The injury bug is biting Charlotte, and it’s made things difficult for them in the early going. Cody Zeller is still dealing with a nagging bone bruise, limiting his minutes in the early going. Roy Hibbert injured his knee in the team’s second game and is listed as day-to-day. And, according to head coach Steve Clifford, Jeremy Lamb will be out for a few weeks with a hamstring injury. Just a week into the season, Charlotte’s depth chart is beginning to fall apart.
It’s not the time to panic just yet, though. The players still healthy may have to spread themselves a little thin while their injured teammates recover, but there are some silver linings to an early-season injury crisis.
The Hibbert injury opens up minutes for frontcourt players to step up and impress. With Zeller’s minutes still limited, Frank Kaminsky and Spencer Hawes will be seeing a lot of time in front court combinations with each other and with Marvin Williams. Those groupings worked well against the Celtics, but foul trouble could force Clifford to look for answers with other players. The only other big man on the roster is Christian Wood, the 21-year-old UNLV product that played for the Philadelphia 76ers last year after going undrafted, which might lead to a more creative solution.
That solution could come in the form of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sliding up a position to play power forward. As most NBA teams play smaller and smaller lineups, a player like MKG could find some major success—his well-documented shooting struggles wouldn’t be as much of an issue, and he certainly has the ability to defend some bigger players. With other teams playing small ball, the players that MKG would be matched up against wouldn’t even be natural post players themselves. In the long-term, shifting Kidd-Gilchrist up a spot would allow another perimeter player to get on the floor, opening up the offense without sacrificing too much on the defensive end.
That small ball lineup might be difficult to play while Lamb recovers, though – the only healthy perimeter players that have gotten time off the bench this season are Marco Belinelli and Ramon Sessions. The Hornets have a pair of young wings looking to prove themselves in Aaron Harrison and Treveon Graham, and they could take advantage of the injury crisis and earn themselves some playing time. They’ll probably never be major contributors, and it’s too early for them anyway. However, getting some real NBA experience could be incredibly valuable for them.
Charlotte has the chance to turn what should be a stumbling block into an opportunity to grow. If Clifford can find a good balance between his normal lineups, groups with MKG at the four (alongside players like Kemba Walker, Belinelli, Nicolas Batum, and one of the team’s big men), and units that give the young players a chance to shine, this could end up being a learning experience for the Hornets.
Injuries are never good for a team, but minor injuries early in the season can be absorbed. In some ways, the Hornets’ early-season injury crisis could end up being advantageous, as helpful in the long run as it is harmful in the short run.