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’17-’18 Player Forecast: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Player Forecast on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Position: Small forward

Height: 6-7

Weight: 232

Reasons for Optimism:

I’m not sure there’s a more polarizing player on Charlotte’s roster than sixth-year forward Michael Kidd Gilchrist.

Charlotte’s prize of the 2012 NBA Draft, MKG is both a source of pride for parts of the fanbase — a defensive-mind forwarded that’s plays his ass off every night, and is close to the heart and soul of the team — and constant reminder of the team’s limitations.

Before we jump down that pessimistic rabbit hole, let’s start with the good, though.

Kidd-Gilchrist is an absolutely relentless rebounder; he will scrap with anyone for a loose ball. In fact, he averaged 1.2 loose balls recovered per 36 minutes (tied with Kemba for the most on the team) — to go along with 2.1 deflections.

It’s simply just not in his DNA to give up, which has probably added to some of the wear and tear on his body. Regardless, MKG was one of only four players in the NBA last season that are 6-8 and posted an offensive rebounding rate above seven percent.

As we know, offensive rebounding isn’t exactly a staple of Cliff Ball, but MKG wants some added utility here. With MKG on the floor last season, Charlotte cleared 80.5 percent of its defensive rebounds — a solid number, best of any rotation player.

MKG is marketed as a stopper, and that’s probably a bit of a stretch. Don’t get me wrong; he’s an awesome defender that can check multiple positions, but he isn’t a lockdown guy, like Tony Allen or Andre Roberson.

He still can do a lot of things on the defensive end. MKG was one of 18 players last season with a steal rate above one percent, a block rate above two percent and at least three defensive win shares.

There can be noise in these types of numbers, but on field goal attempts defended by MKG, opponent shot below averages — from some areas. On attempts inside of six feet, players shot 57.8 percent on attempts defended by MKG, per NBA.com.

Opponents shot 51.5 percent against MKG at the rim. Again, there can be noise in these stats, but that was the best number amongst Charlotte’s rotation players — better than Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky.

Charlotte slipped to 14th in defensive efficiency in 2016-17 (106.1 points per 100 possessions) — uncharted territory for the Hornets, who had ranked top 10 in all of Clifford’s first three seasons. With MKG on the floor, though, Charlotte allowed just 103.8 points per 100 possession — the rate of a top five defense.

Last season’s starting lineup of Kemba, Batum, MKG, Marv and Zeller posted a net rating of +6 points per 100 possession. That ranked as the ninth best differential in the league amongst lineups that played at least 400 minutes together. The starters allowed just a smidge over one point per possession — a rather stingy mark.

On offense, he offers more than just rebounds, too. Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t a rim-rattler (he had just 39 dunks last season), but he’s productive at the hoop — 60.5 percent inside the restricted area, per NBA.com. MKG also flashed some game on pull-up jumpers last season: 24-of-41 (58.5 percent). Those seem to usually come when he’s open, and has time to take bounce or two to his left, and pull.

He scored 1.2 points per possession and shot 58.4 percent on cuts last season; that’s not great, but it’s decent, and it’s another way he score in the half-court, especially when his defender is drawn to help on Kemba or bump a Dwight roll from the weak side.

When he’s able to cut directly to a layup or dunk, MKG does much better. Per NBA.com, he shot 26-of-30 (86.7 percent) on cutting layups or dunks last season.

Early offense is also a priority for MKG, too. The Hornets ranked 19th in pace last season (97.9 possessions), and scored 1.13 points per possession in transition. Kidd-Gilchrist was one of the team’s best in this department: 65.7 percent shooting, 1.24 points per possession — better than Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala.

Additionally, this dude will have just turned 24 when the season starts (Happy early bday, Mike!), and he already has 7,600 minutes in his career — not to mention that he missed essentially a full season back in 2015-16. He should, theoretically, continue to get better.

Reasons for Pessimism:

This is where things get tough with MKG. He’s so damn fun to watch, and he has so many skills; however, he just happens to completely lack this one attribute that’s become more and more important since he entered the league.

We all know it: Shooting.

Much has been made about Kidd Gilchrist’s improvement as a shooter — specifically from the midrange; his form is certainly better than when he first entered the league. But according to NBA.com, MKG shot 61-of-165 from 15-19 feet from the hoop — 37 percent. He went just 4-of-16 (25 percent) on two-point attempts between 20 feet and the three-point line.

