The Hornets’ goal this season is a return to the playoffs.
They had ended their drought and made it in two seasons ago behind the strength of one of the NBA’s better defenses. Then last season chemistry issues, injuries, and a host of other problems saw the Hornets taking a step back. This season coach Steve Clifford was talking about getting the defense sharp again and the team returning to the postseason.
Those dreams took a punch to the gut Monday.
With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out due to a torn labrum (from a dislocation shoulder) the entire picture changes. Officially, Charlotte has said no decision on treatment has been made on how MKG’s injury will be treated. However, this injury requires surgery that will cost him the season.
And with that, the Hornets playoff dreams become deferred for another season.
This stat may sum it up best: Last season the Hornets were 28-29 when Kidd-Gilchrist played, 5-20 when he was out.
There are two main reasons for the drop off — and neither are MKG’s legendarily bad jumper, which was re-worked by Mark Price and is less painful than it used to be (he averaged 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season).
The first and larger issue is MKG is the heart of the Hornet defense. Last season when he was on the court, the Hornets played Warriors-level defense (Charlotte allowed 96.3 points per 100 possessions, which was better than Golden State). However, when MKG was off the court the Hornets defense was Detroit Pistons-like (Charlotte allowed 104.1 per 100). The Hornets were 7.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he was out. Because Charlotte plays Al Jefferson in the paint they have no rim protection, and if their best perimeter defender is out as well they are in trouble.
The second issue is they have nobody nearly as good to replace him. The options are Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lamb, P.J. Hairston or Troy Daniels. Out of that group I guess Williams starts, but he’s had more success as a small four than a three.
In an Eastern Conference, there are a few teams that believe they have a shot to jump up into the playoffs — Miami will; Detroit and Indiana think they can. In that setting, it’s hard to picture a Charlotte team struggling to defend making the leap over those teams plus Brooklyn or whoever is going to fall out.
It’s not fair to Charlotte or their fans for this to happen early in the preseason. But the reality is the Hornets will be golfing by mid-April again.