When people think about the 2012 draft, the names Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard are the first to pop up. Andre Drummond and Bradley Beal look on their way to stardom as well while second rounders Draymond Green and Khris Middleton look like steals. Often lost among all the talent to emerge from that class is the second overall pick and one of the most intriguing players in the league, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Kidd-Gilchrist is easy to overlook going by the numbers. No one will be awed by 11 points per game on 46 percent shooting. The rebounding is great, but a wing who has attempted 18 three-pointers in three years in the league belongs to a different era. The Hornets have the worse offense in the league outside of New York and Philadelphia and Kidd-Gilchrist is partially to blame, as he lacks both an outside shot and the ability to take people off the dribble, depending on others to set him up to score on over 70 percent of his field goals. That’s not the production typically expected from such a high pick.
What Kidd-Gilchrist does to make up for it, however, is play some of the best defense in the league. He’s often tasked with taking on the other team’s best offensive player and he contains them, ranking in the 77th percentile among isolation defenders while forcing opponent turnovers on 18 percent of those possessions. Real Plus Minus has him ranked fourth in defensive impact among small forwards, behind only Tony Allen, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. Defensive statistics can at times be misleading but the eye test confirms what the numbers suggest: Kidd-Gilchrist is elite on that end.
He shows great awareness and can cover a lot of ground, which makes him a very good team defender.
Here he recognizes that his teammate is caught by a back screen so he switches over to Nene. Once his teammate recovers, he then scrambles back to the perimeter to contest Paul Pierce’s shot. He essentially saved that possession twice.
He’s also very versatile, boasting the quick hands, long arms and lateral quickness to check both big wings and point guards. He’s also surprisingly good at preventing his man from scoring inside, allowing only 50.8 percent on shots he defends within six feet of the basket, almost eight percentage points lower than the average. There’s very little he can’t do on the defensive end and his team benefits from that immensely. With Kidd-Gilchrist on the court, the Hornets allow 96.3 points per 100 possessions and with him off the court 104.3. That’s an eight-point swing that turns Charlotte from the best defensive team in the league to the New Orleans Pelicans.
As Tony Allen shows, a wing without a three-point shot needs to be able to do other things well to avoid hurting his team and Kidd-Gilchrist understands that. He’s an opportunistic cutter who will make opponents pay for helping off of him.
His main asset outside of his defense at the point, however, is clearly his rebounding, which allows Charlotte to hide his shortcoming as an offensive player. Kidd-Gilchrist is the only wing to average a +20 percent defensive rebound percentage and + 5 percent offensive rebound percentage. He’s essentially a big man on the glass, averaging over seven in just 28 minutes per game and because of that, coach Steve Clifford can afford to play a perimeter oriented big man next to him and Al Jefferson. Last season Josh McRoberts played that role and this year Marvin Williams is filling in, providing the shooting Kidd-Gilchrist can’t. That’s a huge reason why the team doesn’t suffer on offense when he’s on the court and is only possible because of his rebounding prowess.
The player Kidd-Gilchrist is now can stay in the league for 15 years and contribute to some good teams, yet is clearly flawed. The good news is he’s only 21 years old, younger than projected lottery picks Willie Cauley-Stein and Frank Kaminsky, which suggests he’s far from a finished product. In fact he has made strides with his jumper working with shooting legend Mark Price. This season his form has changed and the results are visible, as he has extended his range to around 18 feet and is hitting those shots at a decent 39 percent rate, according to NBA.com/Stats. Price is leaving the Hornets after this season but if he continues to work at it, Kidd-Gilchrist could slowly become a threat from mid-range before focusing on getting a corner three-pointer.
Kidd-Gilchrist, now in his third year in the league, will be eligible for an extension this offseason and the Hornets should jump at the chance to lock him up now. He’s not the star most teams envision getting when they pick that high in the draft but he’s an ace defender and rebounder who could continue to grow as an offensive player. Because defense is undervalued, they could get a reasonable price, too. When the salary cap skyrockets thanks to the league’s new TV deal, his contract could offer some of the best value in the around, as he’s already a key contributor for Charlotte and can only continue to improve.
Few players have flown below the radar as much as Kidd-Gilchrist has these past three seasons. That’s what happens when your game is predicated on excellent defense that doesn’t produce highlight steals or blocks. Yet he’s one of the league’s best workhorses, someone who tirelessly toils on both ends and does whatever is needed of him at just 21 years of age. It’s impossible to know whether he will ever become a good enough offensive player to be considered a traditional star like some of his draftmates but that’s OK. There’s nothing traditional about Kidd-Gilchrist and that’s what makes him unique.