Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Harrison Barnes are considered the two best small forwards in the 2012 NBA draft, but their rookie seasons could look drastically different by this time next year.
The two standout prospects are similar in size—five pounds and .25 inches separated them in pre-draft measurements—but their styles are almost polar opposite.
In a star-driven league that values statistics so highly, it will be the rookie with the better numbers who will go down as having the better season.
In this case, that’s Barnes.
Barnes will enter the league and begin establishing his offensive game from day one.
Having averaged 17.1 points per game during his sophomore year, Barnes put his shot on display all season long with both his mid and deep-range games.
Barnes has been noted as an average athlete throughout his time at North Carolina, but ESPN’s Chad Ford says that he was “the most impressive of the top candidates in the combine’s athletic testing,” citing his quickness, explosiveness, speed and strength.
He is a smooth player who can score from virtually anywhere on the court, which couldn’t be more opposite of Kidd-Gilchrist.
The biggest knock on the former Kentucky Wildcat is that he has an extremely inconsistent perimeter game.
Having shot just 25.5 percent from the three-point line at Kentucky, he was never relied upon to carry the load offensively.
Which player will have the better rookie season?
If he’s lucky, he won’t have to in the NBA, either.
Kidd-Gilchrist has an incredible knack for scoring at the rim—especially on the fast break—but his offensive game relies more on athleticism than it does his actual skill set.
Kidd-Gilchrist will have a tough time competing on the stat sheet with Barnes, but he could very well prove to have the more consistent season.
His role at the next level is going to be one of physical defense and extreme hustle.
As good a defender as Kidd-Gilchrist is, he only averaged one steal and .9 blocks in 31 minutes of play last year. The numbers don’t tell the whole story, though, as his strong presence and long athleticism can rattle players both down low and on the perimeter.
His motor is one of the best that the draft class has to offer, and he’s the kind of player you know will make the hustle plays the team needs. When his shot isn’t falling, you know what you’re going to get from him, which is something you can’t always say about Barnes.
Although Barnes should prove to be the more dynamic scorer moving forward, he has been pegged as a bit one dimensional.
Barnes is a fantastic spot-up shooter, but as a mediocre ball handler, he can have trouble at times creating his own shot.
If he beats his man in the first two dribbles, he’s going to score. If he can’t get past the defender, he’s in trouble.
His success will be determined by his shot, but luckily for him, his offense will be a high priority for his team next season.
With great fundamentals and a high basketball IQ, his scoring ability and level of maturity should propel him into a leading role next year.
If it comes down to the stat sheet, as is so often does in the NBA, it will be Barnes with the lead over MKG after one season of action.
Kidd-Gilchrist will fill his role nicely at the next level, and while his intangibles are great, very few players are recognized on intangibles alone.
The Rookie of the Year favorite is going to be Anthony Davis from day one, but when it comes to these promising small forwards, Barnes should be the one getting the recognition at the end of the 2012-13 season.