In his last full season, back in 2014-15, he shot 52-of-137 from the same distance — 38 percent. From 20 to the arc, he went 7-of-19 (36.8 percent).

Last season, MKG was one of only two players in the league 6-7 or shorter to play 1,000 or more minutes and attempt fewer than 20 three-pointers. The other guy is Shaun Livingston, who gets to dominate in inverted post sets off Golden State’s bench in the team’s spacey, world-altering offense. That same luxury simply isn’t afforded to MKG in Charlotte.

It’s not entirely fair to MKG to make these types of comparisons, but you can see it’s incredible to see the type of offense Charlotte can put together with Kemba, Zeller (a rim-runner), Batum (a secondary creator), Marvin (a stretch four) and another 3-and-D player. There’s a reason Charlotte took off two seasons ago after the acquisition of Courtney Lee.

The starting lineup with Lee at the 2 scored 114.5 points per 100 possessions; amongst lineups that played at least 400 minutes together, that ranked second in the NBA — behind only LeBron and the Cavs — in terms of offensive efficiency. It’s also nearly eight more points per 100 possession more than what MKG produced with those same four dudes a year later.

A perimeter player that’s allergic to taking three-pointers, like MKG, can mess with the spacing of an offense. If MKG is beyond the arc off the ball, teams don’t have to worry and can sag off. If he takes a step inside, close to his range, then extra defenders a more readily available to clog up Kemba PNRs.

I don’t want to get hung up on shooting with MKG. It isn’t exactly news. In fact, I’ve heard others toss out the idea that perhaps the constant hubbub over his shot has indirectly caused him to lag behind in other areas of his game.

Switching over to defense: In 2016-17, Charlotte gave up 11.6 three-pointers per game on 31.4 attempts — both of which ranked dead last in the NBA. Some of that is rotten luck, some of that could be Steve Clifford’s scheme.

MKG does, however, have a tendency to drift off the ball, looking for steals. This can occasionally leave Charlotte susceptible to skip passes over the top for catch-and-shoots. When MKG was on the floor last season, opponents shot 37.7 percent on triples, and 35.6 percent with him off.

Kidd-Gilchrist is about to enter year two of a four-year, $52 million extension (the final year, 2019-20, is a player option). He makes $13 million a year, which is a fair price for a defensive stud that rebounds his ass off and hasn’t yet turned 24.

If the team wanted to move him, it should be easy, right? I mean, what team wouldn’t covet that kind of young, cost-controlled asset? Again, though, the shooting becomes an issue.

MKG is player that frequently comes up in trade winds with the Hornets, and I’m just not sure what the market for him looks like.

Although Andre Roberson — the closest facsimile to MKG in the NBA — inked a three-year, $30 million deal to stay in OKC this offseason, so it isn’t like there’s a complete lack of interest in wings that offer little perimeter shooting. However, both of these guys were resigned by teams that drafted team, likely value their effort and defense to the team’s collective output.

Number to know:

9.9 percent — Kidd-Gilchrist’s usage rate in the fourth quarter last season.

When Kidd-Gilchrist was on the floor in the final frame last season, less than 10 percent of Charlotte’s possessions ended with Mike shooting, getting fouled while shooting or turning it over. That’s a low figure, especially for a perimeter player.

The fourth quarter is obviously Kemba Walker’s time for the Charlotte Hornets, but can the Hornets get more from MKG here?

Crunch time lineups built for scoring will hopefully feature Malik Monk, but when MKG is out there, it can’t be the Hornets going 4-on-5.

2017-18 Forecast:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 24, has yet to enter his prime; he should only get better for the next few years, assuming he stays healthy. MKG played 81 games in 2016-17 — the most of his career. The one game that he did miss was a November contest against Toronto, when Charlotte desperately could’ve used him as DeMar DeRozan went bonkers.

I think at this point, unfortunately, it’d be naive to hope for a three-point shot. A corner three would make this team’s offensive fit significantly better; I would love to be wrong, but I just don’t see that coming.

However, it’d be nice to see MKG improve incrementally in areas where he already has success: defense, hustle plays, moving without the ball for early offense.

Charlotte needs to get back to a top 10 defense, and MKG — now partnered with Dwight Howard protecting the rim — could be a driving force of that initiative. I think a reasonable goal for Kidd-Gilchrist this season is making second team All-Defense.

– Guest QCH Contributor, Brian Giesinger — follow him on Twitter @bgeis_bird

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