The narrative of Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been the team’s biggest conflicting argument among fans.
On one hand, there’s the side that believes MKG has been the team’s biggest X-factor on the hardwood. Between hustle plays and lethal perimeter defense, his motor has continued to be a large aspect of his overall game. In his six years starting, the former Kentucky Wildcat was called upon to guard the opposing team’s most prolific offensive player, excluding centers. In this role, he was able to be a lockdown defender which helped negate his matchup’s shot selection.
The other side points to one major aspect of his game that has never been able to remain consistent. That is, of course, his offensive skillset. Through the extensive playing time as a starter, MKG has never been able to create any sense of an outside jumper. Many point to this as sign forecast that he will remain a one-way player for the rest of his career.
Excluding the 2017-2018 campaign, the 6’7” wing simply wasn’t capable of able hitting any sense of jump shot outside of the paint. Although his shooting form has changed appearance wise since his arrival to the NBA, the effectiveness from his jumper has plagued the Hornets offense in a big way.
This uncertainty about MKG’s future was a big question that newly-signed head coach James Borrego had to deal with starting in the summer of 2018. Modeling the modern style of basketball, he was able to analyze the forward’s strengths and weaknesses which translated into a new role on the Hornets.
No longer was MKG being slotted as the team’s starting small forward, navigating the Hornets defensive attack. Instead, he was shifted to the small-ball four role alongside the team’s reserves.
This schematic change helped form a new identity for MKG and the Hornets.
At his newly defined role, MKG was able to establish greater opportunities to slash inside. This is because by putting him in the frontcourt, shooters can fill all the wing positions, allowing for more space to do work inside. Being able to cut into the paint became an intricate part of his offense in 2019.
MKG also experienced stints as the Hornets centers during different times last season. Orchestrated by the ultra-creative Borrego, he believed that experimenting with a Golden State Warriors like lineups could pose a different character for the Hornets on the court.
On the individual level, that experiment worked to success. Despite the insurmountable size difference between the average five-spot, MKG was able to use his sturdy 232-lb frame and became an impressive rim protector. Alternating shots seemed to come at ease in this new role, and he did come up with a few memorable rejections in 2019.
With all the Hornets questions surrounding the center spot, it isn’t that much of a reach to consider Kidd-Gilchrist as one of the team’s best interior defenders.
To quote the noble work of At The Hive writer Stephen Sears: It’s almost arguable that Kidd-Gilchrist may be a better rim protector than any of Charlotte’s traditional bigs.
There were offensive areas where MKG continued to transform himself for the Hornets.
The most obvious area was from the three-point line. MKG was never seen as a reliable three-point shooter, in fact, he was made only seven tries in his first six years. Even with the low-volume, his percentage was a bleak 19% from beyond-the-arc. This was due to the lack of confidence established in his jumper.
Luckily, through the newly-established spacing and a dramatic increase in shot confidence, MKG was able to revolutionize his outside ability. He made a career-high sixteen threes off 34 percent shooting. On the eye test, his jumper has looked the most fluid its ever been in his career. This was key in his ability to hoist up shots from the once vacant area of his game.
Beyond the three-point renaissance, MKG showed some signs of a post game, although the volume of these attempts wasn’t as high as it could have been. Even so, his work to try and find different avenues to score is certainly an area that you have to respect from him.
Looking at the future, there has to be a sense of optimism for MKG that hasn’t been there in a long time. Whether or not he accepts or declines his $13 million player option, you have to respect the big stride he made last season. After all the years of offensive struggles, he was able to find his true role in the NBA. Playing exclusively in the frontcourt has allowed for more areas for both himself and the Hornets.
MKG is no longer the one-dimensional defensive stopper that has labeled him his entire NBA career. Through hard work and effort, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the ideal small-ball four that can help contribute on both ends of the floor.