Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Injury Opens Up Last-Ditch Chance for Two Failed NBA Pros

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterOctober 9, 2015

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 23: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 of the Charlotte Hornets handles the ball against the Chicago Bulls on March 23, 2015 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Gary Dineen/Getty Images

The Michael Kidd-Gilchrist injury was a major blow to the Charlotte Hornets. It was a major blow to Kidd-Gilchrist, who would be entering a critical year with regard to his development and role.

The only positive takeaway from October's setback revolves around the opportunity it creates. And in this case, Kidd-Gilchrist's shoulder surgery opened a window for a couple of underachievers.

Quite frankly, Jeremy Lamb and P.J. Hairston have each been presented with much-needed shots at redemption.

That third-year breakout just didn't happen for Lamb in 2014-15. Given the Oklahoma City Thunder's win-now mentality and the veterans who made up the roster, Lamb's silence through two seasons wasn't overly troubling. But alarms began to sound when he failed to capitalize on available minutes after Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each missed extended periods of time.  

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

A 2012 lottery pick, Lamb was essentially sent to the Hornets for peanuts (Luke Ridnour and a second-rounder), a reflection of his plummeting value just nine months before unrestricted free agency.

This could ultimately be a make-or-break season for the Connecticut product known for his smooth perimeter-scoring arsenal. Unfortunately, its power has continually flickered. And though there is a niche for streaky offensive players like Lamb, the ups so far haven't been great enough to neutralize the far-too-frequent downs. 

“It’s definitely important to prove to myself that I can play in this league," Lamb told the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell. "I’m not really worried about the contracts and stuff like that. If I play my game that stuff will take care of itself. I just want the chance to compete for my position.”

He'll certainly have the chance with Kidd-Gilchrist lost for the season. Whether he'll emerge as an asset will come down to reliability. Can he someone the Hornets can consistently count on for offense?

Lamb's identity is built around his jumper. He has range and the shot-making versatility to knock down looks off pull-ups, spot-ups and step-backs. But considering how rare it is for Lamb to pick up an easy point (career 1.2 free-throw attempts per game) or bucket (35 made field goals at the rim in 47 games last year), his margin for error from outside is tiny.

For a guard who isn't a playmaker or plus defender, and who takes 69.2 percent of his shots outside the paint, a 34.2 percent three-point mark and 35.5 percent mid-range clip aren't strong enough numbers.

From a glass-half-full perspective, Lamb clearly has the stroke to improve. There is still untapped shooting potential for the Hornets to tap in 2015-16. But if it's going to happen, this has to be the season for Lamb, especially after botching last year's chance to make a name for himself. 

Meanwhile, P.J. Hairston's story is somewhat different, though his sense of urgency should be relatively similar. 

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 30: PJ Hairston #19 of the Charlotte Hornets looks on during the game against the Boston Celtics on March 30, 2015 at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

He's only played one year in the league, but it was a pretty ugly one. Hairston will be 23 years old in December, and he's coming off a third straight summer of legal trouble. He hasn't exactly done much to build up his image and NBA value. 

Hairston struggled in just about every facet of the game in his rookie year, from finishing at the rim (16-of-50) to scoring (35.8 percent on two-pointers) and shooting (30.1 percent from three). 

Still, the fact that he shot a painful 32.3 percent isn't as problematic as his shot selection and decision making, which can jeopardize the team's offensive flow. 

“His approach has to be where he is constantly learning what the NBA game is about. He’s hasn’t done that well," coach Steve Clifford told the Charlotte Observer's Bonnell

Hairston must figure out ways to score and make plays within Charlotte's offense. Of course, he'll have to shoot better than 30.1 percent from three, but with more minutes and consequent rhythm, Charlotte is bound to see improved accuracy. 

Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

The Hornets are going to desperately miss Kidd-Gilchrist's defensive versatility and motor. According to ESPN analytics guru Kevin Pelton, "taking Kidd-Gilchrist entirely out of Charlotte's projection causes the team's defensive rating to drop from ninth in the league to 20th and the Hornets' win projection to drop to 34 games, 11th-best in the East."

The focus now shifts to Kidd-Gilchrist's replacements and their ability to take the next step with bigger workloads. 

And there is room for optimism. Lamb should be settling into a more defined role in Charlotte, while the departure of Lance Stephenson and the additions of Nicolas Batum and Frank Kaminsky—two quality shooters and passers—will help create a better setting for Hairston to develop. 

Disappointing seasons could ultimately be catastrophic for the careers of both Lamb and Hairston. But they won't receive better opportunities than this one to establish themselves as desirable NBA players. 

Advanced stats courtesy of NBA.com

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