandate for change, Borrego and his assistants have it.