Unlikely as it sounds, the Oklahoma City Thunder might have offered the Charlotte Hornets a blueprint of how they could utilize Michael-Kidd Gilchrist. During the Western Conference Finals, OKC occasionally deployed Andre Roberson as the roll man in their pick-and-rolls as opposed to having him out on the perimeter. Having Roberson act as the screener and surrounding him with shooters proved to be a solution to the spacing issues usually caused by having him on the floor. Roberson’s dives to the rim and presence on the glass put constant pressure on Golden State’s interior defense.
Though the Thunder ultimately lost the series, Roberson’s time in this role left a lasting impression. The Hornets lack the offensive firepower supplied by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but they have enough to cobble together a lesser version of the OKC variant. Charlotte is also bereft of a big that can stretch the floor and protect the paint like Serge Ibaka, but the team’s defense has held up in spite of this for the last few seasons.
The only potential roadblock to seeing a lineup that features MKG in such a manner — other than coach Steve Clifford’s preference for having two true bigs on the court — is the absence of a genuine favorite for the lineup’s last spot. Presumably such a lineup would consist of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and MKG. That leaves one opening that needs to be filled. There are some candidates, but not one that stands above the rest.
Marco Belinelli is the safe option. He can stretch the floor and play competent team defense under the right circumstances. Belinelli can also handle the ball a bit and run the offense for short periods, but he isn’t a dependable playmaker day in and day out. His shooting percentages plummeted last year so that’s a concern, but that’s probably just a symptom of playing for an unstable franchise. Expect his shooting to bounce back to form this upcoming season.
Jeremy Lamb’s athleticism and length make him an intriguing option, but he’s never put together a consistent effort over a significant stretch of time to warrant consideration. He got a three-year extension before last season and started the year well, but this move now appears to be premature because Lamb was out of the rotation by season’s end. It’s entirely possible that this upcoming year is the season he puts it all together, but it’s more likely than not his minutes stay far from assured.
Ramon Sessions would be a logical choice if not for his defensive struggles. His slight build and general lack of awareness on the defensive end make him a target. Sessions’ ability as a ball handler would be a boon, but his aversion to shooting from deep reduces his potential effectiveness in the lineup. Defenders would play off of him and hamper the efforts of his teammates.
An odd but possible fit would be frequent punchline Frank Kaminksy. Although his rep as a shooter is overblown — at least so far — he can still hit from outside and would provide the lineup with some size. It would play into Clifford’s fondness for more traditional groupings, as Kaminksy can play alongside Williams without giving something back in terms of height. Kaminsky has to make strides in defending the paint since Clifford doesn’t quite trust him to play the 5, but Charlotte’s defense isn’t reliant on a rim protector so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Kaminsky could get the nod.
This may prove to be nothing more than speculation. Clifford leans towards the conventional so any lineup absent two bigs is not really an option unless it’s out of sheer necessity. If that view continues to hold, the Kaminsky version of the lineup is the only one that has a chance of getting minutes. Hopefully Clifford decides to experiment with the roster considering the situation.