When he was selected No. 2 overall in 2012 behind then-teammate Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was viewed as the hardest working, highest motor, biggest upside pick in the draft, as long as a team could handle a bit of transition blues and adjustments as a prospect.
In other words, MKG could rebound, he could run the floor, he was arguably the best athlete in the draft, he never stopped giving 100 percent, and he’s a great character guy. But he needs to learn how to score in the NBA.
Projections have compared him as high as Scottie Pippen, other more realistic projections have him taking on an Andre Iguodala or a Gerald Wallace role.
If he became any of the three with the motor and athleticism he has, Charlotte is getting what might end up being the best long-term pick of the 2012 draft…even better than Anthony Davis, or Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard.
I’m not blowing smoke, and I’m not being a homer. MKG had what might have been the most underrated rookie season in the NBA last year, with the exception of Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas. A statline of 9.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, and a .458 FG% isn’t going to blow anyone away.
At least, anyone who only looks at the stats. If you watched him play? You’d have seen a different story. You’d have seen a guy who never quit, and even when he wasn’t scoring, he was busting his ass to make his team better on every play.
First, the elephant in the room is Mike Dunlap and his inability to give MKG consistent minutes. MKG rounded out the season with 26 MPG, which is okay (about 6 less than he should have gotten), but it was the dispersal of minutes that was so frustrating.
Dunlap either didn’t understand or refused to acknowledge that a rookie has ups and downs, but that if you’re drafted second overall and you show the potential MKG did, you give him the minutes. Instead, Dunlap would give MKG 30+ minutes one night, then less than 20 the next. That’s not okay, and on the off-chance head coach Steve Clifford is reading this (or even knows how to use a computer), I hope he doesn’t make the same mistake. It was a major reason for what could be considered stunted growth.
When Clifford talks to the press, all he has to say is positive things about MKG, even singling him out as one of the only good rebounders on the team as of right now (the other being Al Jefferson, of course), per the Charlotte Observer.
If you ask MKG what he thought about his rookie season, he places all of the blame on himself.
But, while MKG’s offensive skillset certainly held him back, and his jumper is pretty ugly, the 20-year old second year player shouldn’t be quite so hard on himself. He still played hard, and he never held back. His 100 percent motor was always present, and when given the opportunity to drive an open lane, he never disappointed. It’s also worth noting that he was the youngest player in the NBA, and even in his second season, will still be the 10th youngest player.
Enter Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller.
With Zeller to stretch the floor, and Jefferson to pound the low block and command double-teams, expect to see MKG improve mightily. He’ll have many more chances to drive and finish at the rim, which is where his bread and butter is offensively. He’ll grab more offensive rebounds. He’ll have more opportunities to become a better playmaker for himself and others.
In short, my bet is that we’re going to see MKG explode this season… as long as you’re watching the games, and not relying solely on stats.
He might not explode in the sense that he’ll become the go-to scorer on the team (which he will likely never be), but he will be the go-to guy to do the dirty work on offense and defense, which will bump him up in the eyes of most true NBA fans and pundits.
Jefferson’s presence is key, and the Bobcats’ success is contingent on the improvement on MKG, which is why the signing of Jefferson expands far beyond his statistical output.
With guys in the low post who can score and stretch the floor, a great backcourt consisting of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson (and Jeff Taylor), expect to see MKG become the do-it-all player that Iggy was in Philadelphia and Denver. He’ll give you double digit points, he’ll fight for every single rebound and loose ball, he’ll begin getting the assist total up, and he’ll constantly pressure his man on defense, where he will likely outplay most of his opponents due to defense alone.
We’re talking about a kid who just turned 20 whose harshest critic is himself. The work he put in this summer, the new additions to the team, and hopefully an improved jumper (or at least something of a consistent J) will all bump MKG into what everyone considered him to be as the second overall pick.
Those numbers won’t jump off at the page either, but they will legitimize MKG’s style of play, and it will solidify the comparisons being made to Iguodala and former Bobcat, Gerald Wallace.
All indications from other players and coaches is that MKG is not only a better player, but that he’s pushing himself harder than ever. If you’re a gambler, it would be unwise to bet against Gilly in his sophomore season.
Further, digging more into what this would mean for Charlotte as a team, think about having Gerald Wallace as a young man, except not as the star of the team. When Wallace wore pinstripes, he was the face of the team. Even with Stephen Jackson, Wallace was still the go-to guy.
This version of the Bobcats (soon to be Hornets) will command significantly less overt stardom from MKG, and that makes his imminent improvement even more exciting.
You have Kemba Walker emerging as one of the most exciting point guards in the league, Gerald Henderson, a versatile, and at times prolific scorer, Cody Zeller, the stretch four who, similarly to MKG, will use his athleticism to get junk points and rebounds, and of course, Al Jefferson, the man who will open up the paint.
An interesting tandem to watch will be Gilly and Jeffery Taylor, the other second-year Bobcat. Taylor is similar to MKG in that they’re both superior athletes, but Taylor splits from MKG from there. Taylor is proving to have a killer instinct when it comes to scoring. He’s not going to be the glue guy MKG will be, but their play-styles will be complementary and fun to watch.
Kidd-Gilchrist probably could have used one more year of college ball before entering the draft, but that likely would have resulted in another team grabbing him, so a year of development (even under a coach who was apparently not very good at anything but being a douche bag) is as good as a year of college in which he would have dominated, and possibly become complacent with his game.
There are a lot of players to be excited to watch this season with the Bobcats… a lot of new talent, and a lot of explosive talent. But I absolutely can’t wait to see Kidd-Gilchrist grow into his role as the player who holds this team together.