Coming into his third year in the league and having just turned 21 years old, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist brings more expectations than any other Charlotte Hornet. Fair or not, Kidd-Gilchrist was selected number two overall in a draft with only one sure fire NBA star in Anthony Davis. Considering his size, athleticism, character, and motor, by no means did Charlotte reach on this draft pick. However, the team has worked its way into contention far faster than anyone could have predicted, which has sped up the timetable for Kidd-Gilchrist's development. With an improved jumper, an improved handle, and coming off a summer in Charlotte packed with training, can MKG finally put it all together?
Stats per Basketball-Reference.com
Unfortunately, coming off a decent rookie season, Kidd-Gilchrist regressed in most major categories. A lot of this can be contributed to the change in coaching. His rookie season, then coach Mike Dunlap preached an uptempo offense and a risky defense that lead to turnovers. This fit Kidd-Gilchrist's strengths perfectly and without a jump shot or much of any perimeter drive game, he was able to put up decent statistics for a rookie.
Last season, coach Steve Clifford installed a new offense and defense centered around Al Jefferson, the team's new post scoring behemoth. The team did not run, did not try to force turnovers, and had a goal every possession to give the ball to Jefferson down low. This style did not mesh with Kidd-Gilchrist's lack of shooting and inability to operate the pick and roll. MKG had to play lights out defense (especially in transition) and snag offensive rebounds to justify staying on the floor.
Considering the new style, it isn't surprising MKG struggled last year. On top of that, he also injured his wrist, which cost him 19 games and totally killed his confidence in an improving jump shot (14-35 or 40 percent from mid-range during his first 18 games). Also, notice the red and orange (which are good) in the shot chart above. MKG was developing a sweet spot.
Still, because of his inability to space the floor, defenses would sometimes ignore him, making it harder for Al Jefferson to operate down low. Therefore, most games Clifford would go with another option late in the fourth quarter, which hurt Kidd-Gilchrist's per game statistics.
Although preseason statistics shouldn't be used too generally when predicting future success, Kidd-Gilchrist made a leap this year that was impossible to ignore.
Stats from RealGM.
First, the jump shot is completely retooled, so much so that he was dubbed by someone from At the Hive as "Mid-KG". In 8 preseason games, he took 28 jump shots compared to 35 in the 18 games before his injury last year. There's more volume, and more success, especially from the right side where he went 7-17 or 41 percent.
Secondly, it is visibly clear he's a more confident player on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he's relentlessly in getting to the rack and defensively he's the same old menace, except he hasn't been picking up as many fouls (2.77 fouls per 36 minutes compared to 3.5 last year).
Finally, Kidd-Gilchrist has been making his free throws. Having just been declared as one of the best at drawing fouls in the league, if this preseason's 72 percent free throw efficiency carries over to the regular season it could have a huge effect on his overall offensive impact.
Most professional athletes have people they study, typically players they think have similar games or attributes which they can mold into their own. MKG has been on record saying Andre Iquodala is that player for him, which makes sense when you look at how they impact the game (athleticism, effort, etc).
However, Kawhi Leonard might be the better role model. In his third year in the league, at the age of 22, Leonard averaged 12.8 points 6.2 rebounds and two assists on 60 percent true shooting. It wouldn't surprise me if Kidd-Gilchrist had a slightly less impressive season this year, averaging something like 10 points, six rebounds and two ssists on 54 percent true shooting. The big difference would be Kidd-Gilchrist will struggle to be as prolific or efficient as Leonard without a 3-point shot.
Predicting an overall improvement from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist seems like a safe bet. He looks more comfortable and has had a very productive preseason. He will likely improve the majority of his core offensive statistics and thus improve his reputation around the league. However, entering his third year at the young age of 21, Kidd-Gilchrist should ignore statistics and continue to focus on improving his individual tools, as well as his leadership abilities on the defensive end. If he does that, Charlotte may eventually cash in on all of the investment associated with their number two draft pick.