by Peter Walsh / @ayo_petew
Charlotte Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has fallen victim to an impatient society. Fresh off a 2011 National Championship run with the University of Kentucky, MKG went through a relatively common first season in the NBA playing on a bad Bobcats team—suffering more downs than ups, but showing flashes of promise that, with enough work, could become routine.
During the ’12-13 season, the 6-7 forward averaged 9 points, 5.8 boards and 1.5 dimes per game while shooting right around 46 percent from the field. Decent numbers, but certainly not the impact some had in mind for the No. 2 overall pick—especially when other rookies like Portland point guard Damian Lillard and Golden State forward Harrison Barnes impressed immediately.
Following his rookie year, Kidd-Gilchrist was one of the few second-year players under contract to play in the Summer League, and after a less than stellar Sin City showing, the dreaded “bust” label started to creep MKG’s way.
A word to the wise: relax.
During Tuesday night’s 102-97 win over the Knicks, Kidd-Gilchrist showed why fans and media alike shouldn’t be criticizing his game but embracing the rise of a player who, in due time, will be one of the more versatile players in the League. In the first quarter alone, MKG had an assist, an offensive rebound, hit two free throws, ran the break for an easy layup, forced a turnover, played relentless defense on Carmelo Anthony, and, most impressively, chased down Melo on a fast break layup for a block, scooped the ball up and went coast-to-coast for a layup of his own.
Despite sitting for most of the third quarter thanks to a bloody nose, Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 16 points on 5-7 shooting, 8 boards, 3 blocks, 1 assist, 1 steal, and a plus/minus of +11. The second-year pro also held Melo to 32 points on 28 shots and, along with Kemba Walker, was the most fun player to watch on the court.
MKG’s stat line was very similar to what Warriors forward Andre Iguodala posts on a nightly basis. Coincidentally, Iguodala, who has been a stat-sheet stuffer throughout his career, is a player who MKG mimics on the court.
“I watch Andre Iguodala a lot,” says Kidd-Gilchrist. “He’s not the best shooter on the court, but he does all the little things. I talk to him a lot also and I think that’s really helped me a lot this year so far.”
In an even more coincidental twist, Iguodala’s rookie averages of 9.0 points on 49 percent shooting, 5.7 boards, and 3.0 assists are nearly identical to MKG’s rookie line.
Where MKG struggles in jump shooting and playmaking, he makes up for in effort, energy and defense. During Tuesday night’s game at the Garden, the Jersey native was all over Anthony like a cheap suit, hounding the perennial All-Star both in the post and on the perimeter.
“There’s no more efficient offensive player than Carmelo Anthony, and Mike did such a great job on him,” says Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford. “[Mike’s] individual defense and post defense was terrific.”
At 6-7, with long arms and a high-motor, MKG is already emerging as a lockdown defender and tallies enough hustle points, tipped balls and forced turnovers to make any head coach salivate.
At just 20 years old, Kidd-Gilchrist is the fifth youngest player in the NBA. Though he hasn’t had his first legal drink yet, the Bobcats coaching staff is already lauding his work ethic and improvement.
“Since July, his growth has been terrific,” says Clifford. “He’s a much, much better player than he was in July. He’s put a ton of work in and not just with his shooting, but in the weight room, his conditioning, everything.”
The biggest knock on MKG’s game is his awkward jump shot. To help improve this glaring weakness, MKG worked with former sharpshooter and current Bobcats assistant Mark Price on his shot. MKG is already so good at getting to the rack thanks to his strength and length, so if he can add even a respectable jump shot to his arsenal either this season or in the future, he will be one of the top two-way players in the NBA.
Playing in just his second year in the NBA, and learning on the fly, Mike Kidd-Gilchrist has a long way to go. With a tireless work ethic and all the natural ability in the world, there’s no doubt that he’ll reach the NBA’s elite eventually. Instead of worrying about all the things MKG isn’t, appreciate everything he is and enjoy watching a player who genuinely loves the game of basketball.
“I’ve been having fun this year,” says Kidd-Gilchrist. “I’m playing the game I love and whatever happens, happens. I’m not focused on scoring or anything this year, I’m just going out there and playing and that’s it.”