Just when things were going so well for the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is once again out with the same injury that made him miss half the season in the first place. This will mean more minutes for Jeremy Lin, naturally, among other players, but doesn’t make him a starting player again.
Kidd-Gilchrist tore his right shoulder labrum, where he had preseason surgery four months ago, which forced him to leave the blowout win against the Indiana Pacers in the third quarter. Whether this is a freak accident or the cause of throwing him for too many minutes and too soon doesn’t matter right now. The Hornets, who thought they were coming out of their big injury crisis with an All-Star break to get everyone rested, need to shuffle the rotation once more and handle playing without their best defensive player.
Before we get to Lin and how he fits into all of this, there’s one player who will also see a bounce in his minutes, not to mention a return to the starting lineup. While both Lin and Jeremy Lamb provide much better offensive options than P.J. Hairston and Lin is also a better defender, it’s going to be the second-year Small Forward who takes over the small forward starting spot again, with Steve Clifford usually against getting creative when it comes to player roles and positions.
Since Kidd-Gilchrist came back on January 29 in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Hairston has averaged just 12.1 minutes per game after going over 20.4 minutes per game until MKG returned. The thing about Hairston is that while he does catch decent shooting days from time to time, he’s unreliable offensively and his defense rarely impresses. As a bench player, he’s just someone that allows others to rest instead of a player capable of having a consistent positive impact on the team.
But that’s why he’ll get the lineup spot. Lin, on his good days (and the win against the Pacers was just that with 14 points and providing some quick scoring in the second quarter to create the big breakaway from the Pacers), changes the momentum of a game. Will we see a return to the formula from earlier this season? A starting lineup that struggles to space the floor and generate some offensive flow, and then wait for the second unit to bail them out? Kemba Walker is having a nice little scoring run recently, but it has nothing to do with the flow of the game for the Hornets. His impressive scoring numbers recently have nothing to do with better passing, spacing or ball movement.
The Hornets went 5-2 with Kidd-Gilchrist back from his injury, as he played 31 minutes a night before getting injured. Maybe it was too much, and he should have been on a tighter minute restriction. It doesn’t matter at the moment, because the Hornets once again need to figure out how to get this team into the playoffs when someone as unimpressive as Hairston gets a big role to play, something he struggled with earlier this season.