Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
In their final game before All-Star Weekend, a battered and bruised Charlotte Hornets team played host to the Detroit Pistons. While they went toe-to-toe with their Eastern Conference foe for the opening two quarters, they fell flat offensively in the second half and wound up dropping their third game in a row in embarrassing fashion.
Following the loss, Steve Clifford gave a number of reasons for the Hornet’s dismal showing, one of which being the absence of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The 21-year-old missed his second game in a row with a hamstring injury and his Swiss Army Knife-like presence was sorely missed.
“Kidd-Gilchrist is really, even for this league, a terrific defender,” said Clifford. “I think he brings an energy level to the floor, but he also does tangible things — he’s a great rebounder, he’s a great defender and he’s a great team defender. Those are all things, particular with our group, that are badly needed.”
Many of Kidd-Gilchrist’s greatest qualities are hard to quantify — he’s not a strong presence offensively, and his 0.6 steals and 0.5 blocks per contest aren’t indicative of how he changes the game on the defensive end. It doesn’t help that he’s ranked in the top 50 in only one category this season, either.
There are two factors, however, that help shed light on just how valuable he is to the Hornets’ success.
Life with and without MKG
The Hornets struggling without Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t a new phenomenon.
The swingman has had a slew of injuries over the last two seasons, forcing him to sit out a total of 36 games. The difference between the team’s record during that span is staggering. They were just 8-and-12 in 2013-2014 and are even worse this season, currently standing at 3-and-13.
While the Hornets are only a .500 squad when he is healthy, it’s the difference between them creeping into the playoffs and being the third worst team in the Eastern Conference. In other words: They’re somewhere between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks when Kidd-Gilchrist plays and are in the same vein as the Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic when he doesn’t.
To make those numbers even more impressive, the Hornets have a winning record of 11-and-8 this season without their two leading scorers, Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson.
|Season||Record without MKG||Record with MKG||Overall record|
Although Kidd-Gilchrist has made great strides offensively since his rookie campaign (he has improved his jump shot every season and is averaging a career-high in points), his greatest impact is still felt on the defensive end, which is reflected in his on and off court numbers.
This season, the Hornets have only been slightly better offensively with Kidd-Gilchrist in the lineup, yet they are giving up 10.2 more points per 100 possessions when he sits on the bench. He’s also one of two players on the team (the other being Bismack Biyombo) to have a positive per game plus-minus, according to Sporting Charts — an impressive feat considering the Hornets are 10 games under the elusive .500 mark as of Feb. 25.
To add to that, no other team in the NBA has improved as much as the Hornets have on the defensive end since Jan. 1, per John Schuhmann. It’s no coincidence Kidd-Gilchrist missed the majority of his games in the opening months of the season and was working his way back into the lineup by the start of the new year, just in time to see their numbers take a turn for the better.
|Season||Defensive rating with MKG on bench||Defensive rating with MKG on court||Differential||Defensive RPMl|
|2014-2015||107.6 (would rank No. 28 in NBA)||97.4 (would rank No. 1 in NBA)||-10.2||3.28|
What to make of it
This isn’t supposed to be the be-all, end-all when it comes to Kidd Gilchrist’s importance in the Hornets’ success. With defensive-orientated stats leaving a lot to be desired, it’s hard to put a value to the face of players like him. (How do you quantify someone’s ability to set a tone on both ends of the court?)
Even so, the fact that the team has struggled immensely in his absence over the last two seasons, coupled with the clear impact he makes on the defensive end, goes a long way in proving the difference he makes. He’s a tenacious rebounder, a versatile defender capable of guarding 1-through-4s and a relentless worker on offense. As Clifford said, those are all qualities the Hornets so desperately need.
In the end, it’s no wonder At The Hive readers voted the small forward as the team’s most valuable asset heading into the season. These numbers, as simple as they may be, certainly reflect that.