|PER||PER Against (Net)|
|Michael Kidd-Gilchrist||14.0||16.3 (-2.3)|
Strengths: MKG’s most immediate and obvious strength this year was his rebounding. On a team that desperately needed help there, he pulled down a very solid 8.1 rebounds per 36 minutes. Those don’t appear to be empty numbers, either: When he was on the floor, Charlotte’s total rebound percentage improved from an average of 47.8 percent to 49.7 percent. That bump might look modest, but it’s the difference between being the second-worst rebounding team in the NBA and one that’s almost exactly league-average. The improvement on the boards helped spark the offense, as well, as the team had significantly more second-chance points with Kidd-Gilchrist on the floor.
His defense was also a plus. Just using the eye test, MKG did a good job of sticking with his man and providing help where he could. While MySynergySports.com grades him out as an average defender overall, there were certain areas where he shined. In isolation, MKG gave up .67 points per possession, good for a top-50 ranking. He was similarly talented at defending the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations and in post-ups, showing his versatility. For a player that could potentially bounce back and forth between the forward positions, holding his own in the post is a very promising sign. As he gains an improved feel for team defense (and the team’s defense improves in general), he has a good chance at blossoming into the elite defender Charlotte hoped it was getting.
Weaknesses: Kidd-Gilchrist’s biggest flaw is pretty glaring: his jumpshot is painful to watch. It’s not very effective, either. On mid-range shots, MKG only converted 29.6 percent of his attempts. For forwards with at least 100 attempts from mid-range, the average was 40 percent — Kidd-Gilchrist was only better than four of the 75 players that qualified. (Weird statistical footnote: MKG was actually marginally better than fellow rookies Anthony Davis [!] and Harrison Barnes [!?!]. Don’t read too much into that, though.) It’s a significant limitation, and how much it improves over the next few years will determine how high his ceiling really is.
MKG could also stand to tighten up his handle. Too often, he’d get the ball in the high post with room to operate, then defer and pass off to a teammate. Other times, he’d begin a drive only to lose control and cough up the ball. According to Synergy, in situations where MKG was the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, he turned it over 22 percent of the time. I’d rather see a confident and aggressive Kidd-Gilchrist, but he’ll need to work on limiting those giveaways.
Reasons for Optimism: Here’s what Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote about Kidd-Gilchrist on Jan. 3, just 30 games into the season:
Damian Lillard has earned front-runner status [for Rookie of the Year], but Kidd-Gilchrist deserves real consideration. Given their three-year age gap, it’s not surprising there are some folks around the league who would prefer to build around MKG for the long haul.
Good to hear! But a lot changed after that article was published, with MKG slumping in January and suffering a terrifying concussion to start February. He didn’t miss many games following the injury, but his play continued to slide: After shooting 51 percent in the first two months of the season, Kidd-Gilchrist only made 31 percent of his attempts in February’s 10 games. Though he refused to make excuses for the poor stretch, he admitted that he was still recovering in early March. He bounced back in March and April, shooting a relatively efficient 47 percent through the final 24 games of the year.
If you want to be optimistic about Kidd-Gilchrist, you’d probably look to the first chunk of the year as your justification. What changed as the season went on?
Digging into the numbers shows part of the reason why Kidd-Gilchrist’s efficiency took a dip. Here’s his shot selection through 30 games, when he was shooting 51 percent:
A very high percentage of shots came within eight feet of the basket, where he was shooting 62 percent. Much fewer came from mid-range, where he didn’t have much confidence.
Here’s the rest of the year, where he shot 42 percent overall:
While it was still his bread and butter, we see fewer attempts near the rim and an increased emphasis on jump shots. Even though it helped make him a less efficient scorer, it was an important step: MKG can’t camp the lane forever, and if he wants to grow as a player he’ll need to step outside his comfort zone (figuratively and literally).
So, how did that go? Here’s the chart for Kidd-Gilchrist’s shooting performance in the first 30 games of the season:
It’s about what you’d expect: Good near the basket, bad everywhere else (in admittedly limited attempts). Over that stretch, MKG hit only 24.6 percent of his 65 mid-range attempts.
Here’s the final 30 games:
Is that some yellow outside the paint? And a green spot! To close the season, MKG made 36 percent of his final 91 mid-range attempts. It’s not quite average for his position, but it’s a hell of a lot better than 24.6 percent. (His form is still hideous, though.)
Those aren’t the largest samples to draw from, so I wouldn’t make any definitive conclusions about MKG’s jumper — we’ll have to wait until next year to see if an offseason of reps can improve his consistency. But it’s still encouraging, and it’s at least a hint at growth from a young, developing player. As a defender and all-around contributor, Kidd-Gilchrist already seems relatively well-formed. If he can continue to improve on both ends, he could be special.
Reasons for Pessimism: If he doesn’t continue to improve on both ends, he’ll wind up as a role player. That’s fine (the world needs role players), but it’s obviously not what you’d like from your second overall pick.
Even if MKG becomes a competent shooter from mid-range, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be great from distance. That will probably be a problem moving forward: the league in general is taking more three-pointers than ever, and efficient offenses tend to focus on the restricted area and shots from beyond the arc. Kidd-Gilchrist has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to become a complete player; it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up.
I’d rather not end this report card on a down note, though, so here’s Kidd-Gilchrist dunking Greg Monroe’s face off.