(Written By Chris Parette)
When Coach Steve Clifford said that he had four of his five starters named before training camp started, it came as no surprise which four he named. Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, and new additions Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams. Some thought it was a little weird that Williams was immediately named a starter with two first round picks in Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh seeking playing time, but Clifford is a fan of what Williams can bring outside shooting wise. He also played with Big Al in Utah so there shouldn’t be an issue getting acclimated with him down low.
Now the question remains: Who will be the 5th starter?
Coach Clifford has already indicated that the battle will be between Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson. If MKG wins, Lance Stephenson will play shooting guard, his natural position. If Hendo wins, Stephenson will play small forward, a position he will be undersized at being only 6’5¨.
Now for those who haven’t been paying too close attention to the Hornets offseason and training camp may not know about MKG’s reconstructed jump shot. MKG and Mark Price have spent a lot of time together reworking his form, and the results are honestly staggering
He has looked much improved and more confident in the preseason, taking shots off the dribble and not hesitating to pull the trigger. Now he is no Ray Allen, and he may never be a great shooter, but with more and more time and practice, he can become a competent NBA level shooter. When you add that to his athletic ability and high motor on defense, he can legitimately live up to the expectations of being the number 2 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. If you pair him with Stephenson, you have a wing combo that can shut down any two guard and small forward in the NBA. If MKG can become a reliable shooter, it will help the floor spacing and make it much harder for opposing teams to double team Jefferson in the post.
Henderson is already an established offensive player who is also a solid defender. He does struggle at times on offense, however and has many games where he does little to no scoring. He often frustrates any Hornets fan with his fade away midrange jumper, which is his favorite and one of the least effective shots in the NBA. Hendo is still only an average at best 3-point shooter, and he shot 34% last season. He also only shot 43% from the field, which is not what you are looking for out of a guy who was signed a 3 year $18 million contract last offseason. He is however, an underrated athlete who will make a WOW play every once in awhile.
Gerald did undergo offseason surgery to clean out scar tissue in his right wrist, which he has said caused him a lot of discomfort while dribbling and shooting last season. To make matters worse, Henderson suffered a hamstring injury only a few games into training camp, so he has been unable to play in the first three preseason games. This gives MKG a huge advantage to get the 5th starting role.
Defensively, Henderson is solid. He isn’t going to jump off the TV screen with his ball hawking or his shutdown ability, but he is a good athlete who isn’t a liability when the other team has the ball. The biggest problem starting him is moving Lance to small forward. I see this as potentially diminishing Lance’s offensive abilities. Not only will he be guarder by bigger forwards, but he will have to spend more energy trying to stop the other teams bigger and stronger small forwards. With Stephenson’s playmaking abilities you want him as fresh as possible. If he is guarding divisional small forwards like Paul Pierce, Paul Millsap, and Luol Deng, he is more likely to wear down quick.
Who should be the starter: Michael Kidd Gilchrist
If you asked me this last year, I would’ve said Henderson. Not being even a threat from three point range really limits an offense that heavily relies on post scoring. Now this doesn’t mean that Henderson and Stephenson won’t play together. In fact, I can see many offensive situations where Coach Clifford would rather have Henderson in there instead of Kidd-Gilchrist if the team needs a bucket. In addition to that, with the Jeffrey Taylor domestic violence situation looming, the Hornets don’t have another true small forward on the roster. If Taylor is gone, you will see many different wing combinations of Stephenson, Henderson, MKG, PJ Hairston and Gary Neal.
All that being said, with a step forward on offense by Kidd-Gilchrist and the elite defensive talent he has, I think MKG should and will be the starter on October 29th for the Hornets.