The news was shattering for Charlotte on Monday afternoon: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, newly signed to an extension, will miss at least six months, and quite possibly the whole NBA regular season.
History is replete with examples of careers that have been derailed or severely diminished by injuries, so in that obvious sense, there’s never a good time for a promising — and improving — young player to absorb an injury of this magnitude. That said, if you’re going to suffer such an injury, late March or early April in a non-playoff season is the best time. The latter half of spring, the entirety of summer, and the early stages of autumn can serve as the recuperation period, allowing for the next season to remain in play.
For the Hornets, however, that scenario isn’t a part of the picture. The timing of this injury is exquisitely awful, the very thing the organization could not afford at a delicate point in its attempted evolution.
This past summer, Crossover Chronicles staff writer Joseph Nardone hailed the Hornets’ decision to keep Kidd-Gilchrist in the fold. Joe was hardly alone in applauding the move, but the particular point Joe made — one which stands out today and needs to be re-emphasized — is that MKG’s deficient jump shot never had to be seen as a barrier or obstacle, a reason to not value his long-term importance to the Hornets or, for that matter, any other franchise that might want him. Kidd-Gilchrist’s energy, rebounding and defense are all extremely valuable commodities in basketball; there will always be a place for this kind of player in the sport. More precisely, there will always be a place for this kind of player to be an effective member of a starting five on an NBA roster.
It’s not as though all five starters on any NBA team have to be the biggest of big dogs, two-way studs who do everything at both ends of the floor. Being particularly skilled at one end of the floor, or in one component of the sport (rebounding, for example), enables a player to mesh with teammates in terms of skill sets and delineated roles. If the shooting guard and the center are elite scorers, a player such as MKG can easily slide into the small-forward spot and do what he does best, not having to worry too much about putting the ball in the bucket.
There’s just one (very big) problem with this construct as it applies to the Hornets: They couldn’t score last season.
Charlotte averaged more points per game than only two teams in the Eastern Conference: the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks. That’s it.
Sure, the Hornets possessed a relatively stingy defense — only the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers sported lower points-per-game averages in the East — but Charlotte’s utter inability to score left the Hornets outside the playoffs. A 97.3-points-per-game defense was wasted on a team which scored only 94.2 per contest. The 2014-2015 Hornets were a defense-first team, and no player made more of an impact at the defensive end of the floor than MKG, as this stat shows:
Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets the last two seasons (via @AdiJoseph) With MKG: 61-53 (.535) W/o MKG: 15-35 (.300)
— Jacob Rosen (@WFNYJacob) October 5, 2015
By bringing in Nicolas Batum in the trade with the Portland Trail Blazers this past summer, the Hornets recognized the need for added scoring production. However, that very acquisition meant Kidd-Gilchrist would have to continue to be this team’s defensive cornerstone. With that large piece now missing, the Hornets’ defensive and rebounding capabilities will take major hits. A complete re-invention of the team seems highly unlikely, but Charlotte will have to move forward with more of an emphasis on getting the best shot possible… because MKG won’t be there to chase down the miss this season.
It’s a nasty turn of events for a franchise that couldn’t afford any crises if it wanted to make the playoffs this season.
“But it’s the East — all things are possible!”
Even that always-applicable statement in the present-day NBA might not be able to save the Hornets in 2016.
Hush-hush, sweet (and unfortunate) Charlotte.