Whether he’s out until March or for the rest of the season (the more likely scenario), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s injury is a major blow to the Charlotte Hornets and their plans for next season. Quite a few players are going to get an increase in their playing time due to the change, but first and foremost it should be Jeremy Lin.
The lineup that started for the Hornets in their first preseason game, a 106-100 win over the Orlando Magic, is the one Steve Clifford planned on using during the regular season. Kemba Walker at point guard, Nicolas Batum at shooting guard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as the small forward. Now it’s going to be a shift from that plan, with Batum playing the small forward role, unless there’s some major surprise waiting for us to see.
This opens up the starting shooting guard role. It’s either going to be Lin, who has averaged 13.5 points in 26 minutes over the two games, or Jeremy Lamb, who had a very good first game (16 points off the bench) and looked awful in the starting lineup as the Hornets beat the Miami Heat 90-77 a night afterwards, shooting just 2-of-11 from the field, suggesting that the lack of consistency from him in what should be his main contribution to the team could cost him minutes.
So does Clifford go with Lin or Lamb? Lin is the player who has more effect on the team, being able to create for him and others in a way no player on this roster can. Lamb isn’t a better defender and possibly a better shooter, but not by much. However, we need to see more of Lin and Walker playing alongside each other to figure out of this combination can work. Lin overall is a much better player than Lamb, but often it’s about creating the right clique in the starting lineup, not simply putting your best five players out there.
Maybe Lin as a sixth man, at least in the first half before being put on the floor for crunch time, could work better for the offense. Brian Roberts is the only other point guard the Hornets have, and although he’s not a bad player, it’s something of a desperate move giving him serious time on the floor. He shot just 38.9% from the field last season for the Hornets while averaging 6.7 points per game. Often, he does more harm than good when playing.
The big issue for the Hornets with Kidd-Gilchrist’s injury isn’t the offense, but the defensive side of things. Putting him and Batum together on the floor isn’t about shooting (MKG can’t shoot and Batum had an awful season with the Blazers in 2014-2015, possibly because of a wrist injury he hasn’t shaken off) but about closing down the perimeter, hoping that Batum’s slip last season was a one time thing. Lin is better than the media usually love to portray him as on that end, but he’s not going to shut down players on a regular basis.
It’s never a nice thing to be happy about someone’s downfall, but that’s the way professional sports work. Players go down, someone else steps up and takes a chance. Lin got that shot and took it with the New York Knicks in 2012. He’s not an unknown anymore; more like a player who can’t wait to get the proper opportunity and role once again. We’re still not certain how the Hornets are going to change now that they’ve been forced to, but Lin is obviously going to be a bigger piece of the puzzle than initially intended, which is obviously good for him, and if he’s used correctly will be good for the Hornets as well.