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The Night Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Showed Us What Could Be

Heading into last summer’s draft, there was little doubt that the now-Pelicans were going to give Anthony Davis a one-way ticket to New Orleans. After him, all the signs were pointing towards history being made, with his Kentucky Wildcat teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist going to the Charlotte Bobcats with the second overall pick. Initially, it looked like the Bobcats made the right pick…for once…but after one season, the verdict is out: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is not as good as we all expected. Or, at least that’s what a lot of people are saying. Even in preseason, fans seemed in favor of starting Jeffery Taylor – the 31st overall pick in the same draft – ahead of MKG.

But on Tuesday night, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist showed exactly why that shouldn’t happen.

This wasn’t a breakout game in the scoring column, nor did he go nuts and flirt with a 5×5, but Kidd-Gilchrist’s defense down the stretch on Carmelo Anthony was a joy to watch and proved just how valuable he is to this young Bobcats squad. Now, Carmelo hasn’t got off to a great start this season – in five games he’s averaging 23.8 points on a woeful 37.1 percent shooting from the floor – but he’s still one of the NBA’s elite scorers come crunch time, so it’s no surprise the Knicks went to him time and again in the fourth quarter against the Bobcats. Let’s see what happened.

After a blazing start, the Bobcats lost Kemba Walker in the third quarter and the Knicks took advantage, outscoring them in both the third and fourth quarter to cut their lead to four with over six minutes to play. Despite good man-on-man defense here by Kidd-Gilchrist, who was able stand his ground and force Melo into some help underneath the basket, the Bobcats were unable to prevent him from grabbing his own miss and putting it back in at lightning speed.

All it took for the Bobcats to go into stop-Melo-at-all-costs-mode was that one basket. As you’ll see on the proceeding play, Josh McRoberts leaves Metta World Peace wide open to help out on Kidd-Gilchrist, which worked like a charm. Then, for the most part, Kidd-Gilchrist was left on an island, having to defend Carmelo without much help and he did a fantastic job, using his wiry 6-foot-8 frame to push him away from the basket, sticking to him like glue on screens and getting a hand in his face whenever he settled for his patented pull-up jumper.

When it was all said and done, the Bobcats walked out of Madison Square Garden with an unlikely victory and Carmelo had another rough shooting night thanks in large part to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s defense. Melo did score nine points in that final quarter, but he shot 3-for-8 and only went to the foul line once. Sure, Raymond Felton not being able to knock down an open three didn’t help Melo’s cause, but it’s worth bearing in mind he’s still a six time all-star and one time scoring champion going up against a 20-year old sophomore who has already been labeled a bust.

Offensively, Kidd-Gilchrist had his best scoring game of the young season, putting up 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 26 minutes. But more importantly, he didn’t look like a liability on offense. Most of that came down to the fact that Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Jeff Taylor all had great shooting nights – combined for 56 points –  which opened up the floor and allowed Kidd-Gilchrist to stick to what he’s good at: getting out on the fast-break, attacking the basket at reckless abandon and being a pest on the boards. That also meant no outside jumpers, which, I think we’ll all agree, was nice on the eyes.

Too often, we give up on young players when they don’t show us major improvements in one off-season. For Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the biggest knock to his game has always been his inability to stretch the floor and after five games, it’s clear that problem hasn’t been fixed. But because of that, we forget that he is an excellent one-on-one defender. He’s also a very good finisher at the rim, has a nice handle for his size and has a well documented motor, one that will likely make him a hot commodity in this league for quite some time. The problem is, he plays for the Bobcats – a team that is in desperate need of a franchise player or at least someone who can give them 20 points on any given night. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is not that person. But with the signing of Al Jefferson in the off-season as well as the continued development of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson, there will be less pressure on MKG to live up to the lofty expectations that come with the second overall pick, allowing him to become the formidable role player he’s more fit to be. You know, à la Tony Allen or, best case scenario, Andre Iguodala. But speaking of Iguodala:

Now let’s all give the young players in this league some time to develop before we call them busts. Okay? Okay.

Scott Rafferty