As we all know by now, MKG could be out for the season and the season hasn’t even started yet! I think he worked really hard over the summer to take his game to the next level. So that really sucks that he didn’t get a chance to really showcase the work he put in in the off-season. Needless to say, the injury is also a major blow defensively for the Hornets. So Hornets will really have to excel offensively in order to have a good chance at making the playoffs. I felt certain the Hornets would make the playoffs and be somewhere in the sixth seed or better, before the MKG injury. Now, I’ll have to see how they adjust. Defense, obviously, is a concern, but with MKG out of the lineup, I’m also concerned about the Hornets’s depth, because I think Coach Clifford may be considering sliding Lin into the starting shooting guard position (more on this later) so not having Lin in the second unit could hurt depth.
Thus, I’ll have to see how Coach Clifford adjusts. I will need to see a few regular season games to gauge whether or not the Hornets still have a shot at making the playoffs. My knee jerk reaction is to say that they’ll still make the playoffs, since I think they will have a solid offense that’s good enough to make the playoffs in the weak East. Also, their unselfish play will be key. So far, they’ve played pretty unselfishly and I think losing one of their key players will only help them bond together and continue to play unselfishly. Who knows, they may even be better than they would have been with MKG in the lineup, since MKG is not really an offensive threat and their spacing on the offensive end could improve without MKG.
Basically, with MKG out, it’s a total wild card for me. This team could be worse, about the same or, dare I say, better. I know the conventional thinking (which is probably right in this situation) is to assume that they’ll be worse, but this Hornets team is a totally different team than the one last season. The injury to MKG means that another key Hornets player, Batum, gets to play in his natural position and it could mean more minutes for another key player, Jeremy Lin. So, I know it’s blasphemy, but this is why we shouldn’t rule out the crazy notion that the Hornets may actually be better without MKG. This Hornets team is going to win with their offense more so than with their defense, which is the complete opposite of the team last season, so missing MKG this season is different than missing MKG last season. This is why it’s hard to say for sure what affect MKG’s absence will have.
Coach Clifford had some interesting things to say in his interview after practice today with regard to adjustments they’ll have to make in MKG’s absense. In particular, he doesn’t plan on starting Jeremy Lamb. He likes Lamb off the bench, because he says that if Lamb starts, then that causes a lot of guys to have to play out of their natural positions. Also, he said that Batum will play more at the Small Forward position, which is really where Batum belongs. So I like really like hearing that. Not sure how you all feel, but I never really liked Batum at Shooting Guard. So because of these two statements by Coach Clifford, I think there’s a good chance that Lin will start at Shooting Guard. Of course, as a Lin fan, I am all for Lin starting, but my main concern is who will be the primary play maker for the second unit? Of course, Lin will be playing some PG with the second unit, but Lin can’t play all 48 minutes, so that’s why I have questions about the Hornets’s depth as a result of the MKG injury. That being said, in the preseason game vs. Miami Heat, Lin played off the ball pretty much the entire game, so maybe things will work out fine with Lin in the starting lineup, since he ended up playing shooting guard with the second unit anyway (which didn’t make any sense to me, by the way, but I’m hoping it’s because Clifford was just testing things out). Anyway, I’m sure these are some of the questions that Coach Clifford is wrestling with. This is why he hasn’t made up his mind, yet, on the starting lineup.
I think at the moment, Coach Clifford really is open to a lot of different lineups. The injury to MKG opens up a lot of different options. So, like he said in the practice interview, he’ll be testing out different lineups in practice and in pre-season games to see who plays with who best. I really like hearing that, because this means that he’s actually trying to find the best fit, rather than forcing his own agenda or own structure without really looking at how things actually work in practice. I’ll put money that Lin will start in at least one, if not, both games in China. I think Coach Clifford is excited to see the Lin/Walker combo so what better place to test that lineup out than in China? And if the combo looks good in China, there’s a very good chance Lin will be the starting shooting guard. And if Lin starts at shooting guard, then expect Lin to likely get the most minutes of any Hornets players this year, because I think Clifford will also try to get as much PG minutes with Lin and the second unit as he can get away with, without wearing Lin down. As a result, Lin will start and also play a good amount with the second unit.
Coach Clifford also kept reiterating in the practice interview that other players will have opportunities to emerge. Of course, a lot of coaches say things like this whenever a key player goes down. But I can tell from the way Coach Clifford kept reiterating it that he wasn’t just paying lip service. And I think the player that he has in mind to emerge is Jeremy Lin. This is another reason why I think Coach Clifford is really seriously considering starting Jeremy Lin at shooting guard. Later in the interview, Clifford said this: “I really believe that we have guys who, with more opportunity, are going to show people that they’re a lot better than they’ve played so far.” I think the player that Clifford is thinking of when he made this statement is Jeremy Lin. The reason is that I think Clifford really believes in Lin due to his connection with D’Antoni and his assistant coach Stephen Silas (who coached Lin when Lin was with the Warriors).
Regardless of whether or not Lin starts, Lin will definitely close out games now that MKG is likely out for the season. Of that, I have no doubt! So for Lin fans, this is the silver lining, although, it sucks that a player had to go down for this to happen.