Marvin Williams is 14-plus seasons into his NBA career, and this season hasn’t been strong regarding his shooting.
However, he is arguably the most important player to the Charlotte Hornets’ defense, particularly as an organizer, and he will miss at least a week following a further diagnosis Monday of his right shoulder strain. The Hornets announced Williams will be re-evaluated in a week, which means he will miss at least the team’s next three teams.
Williams left Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in the first half, gripping his shoulder and wincing in pain. Coach James Borrego conveyed Williams’ importance in his postgame remarks.
“Marv is such a main piece of our team,” Borrego said. “He’s at the core of who we are.”
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Williams has started all 23 games this season at power forward. His 3-point range is important to the spacing Borrego wants offensively (his attempts are up this season, but his percentage is down, from 41 percent last season to 34 percent). William is the traffic cop defensively, organizing in the same way he did in his previous four seasons in Charlotte.
One difference under Borrego: At 6-foot-9, Williams is used a lot as a “small-ball” center, in addition to his minutes at power forward.
The Hornets have been relatively lucky health-wise so far. The only previous significant injury to a rotation player has been Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missing six games with an ankle sprain. Borrego started the same five players in each of the first 22 games.
Sunday changed that: Starting center Cody Zeller missed the New Orleans game with a rib contusion suffered Friday against the Utah Jazz. Kemba Walker suffered a right ankle sprain, but was able to return. Williams’ shoulder injury now looks like the most serious, and will prompt some difficult adjustments.
Borrego’s two logical options to replace Williams as starting power forward would be Kidd-Gilchrist or rookie Miles Bridges.
Kidd-Gilchrist was a starter throughout his first six NBA seasons before Borrego’s arrival. Borrego asked the 6-foot-7 Kidd-Gilchrist to come off the bench this season and to play primarily power forward, rather than small forward. So far he has thrived in a sixth-man role, in part because playing shorter minutes off the bench allows Kidd-Gilchrist to guard without concern for rationing his energy and fouls.
Bridges, also 6-7, has played both the power and small forward positions. He started the second half Sunday after Williams was injured. Bridges played 29 minutes Sunday — one short of his season high — and had one of his more productive games with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Hypothetically, Borrego could use Frank Kaminsky at power forward, the position Kaminsky primarily played before Borrego became Hornets coach. But I’d be surprised if Borrego would move Kaminsky over from center much. I could see Borrego using Nic Batum occasionally as a power forward before I would expect Kaminsky there.
I think it makes sense to leave Kidd-Gilchrist in his current role. It seems to suit his energy, as far as someone who can shake things up off the bench.
Starting Bridges, a former star at Michigan State, can have long-term benefit in terms of experience. However, it will have a short-term downside for the Hornets, particularly on defense.
What Borrego is asking of his players defensively, particularly with the constant switching that is new to this team, is complex and not easily absorbed. Bridges has been frequently corrected by his teammates during games, and most of those corrections relate to defensive decisions. He’s a quick learner and mature for a rookie, but all the information he has to absorb and process is tough.
The Hornets are 15th among 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency, allowing 108.2 points per 100 opponent possessions. Williams’ injury means they are losing their most experienced defender and one of their best communicators. That can’t help but ding team defense.
Williams averages 26 minutes per game this season. Bridges averages 20. Even if Bridges absorbs most of Williams’ playing time in his absence, there will be other effects on the rotation.
I can see Dwayne Bacon absorbing minutes at small forward with Bridges playing primarily power forward. Kidd-Gilchrist will almost certainly play more in Williams’ absence than the 20 minutes he has averaged this season.
And the coaches will be busy this week. Whether it be practice, film study or in-game teaching, Bridges is going to need plenty of help.