Breaking down Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's breakthrough offensive performance against the Heat

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

MKG led the Bobcats with 22 points in a surprising offensive performance from the young small forward. How did the Bobcats utilize him so well in spite of his clear weaknesses?

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist turned in his best scoring effort of the season Wednesday night in their close loss in Game 2 of their first-round series against the Miami Heat. Surprisingly, Kidd-Gilchrist led the Bobcats with an efficient 22 points on 13 shots, scoring his most points since December of 2012. Few, if any, people thought Kidd-Gilchrist would pull out such a performance considering his notorious offensive weaknesses, especially against LeBron James and the Heat's defense.

Understanding how he scored so well is imperative given the Bobcats' offensive woes, which are exacerbated by Al Jefferson's injury that not only impairs his offense, but the Bobcats' as well.

  1. Charlotte starts the play overloading the strong side so much that there's no one on the weak side of the floor. Kidd-Gilchrist sets a screen from the top of the key for Kemba Walker and as LeBron leaves him to blitz on the pick and roll, MKG flares out to occupy the massive space on the weak side. Chris Bosh rotates from the left block as Kidd-Gilchrist drives from the right wing. After a final hesitation dribble, he puts in a push shot off the glass over Bosh.
  2. MKG takes an offensive rebound in the paint, pivots to face the rim and Haslem jumps into Kidd-Gilchrist's body on the attempt to send him to the charity stripe.
  3. The Bobcats swing the ball to the MKG on the weak side, who's defended by Ray Allen on a mismatch. He puts Ray Allen on his right side as he dribbles into the paint with his left hand from beyond the left elbow. Chris Bosh is forced to leave Josh McRoberts in the corner to recover on Kidd-Gilchrist's drive. Kidd-Gilchrist switches hands to give him room to get up his shot. Chris Andersen's help defense comes too late as MKG lofts his floater.
  4. The Bobcats initiate a strong-side set but quickly reverse along the perimeter to MKG at the right wing. He drives baseline and as three defenders close in on him, he hops from the baseline back towards the middle of the paint and hits a falling bank layup.
  5. Charlotte's offense breaks down and Josh McRoberts passes across the court to Gerald Henderson on the left wing, matched up against LeBron James. He dribbles in for a moment and then passes out to Kidd-Gilchrist, who then dribbles right from the left wing into the paint and hopsteps for a lay-in over Bosh.
  6. MKG has a mismatch on the strong side against Mario Chalmers. He posts him up, gets the entry pass and puts Chalmers on his back as he pivots toward the basket from the baseline. James Jones tries to draw a charge but instead is called for a blocking foul as MKG hopsteps and puts in the layup.
  7. Al Jefferson posts up from the left block, draws the double-team, and passes out as the Bobcats rotate the ball. It swings to the weak side on a cross-court pass. Kidd-Gilchrist faces up against James Jones, who is playing a few feet off him. Kidd-Gilchrist takes the look and hits the jumper.
  8. Kidd-Gilchrist draws a shooting foul on Bosh driving towards the middle of the floor from the right wing after the Bobcats swing the ball around the perimeter.
  9. McRoberts sets a screen on a pick and roll with Walker. The Heat bring the double-team with Rashard Lewis leaving McRoberts but Lewis is way late to recover once Walker's defender gets back in position. LeBron is forced to leave MKG to rotate onto McRoberts from behind the arc, which leaves Kidd-Gilchrist uncovered in the right corner. The Bobcats capitalize on the ball movement, finding Kidd-Gilchrist driving baseline. MKG hops back into the middle of the paint on the layup, finishing off the glass as he -- and Andersen, who contests the shot -- are on the descent.
  10. Miami's defense collapses on Chris Douglas-Roberts' dribble drive with Andersen unable to defend the rim. CDR's drive draws the defense from Kidd-Gilchrist, who's on the right block. Douglas-Roberts dumps the ball off to him and MKG uses his right hand with his left shoulder to Bosh.
  11. McRoberts and Al Jefferson both set picks at the top of the key for Walker, which brings LeBron and Bosh out of the paint. Walker gets past Bosh's early switch from the screen, leaving Miami only with Chalmers and James Jones to defend the rim. Jones loses sight of Kidd-Gilchrist as he focuses on defending Walker's drive. MKG cuts from the left baseline, receives Walker's pass and dunks on Jones, who can't muster a decent contest.

So what did we see?

Play1_medium
Fig. 1: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (red) at the exact moment he first receives the ball in each play. The green dots note the location of the Bobcats players on the strong side of the floor.

Looking at the six selected plays of the ones I detailed above, the Bobcats found a lot of success on utilizing great ball movement to find Kidd-Gilchrist on the weak side of the floor, which maximizes his chances for success on offense. When given space to work with, Kidd-Gilchrist has the ability to use his ballhandling to create his own shot. By switching sides of the court from the strong to weak side quickly, the Bobcats took advantage of Miami's willingness to give him space with their focus on Al Jefferson.

They especially went to this look early in the game, which by no coincidence is when Al Jefferson's shooting is most effective. With Jefferson hobbled by his plantar fascia injury, it makes sense that the Bobcats would try to maximize the potential of Kidd-Gilchrist's offensive chances. You can still try to get Jefferson looks at the basket, but you can also swing the ball around and find MKG to get to the rim.

MKG's offensive skill set is limited by his jump shot, as we already know. But he's also pretty smart in knowing how to use his body to make space with the dribble or with his shot. Sometimes he's too confident and gets his layups blocked, but as his performance indicates, he still can show an exceptional understanding of it. Time and time again MKG found space at the rim to get his shots up even when it seemed there was none.

His weaknesses are visible to anyone who pays a lick of attention, but Kidd-Gilchrist played well within his limitations. He attempted only one midrange jump shot, and he made it. I'm not sure how often you can count on Kidd-Gilchrist to take 13 shots and have nearly all of them come at the rim, however. He's a decent ballhandler and has the strength to move into the paint, but he can be forced into turnovers on the dribble and his shots at the rim against multiple defenders sometimes feel a bit overconfident.

Still, Kidd-Gilchrist's confidence in his offense and the Bobcats' trust in it was a very interesting thing to watch in Game 2. Hopefully Al Jefferson's foot feels better as he gets more rest between games, but regardless this game is a hopeful indication that the Bobcats can find some offense out of Kidd-Gilchrist, which many might consider "found money" in a series like this. We might not see it happen as well again in this series, but it certainly was encouraging to see it so effective.

[Research thanks to the wonderful MySynergySports.com]

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