Note from the Author: Before my debut piece for At The Hive, I'd like to quickly introduce myself. As you can see above, my name is Bryan, and I am a proud North Carolinian. I am very excited to join the ATH team for this upcoming season of the
Bobcats Hornets (!!!). My writing style is heavily influenced by the likes of John Hollinger, Dean Oliver, Kevin Pelton, and Zach Lowe. As you can tell if you know those guys, I really like numbers, statistics, and projections. I am very much looking forward to watching these new Hornets, writing about them in depth, and interacting with the great ATH community.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a rare player who has turned his second-overall draft selection into neither great success nor bust-worthy ire. It is difficult to think of another player who has skill sets, or lack thereof, so far in opposite directions—his perimeter defense is as elite as it gets in the NBA, but his shooting is as bad as it gets as well.
What can the Hornets do with a player like that? First they have to decide which is more important—offense or defense. If it’s the former, then MKG certainly has a very limited ceiling and may not be good enough to start on a championship-caliber team. If it’s the latter, well, then he’s your guy.
One of the tough things about rating a player like MKG is that we still have a lot to learn about advanced defensive statistics. ESPN's Real Plus-Minus rated him as the eighth-best defensive small forward in the league last year. His DRPM of 2.07 means that the Hornets allowed 2.07 points per 100 possessions less with him on the floor. The stat site nbawowy.com thinks that figure is low—their numbers say that the Hornets allowed 4.1 less points per 100 possessions with MKG, a number only inferior to Andre Iguodala (and ahead of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard) in DRPM.
And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that MKG guarding the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant every night means that his teammates don’t. There is no doubt that he is incredibly valuable on the defensive end. But the question becomes—is that enough?
I suppose this is the point of the article where we have to talk about his shooting stroke, which has been written and discussed ad nauseum over the past two years. I could tell you that he has a great shooting coach in Mark Price and that he’s going to eventually "get it". I could tell you that historically the correlation between his shooting and the number of minutes he has played is not hopeful. I could tell you that free throw percentage is typically a good indicator and predictive of shooting success, and what MKG shooting 61.4% last year means. But let’s look at it differently. Instead of looking at the future stats he could post, let’s look at the most important stat he just recorded last year.
That’s the number of 3-pointers he took in his second year. Let’s not even look at the fact that he only hit one of them (11.1%). The important thing is in the number of attempts.
Shawn Marion has had a long, productive career in the NBA, despite also possessing a funny looking jumpshot. And when he came into the league, it wasn’t falling, just like MKG’s first two seasons. In Marion’s first season, he hoisted up 22 3-pointers and only hit four of them (18.2%). With such an unconventional shooting stroke and the limited success his first year, Marion probably felt equally frustrated—but he kept on shooting.
His second season he increased his 3-point attempts to 82. At 25.6%, his success rate was slightly higher, but still significantly below league average. But he kept on shooting. His third season he shot 122 from long range and then took a whopping 364 in his fourth year. He kept on shooting.
This could determine the future of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist—not his shooting success, but his shooting confidence. Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton wrote a book titled, "Now, Discover Your Strengths". In it, they discuss the merits of strengthening one's strengths, as opposed to focusing on strengthening one's weaknesses. It’s fairly counterintuitive, but think about it—why spend so much time becoming average all-around when you could be incredible at a couple of things?
Buckingham and Clifton’s idea is one that could shape MKG’s career. We’ve always heard and read, "Well, if he ever gets a jumpshot, watch out!" But that comes with inherent skepticism—is MKG’s relentless work ethic and focus on improving his jumpshot hindering him from become elite in areas where he can help even more and be more productive?
This is not to say that MKG should give up trying to improve his shooting stroke. It’s still important. But it’s not the only important thing in his development. With new draft picks P.J. Hairston and Noah Vonleh projecting as good 3-point threats, the Hornets will need more creators on the wing. Perhaps MKG developing that part of his game is more important than taking a below average jumper to slightly less below average.
One of MKG’s NBA comps coming into the league was Andre Iguodala. It makes sense—they both projected as elite wing defenders, and also projected to struggle offensively, at least initially. While Iguodala has become a decent shooter, the creative part of his game is where he’s heads and shoulders above Kidd-Gilchrist. But it’s one gap that is much easier to close.
In his first season, MKG assisted 10.1% of the shots for the Hornets while he was on the floor. That number was cut in half in his second season to 5.4%. Along with his shot attempts mentioned above, this is a number that we should be focusing on. Perhaps the Hornets are too focused on improving a broken shot so that the parts of MKG’s game that truly have the potential to be elite are being ignored.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is definitely a divisive topic among NBA analysts. But maybe it’s because we’ve been looking at him the wrong way. Not everyone has to fit into a box of prototypical NBA skills. Maybe Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can learn to "strengthen his strengths". Maybe the best case scenario for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t for him to become a Paul George or a Tony Allen 2.0. Maybe Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s best case scenario is to become an elite Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.