The NBA Draft isn’t fair.
That’s hardly a groundbreaking sentiment. The draft’s very essence comes into question every season once spring finally rolls around, and bad teams skirt the rules by playing their way out of wins and into additional lottery balls. But tanking and all of its hot-button corollaries only examine the entire process through a one-eyed lens: that of the league’s teams.
The draft and the endless list of worries gleaned from its happenings is reciprocal, though. The players that make it such a circus also deserve our empathetic consideration. For far too often, these guys are saddled with superficial expectations that needlessly complicate careers even as they’ve yet to begin. But that enveloping concern is easy to discount on the surface; players are just cogs, after all.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the latest young player whose reputation has suffered from recycled, pre-conceived notions constructed from draft hype that ignores context altogether. Fortunately, Kidd-Gilchrist’s basketball fabric – tireless worker, relentless competitor – is the kind that won’t unravel from such careless, snapshot evaluation. Combined with his burgeoning physical profile, it’s that very attitude why MKG’s future still shines so bright even after a rookie season most deemed disappointing.
Before we properly gauge the current and coming natures of Kidd-Gilchrist’s career, it’s important to address the facts that have called it into question to begin with: yes, he was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft; no, he can’t shoot.
That seems oxymoronic at first glance, and the consensus perception of his rookie year supports that initial takeaway. A number two pick that can’t shoot? Superstars go in the top five! How can Kidd-Gilchrist ever be a franchise building block if he won’t be a great scorer? Those sample reactions – exaggerated for the most part, by the way – aren’t only naive from the simplest perspective, but more importantly ignore what we’ve learned over the last several seasons about the state of today’s NBA.
The value of a classic superstar is higher than ever; despite the Dallas Mavericks’ run to the title in 2011, multiple players of that basic blueprint is still the surest way to legitimate championship contention. But major changes rooted in offensive and defensive philosophies, the league rulebook, and the nature of modern day players has placed an extra emphasis on ancillary pieces, too.
Heeding the progress and confirmation of those developments, then, it’s prudent of organizations to grab that rare transformative role player when one becomes available. That was Charlotte’s thinking in selecting Kidd-Gilchrist ahead of more traditional high lottery picks like Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond or even Harrison Barnes.
MVP-level players are exceedingly hard to come by, but so is the prototype third wheel that serves as the fulcrum for so much all-around influence on both ends of the floor. Anthony Davis was the lone prospect of the 2012 draft crop in the former category, and Kidd-Gilchrist similarly unrivaled in the latter one. The Bobcats selected MKG with future moves in mind, basically; making a wholesale judgement on his career before those dominoes fall would be remiss.
Outside a vacuum or otherwise, though, Kidd-Gilchrist’s biggest flaw as a prospect loomed even larger than anticipated last season. He shot a respectable 45.8% from the field, but that raw number doesn’t paint an accurate portrayal of his struggles to space the floor. Effective and true shooting percentages of 46.0 and 50.6 is a better representation, but neither is the most damning and truly indicative statistic. What is? Kidd-Gilchrist shot just 58-of-203 (28.5%) on two-point jumpers outside of 10-feet.
Considering he took just nine three-pointers all season long, MKG’s awful performance from mid-range makes it hard to believe he was a viable player at all. Wings that rank among the league’s least effective shooters are hard to come by for a reason – offensive floor-space (or lack thereof) might be the modern game’s most influential factor.
So that the Bobcats fared better with Kidd-Gilchrist on the court as opposed to the bench – defensively and offensively – last year despite that debilitating weakness is a testament to his game’s vast periphery. MKG is a terror in transition, solid half-court finisher, near-elite two-way rebounder and already an incredibly versatile defender. At 6’7’’, 232 pounds with a seven-foot wingspan, he capably guarded three positions in 2012-2013 as a 19 year-old. Once Kidd-Gilchrist grows into his body, he’ll be one of the league’s most valuable defensive assets. As it stands now, there’s perhaps just one player in the NBA that can match his eventual amalgam of size, quickness, anticipation and leaping ability. His name? LeBron James. That’s the type of bellwether defensive force MKG could become.
That unique ability to check most any player archetype is of utmost importance to his development going forward, but not just for what it means defensively. Charlotte played small with Kidd-Gilchrist at nominal power forward for approximately 140 minutes last season. While that sample size is too small to glean concrete conclusions, the Bobcats enjoyed enough success utilizing those lineups to suggest it’s likely they’re due more court time in the future.
Having the capacity to play different styles is crucial in general, of course, but what’s most encouraging here is that Kidd-Gilchrist’s shooting deficiencies can be better masked when he’s flanked by three perimeter players. The same can be said for his developing off-dribble game, too. While Kidd-Gilchrist will likely never open games at power forward, that his presence allows such a degree of lineup flexibility is a boon for both his team and individual game. When the Bobcats drafted him, they surely had these ideas in mind.
There’s no telling when we’ll see Kidd-Gilchrist assume the role he was meant to play. Charlotte is a far, far cry from contending, and the offseason addition of Al Jefferson doesn’t stand to help a player with his skill-set as it does most others. But he’ll be better this season one way or another – as a shooter after working with Mark Price, defender after more time in the weight room, or leader as he continues to gain experience.
While such measured improvement might not be enough for those ascribing him expectations befitting his draft resume, it no doubt will be for the Bobcats. They know the type of all-encompassing presence Kidd-Gilchrist could become; it’s about time we realize it again, too.