Hornets’ Clifford throws full support behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford emphatically threw his support behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Friday, saying the often criticized small forward is a significant contributor and will continue to start.

The five-year NBA veteran has been widely criticized for his offensive deficiencies and his awkward looking jump shot, but Clifford insists the former No. 2 overall pick makes up for it with his defense and other intangibles. He expects Kidd-Gilchrist to develop into one of the top 10 defensive players in the league this year.

“I think he’s going to have a great year,” Clifford said.

Clifford knows Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shooting is not his strength in an NBA game where spacing -and good shooting – is vital. Kidd-Gilchrist shot 47 percent from the field last season and only 11 percent from 3-point range.

But Clifford said spacing “is not as important as being competitive, it’s not as important as character, and it’s not as important as just natural talent. He is a talented athlete, he has a feel for the game and he’s a tough guy who cares about the team.”

Clifford said Kidd-Gilchrist’s defensive intensity is something the Hornets desperately need.

“We have enough offense with him on the floor that we can be fine offensively,” Clifford said. “… It’s easy to look at guy who is not a range shooter and say he doesn’t belong in today’s NBA game. But if you can’t guard your guy in this league – and I’m talking about blow-by, being two small, not physical enough, not wanting to put any (effort) into it – you better be 28 or 29 (points per game) or it’s very difficult for your team to win.”

Clifford said Kidd-Gilchrist will start along with All-Star Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and recently acquired Dwight Howard, He said last year’s starting center Cody Zeller will see extensive minutes off the bench.

Clifford is convinced that lineup and additional depth this year will allow the Hornets to be a playoff team, but wouldn’t put a cap on the team’s full potential.

But the fifth-year head coach said he’ll feel better about his team’s chances once they get two key reserves back on the basketball floor. He has concerns over the team’s depth at point guard with Michael Carter-Williams recovering from a knee procedure and rookie first-round draft pick Malik Monk battling an ankle injury.

Carter-Williams, a free agent pickup who is expected to backup Walker at the point, had what Clifford called a “knee procedure” in August and hasn’t practiced since. Clifford isn’t sure if Carter-Williams will be completely healthy by the regular season opener.

Monk, the 11th pick in the NBA draft, is considered more of a shooter but Clifford is hoping he can play some point guard, too.

However, the team hasn’t been able to get a good look at Monk since he joined the team. Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer missed the entire NBA summer league following an ankle injury he sustained during pre-draft workouts. He recently tried to participate in two optional non-physically demanding workouts, but couldn’t finish them because of fatigue.

“His ankle injury was significant,” Clifford said. “He wasn’t able to have anywhere near the summer that I hoped for or what he hoped for.”