A lot has been said about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's improved jump shot, the team's record when he played and when he didn't, and of course his incredible defense, but can fans expect even more next year?
In the season preview for Kidd-Gilchrist, we here on At the Hive predicted he would average 10 points, six rebounds, and two assists on 54 percent true shooting (takes into account 2-point and 3-point field goals, as well as free throws). He ended up averaging 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists on 51.9 percent true shooting. Although he outperformed most expectations, it was how he did so that was encouraging for the future.
The improved jump-shot was great to see, but it came with limitations, primarily one to range. His percentages decreased dramatically for every few feet he stepped away from the basket (10-14 feet 52.4 percent; 15-19 feet 38 percent; and 20-24 percent 36.8 percent).
Not only did Kidd-Gilchrist show an improved ability to make jumpers as defenses collapsed on the paint to try and contain Al Jefferson post-ups, or Kemba Walker drives, but he also flashed some pull-up jumper game and finished 5-for-11 on such shots for the year, per NBA.com. Defenders continue to give Kidd-Gilchrist plenty of cushion. He's starting to figure out how to use that space to free up jump shots, and then use counter moves as defenders go to close out.
Speaking of closing out, Kidd-Gilchrist still struggles to get his shot off with tight defense. His release isn't as quick as his feet when he's defending the league's best wings, and as a result he is usually very selective with his jumper. In fact, per NBA.com, 75 percent of his shots outside of 10 feet were considered "open" or "wide-open". When being bothered by "tight" defense, he only converted 30 percent of the shots outside of 10 feet.
The last piece of the MKG shot chart puzzle belongs at the rim, where Kidd-Gilchrist went from a 56 percent finisher to a 46 percent finisher. These figures could be a one season aberration (he shot 56 percent again his rookie season), possibly related to MKG trying to get the free-throw line more, or it could be something more. Hopefully it's a sign of increased aggression and a desire to get to the free throw line where he shot 70 percent for the season, and 77 percent after the All Star break.
Defensively, Kidd-Gilchrist continued his rise up the ranks of elite NBA perimeter defenders. He finished ninth in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and 12th in ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus. He also ranked in the 67th percentile in man-to-man opponents points per possession, despite normally guarding the other team’s best player, and ranked in the 87th percentile with four seconds or less remaining on the shot clock, according to Synergy Sports. Unfortunately he didn't make an All-NBA Defense team, but it wasn't a surprise considering he played just 55 games, and the Hornets were never good enough to garnish much national attention. Although being upset was certainly an acceptable response.
This was the best season of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's young career. At just 21 years old and with a work ethic rivaled by few, this could just be the start. If MKG can find time away from his security company, then maybe he adds some range, or possibly quickens his release, to that jump shot this summer. The corner 3-point shot should be his goal. If he can knock that down at 30 to 35 percent then his scoring efficiency would take a big jump. He will have to do all of this without former Charlotte assistant coach Mark Price, who took a head coaching job at UNC Charlotte. Kidd-Gilchrist said recently that the loss of Price "doesn't affect me at all" and "I'm just gonna continue to work hard".
Another area for growth is his left hand. It is no secret that Kidd-Gilchrist prefers to go and finish right. He has shown flashes of being able to go left (check out this great preseason clip against Roy Hibbert) and even finish left. However, if he were to improve further, he would be even harder to guard. This lack of a left is reflective in his isolation statistics, which per Synergy Sports and NBA.com were below average. He had just 22 isolation possessions and wasn't particularly efficient scoring in those situations. However he did draw fouls on 14.3 percent of those possessions, which was tied for the highest on the team with Kemba Walker.
Assuming Kidd-Gilchrist continues to get the minutes he did in the latter part of the season when he averaged 33.8 minutes per game in March, is it crazy to predict him averaging 14 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists on improved shooting percentages? If he were to average those sort of numbers, at the age of 22, maybe the league would finally start to take notice that MKG isn't just a taller Tony Allen. He could be a Gerald Wallace or maybe even a Shawn Marion type of small forward.
This chasedown block on Austin Rivers was one of many this year. MKG did this quite frequently and it was always great.
If not this, then it has to be the block on Pau Gasol followed by immediately drawing the charge on Taj Gibson. That was one of the best defensive plays you'll ever see.
Kidd-Gilchrist stays pretty quiet off the court, but did offer this tweet up after he found out he wouldn't be on an NBA All-Defensive team.
That Flame been Sparked, They just adding More Fuel to it.— Mike Kidd-Gilchrist (@MKG14) May 22, 2015
In addition, he represented the Hornets at the NBA draft lottery. Considering his struggles in the past with public speaking, and stuttering, this seemed like a big step for the young player.
The Hornets have a decision to make this offseason. Last summer the team extended Kemba Walker prior to seeing him play out his final year of his rookie contract. That decision hasn't looked so great in hindsight. Would general manager Rich Cho make a similar commitment to Kidd-Gilchrist before November? If so, what sort of contract would that be? Is MKG more valuable to the Hornets than he would be to the rest of the league, and if so should the team instead let him test restricted free agency in the summer of 2016?
These are all very tough questions that must be answered. With how well the team plays when Kidd-Gilchrist has been on the floor, it seems like he should be around for a long time. However, if the organization sees itself as an inside-out team going forward (with or without Al Jefferson), then maybe MKG isn't the answer at the small forward position as he might never be a dangerous 3-point shooter.
The most likely scenario is Kidd-Gilchrist plays out his rookie contract and makes a deal as a restricted free agent next summer, but a deal this fall wouldn't surprise anyone. Cap space is in ample supply in 2016 and beyond, so the organization might be willing to prioritize say $10 million a year or so for MKG going forward.