CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford emphatically threw his support behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Friday, saying the often criticized small forward is a significant contributor and will continue to start.

The five-year NBA veteran has been widely criticized for his offensive deficiencies and his awkward looking jump shot, but Clifford insists the former No. 2 overall pick makes up for it with his defense and other intangibles. He expects Kidd-Gilchrist to develop into one of the top 10 defensive players in the league this year.

“I think he’s going to have a great year,” Clifford said.

Clifford knows Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shooting is not his strength in an NBA game where spacing —and good shooting — is vital. Kidd-Gilchrist shot 47 percent from the field last season and only 11 percent from 3-point range.

But Clifford said spacing “is not as important as being competitive, it’s not as important as character, and it’s not as important as just natural talent. He is a talented athlete, he has a feel for the game and he’s a tough guy who cares about the team.”

Clifford said Kidd-Gilchrist’s defensive intensity is something the Hornets desperately need.

“We have enough offense with him on the floor that we can be fine offensively,” Clifford said. “… It’s easy to look at guy who is not a range shooter and say he doesn’t belong in today’s NBA game. But if you can’t guard your guy in this league — and I’m talking about blow-by, being two small, not physical enough, not wanting to put any (effort) into it — you better be 28 or 29 (points per game) or it’s very difficult for your team to win.”

Clifford said Kidd-Gilchrist will start along with All-Star Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and recently acquired Dwight Howard, He said last year’s starting center Cody Zeller will see extensive minutes off the bench.

Clifford is convinced that lineup and additional depth this year will allow the Hornets to be a playoff team, but wouldn’t put a cap…