Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's done pretty well for himself in the past year as the Robin to Anthony Davis' Batman. He was the second-best player on a Kentucky team that won the NCAA Tournament title and went No. 2 behind The Brow in the 2012 NBA draft.
Unfortunately for MKG, he'll no longer have the luxury of riding Davis' coattails now that the two have parted ways—Davis to the New Orleans Hornets and Kidd-Gilchrist to the Charlotte Bobcats. Nor can he count on a supporting cast of great players like those he ran with at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he had the privilege of teaming up with reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving.
Instead, MKG will be perpetually singing along to Eric Carmen while he and the 'Cats attempt to climb from rock bottom back to respectability, inch by grueling inch.
It won't be all bad for Kidd-Gilchrist, though. He'll have plenty of leeway with which to develop his game while attempting to rescue pro basketball in Charlotte and...ummm...working for Michael Jordan?
How Kidd-Gilchrist Fits In
It's tough to say how exactly MKG will figure into Charlotte's schemes next season, if only because new head coach Mike Dunlap and his preferred style of play remain shrouded in mystery. And because Kidd-Gilchrist is such a jack-of-all-trades-type player, not unlike Denver Nuggets swingman Andre Iguodala.
At the very least, Kidd-Gilchrist should have a hand in just about everything the Bobcats do. In his lone Summer League appearance, MKG stuffed the stat sheet with 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals while hitting 7-of-12 from the field, including his only three-point attempt:
Perhaps the best way to gauge how MKG fits into Dunlap's plans is to examine the role fellow 2012 draftee Maurice Harkless filled last season at St. John's, where Dunlap served as the interim head coach in Steve Lavin's stead.
As it happens, MKG and Harkless are remarkably similar as players, though the former is leaps and bounds ahead of the latter as far as talent is concerned. Like Harkless, Kidd-Gilchrist is a long, rangy athlete at small forward who excels at defending multiple positions, attacking the basket, running the floor and making hustle plays on top of posting up in the half court and rebounding well outside of his area:
If Kidd-Gilchrist performs as well under Dunlap's guidance in Charlotte as Harkless did in New York, then the 'Cats might finally have a player on their roster who's worth the price of admission.
Adjustments Kidd-Gilchrist Must Make at the Pro Level
If Kidd-Gilchrist is to maximize his potential at the pro level, he'll have to refine his still-raw skills—namely, his shot and his dribble.
According to Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress, MKG shot 30 percent on spot-ups, 25.5 percent on threes, 25 percent on jumpers and 24.4 percent off the dribble during his one and only season at Kentucky. Those are all brutal numbers for a wing player—even one whose game is predicated more on hustle and physicality than finesse—but aren't exactly surprising when considering how hideous his jumper is.
Pay attention to MKG's form in this compilation of misses by Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti:
Where to begin? His elbow flies out, he has a hitch in his motion and he shoots the ball on his descent rather than on the way up.
Clearly, Kidd-Gilchrist could use some pointers from world-renowned shooting coach Dave Hopla, and even that's putting it mildly. Of course, MKG's form wouldn't matter so much if the shots actually went in. Guys with "unconventional" shots, like Reggie Miller and Shawn Marion, have done perfectly well for themselves without the benefit of textbook shooting form.
Luckily for the 'Cats, MKG is about as diligent a worker as there is among the incoming rookies. Whether he winds up refining his existing form or scraps his shot for a brand-new edition, Kidd-Gilchrist figures to be a more accurate marksman in due time, if only because he'll put in the hours necessary to make it so.
The same goes for his dribble. He plays fast and loose with the ball at times, and favors his right hand a bit too much. Kidd-Gilchrist has also demonstrated a propensity to pick up his dribble too early, as well, often forcing himself into awkward shots and leaps at the basket from uncomfortable distances.
That being said, MKG appears to be anything but a hopeless case as a ball-handler. He's no worse than merely proficient on the break, and has shown the ability to make spectacular plays with the ball in his hands. He'd do well, though, to shorten and tighten his dribble, and to put himself in better position to do something with the ball while it's bouncing.
And with the way this kid works, no hole in his game, however glaring, should be considered beyond fixing.
Even if MKG's shot and dribble don't improve, he still projects as the second coming of Gerald Wallace, who (coincidentally) first rose to prominence in Charlotte.
Kidd-Gilchrist has already drawn rave reviews for his humility, tenacity and drive to improve every day. He's shown himself to be a "gym rat," with a commitment to fine-tuning his body and developing his game that's as remarkable as it is uncommon for a kid his age.
Those qualities (and their dispersion across the roster) will be crucial to a 'Cats organization that's lapsed into nearly all the bad habits that tend to subsume those mired in a losing culture.
Unfortunately, Kidd-Gilchrist isn't particularly well-suited to making motivational speeches, though not by choice. He's long dealt with a speech impediment that renders the task of vocal leadership a shade beyond his realm:
But that doesn't mean MKG can't lead by example. Not even his youth (he doesn't turn 19 until September) can or should obstruct the impact that his work on and off the court will have on his teammates.
Simply put, the kid's a winner and will show as much once he gets to the Queen City.
MKG will see the ball plenty, for better or worse, on a Bobcats squad that would be lucky to scrape together 20 wins.
With Mike Dunlap at the helm, Kidd-Gilchrist figures to contribute in just about every facet of the game, just as he did at Kentucky and just as Dunlap had Maurice Harkless do at St. John's last year. That is, MKG will be asked to play smothering defense on the perimeter, serve as a finisher on the fast break, attack the basket and post up on the low block from time to time. He'll also take the occasional outside jumper and provide some measure of ball handling.
He won't shoot a ton, if only because he'll be playing next to a volume shooter in Ben Gordon, though he should still average between 12 and 15 points, with six rebounds, three assists and 1.5 steals during his rookie season.
Which former UK star will have the better rookie year?
Whether that sort of production will be enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors depends largely on the play of Anthony Davis, his former UK teammate. Bovada.lv has MKG listed as the second favorite to take home the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy, with 8-to-1 odds behind Davis' 9-to-4 odds.
But because Kidd-Gilchrist will play on a team that lacks consistent contributors—while Davis will at least have Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson to whom he might defer—his chances of being the 2013 ROY may well be understated.
The chances of his Bobcats winning games, though, are not. They'll be better with Kidd-Gilchrist around, but given how bad they were last year (7-59, for an all-time worst winning percentage of .106), they could finish in the basement of the Eastern Conference again and still consider it an improvement. If the 'Cats are lucky, they'll win 18 games.
And if they're really lucky, they'll lose fewer than 60.
That is, if MKG turns out to be as much of a winner at the pro level as he's been throughout his basketball life.