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The past, present, and future of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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MKG has had an up and down career. Entering his sixth season, the development of an offensive game could dictate his long-term future with the Hornets.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Kidd Gilchrist, the second overall pick of the 2012 NBA draft, has had a bumpy career so far. A player drafted that high is expected to become an all star or franchise player, and Charlotte fans had high hopes, despite losing out on the chance to draft Anthony Davis, that Kidd-Gilchrist would work out.

Kidd-Gilchrist is not a star or a franchise player, but that doesn’t make him a bust, either; as he has proven to be an elite defender and a great rebounder for his position. Offense is where he struggles, particularly shooting the ball. Five years into the league he has only averaged double digits for a season once (not counting the 2015-16 season, where he averaged 12.7 points, but played in just seven games).

Entering year six, his future with the team could be in jeporady. Before we project him going forward this year, however, let’s look back on his career so far.

Five seasons of ups and downs

Right off the bat it was easy to notice potential with MKG. However, it wasn’t consistent. In just his fifth NBA game he had 25 points and 12 rebounds in a win against Dallas, but followed it with two points and seven rebounds two games later against Minnesota. That sums up his rookie year and maybe his career. A lack of a jump shot and a go to move have hurt him offensively. Some games he could get easy points on put backs and in transition, but often, those opportunities weren’t there, and teams forced him to shoot. Despite the inconsistency, he had a solid rookie year, playing 78 games and averaging 9 points with five rebounds.

However, he followed up with the dreaded sophomore slump. His outside game didn’t develop, a slower pace of play by Steve Clifford gave him fewer transition opportunities, and the signing of Al Jefferson along with the rise of Kemba Walker made him an after thought on offense. His scoring average dipped to 7.2 points per game, but he did tantalize fans in the playoffs, finishing with 22 points and 10 rebounds in Game 2 against the Miami Heat. That said, he scored no higher than five points the rest of the series, leaving fans again wanting more.

In 2014-15, things started trending up, as Kidd-Gilchrist averaged a career high 10.9 points to go along with 7.6 rebounds, but his real value wasn't in his stats, but in wins and losses. That season the Hornets were a horrendous 5-20 without him, and his absence was one of the reasons the Hornets dropped from 43 to 33 wins.

Injuries continued to be a concern, however. Tearing his labrum twice in 2015-16, he played in just seven games, but further indicated his impact when playing, as Charlotte went 5-2 in games he appeared. In his second game back, he finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds in a road win, making two 3-pointers. He also nabbed a double-double in a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and totaled 20 points and seven rebounds in a win against the Chicago Bulls. The small sample size suggested he had turned a corner — shooting 54 percent from the field, it was by far his most efficient stretch of basketball, and the arrival of Nicolas Batum appeared to help him.

The small sample size fueled expectations last season, as did his opening game, where he 23 points and 14 rebounds in a win at Milwaukee. But again, it was just a tease, as he sdidn't seem 100 percent recovered from shoulder surgery. Confidence in his midrange jump shot seemed to regress, as did his form. While he looked healthier the last month or two, and only missed one game, it was a disappointing season overall.

Two years ago he had a player efficiency or PER of 16.9, but last season it was just 14.3. Five years in, we know he can be a great defender and a rebounder, but will he ever be more than that? He has three years left on his contract, but his time in Charlotte could end sooner if he doesn’t show progression.

Developing the post and mid-range game this season

The additions to the Hornets should help balance out the floor and give MKG more space to operate. Malik Monk could potentially play alongside Walker, moving Batum to the three and MKG to the four, where he could see more time next season. In lineups where he is surrounded by more shooters, MKG will have room as a cutter and to unleash his new weapon.

A more developed post up game could help as well. MKG has flirted with posting up for a while, but he has never done it consistently. Often teams put weaker defenders on MKG, and that is when MKG needs to go to the post. He can turn his weakness of shooting into a strength by exposing weaker and smaller defenders. Reports suggest MKG has spent a lot of time with Clifford working on his post moves. If he can develop that part of his game, it could give him more opportunities to get to the line and finish around the basket.

But shooting remains his primary issue. Developing a solid 3-point shot may be too much to ask at this point, but a good mid range game isn’t out of the question. After reverting back to bad mechanics last season, his shot looks to be more aligned, as shown below:

While this is a set shot, his arms look much more aligned. Better mechanics could lead to a more consistent jumper, and one defenders must respect. That alone could be a game-changer.

His future

If MKG doesn’t improve or takes a step back, his future with the Hornets gets dicey. In a league defined by shooting, starting a small foward who cant shoot gets harder and harder to justify.

I would be shocked if MKG develops into a credible three point shooter this year, or ever, but at doesn't mean he can’t be a player who helps the Hornets win in the regular season and in the playoffs. Charlotte needs his defense for the Lebron’s and Greek Freaks of the world.

It is easy to give up on MKG, but he won’t turn 24 until late September, and is younger than Frank Kaminsky. He showed he could stay healthy last season after two seasons plagued by injuries. Not having to rehab this season gives him the chance to focus purely on his game, which gives him the chance to finally realize some of the potential we’ve seen from him over the years.