In most ways, I think it's fair to say the Charlotte Bobcats have exceeded expectations so far this season.
They're currently experiencing a slump that has left them with a record of 7-13, but the fact that they have already won as many games as they did all of last season is quite an achievement. They play close games, and a few of the losses have been heart-breakers.
Most thought coming in that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would be something of a project pick. He's not an offensively polished player but is a guy who crashes the boards, plays lockdown defense and hustles as hard or harder than anyone on the court.
It's tough to say where the young man sits offensively. He can hit a few jump shots here and there, but most of his scoring is done at the rim, either finishing a fast break or collecting an offensive rebound and getting some junk points.
He's shooting 75.4 percent from the free-throw line, which isn't terrible, but for someone who lives and dies by scoring in the paint, it could definitely be better.
That being said, he's proven effective on the offensive end.
He's a very athletic slasher who can get to the rim through traffic, and you'll be hard pressed to find a better finisher. He's an adequate passer and excellent on the offensive glass.
Where Michael Kidd-Gilchrist really shines is on the defensive side of the ball. His interior, mid-range, and perimeter defense is already at a level that far exceeds his age. He's acclimated to the NBA like a vet in his mid-20s, and he's still only 19.
Right now he's averaging 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steal per game. He's rarely beat off the dribble, and trying to drive against him in the paint is difficult for opposing players.
His length, athleticism and natural defensive intelligence have made him a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the court.
He does get into foul trouble. Right now, it's easy to blame that on NBA adjustment. NBA refs are much more likely to call a small bump than NCAA refs, and MKG still has to work on the line between being an aggressive defender and a reckless one.
It's not something that I expect to take much time.
Just like on offense, MKG is able to crash the boards on defense, so no problems there either. As he ages and continues to improve in this league, it's fair to say that he may become one of the best rebounding small forwards in the game.
And finally, intangibles. Sure, he has a speech impediment. It was something that was obvious in pre-draft interviews and in every interview he does. The Bobcats have done a good job of isolating Kidd-Gilchrist, who suffers from anxiety in front of press.
Despite his (improving) speech impediment, he's a very vocal leader on the court.
It doesn't appear that his shyness on camera translates to the court, though. Every time you see MKG, he's talking to coaches to get better, he's pumping teammates up and he's pushing everyone on the court to be tougher, faster and stronger.
In one sentence...he's embodying a rebuilding Charlotte Bobcats team.
He's not the only driving force. Kemba Walker has been great, as have Byron Mullens, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon. But MKG's hustle and relentless motor is helping to power the Bobcats out of the cellar.
So, here we go...final grades.
Offense: B-. Still needs to work on his jump shot to expand his range, or he'll never be a high-scorer. The things he can do on offense he does quite well, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Defense: A-. Again, still some chinks in the armor, most specifically his foul trouble, but it's safe to say that he's already the best defensive player on this team and he's only 19. Will likely be an elite defender one day.
Intangibles: A. No one embodies the spirit of this team better than MKG. His speech impediment and shyness haven't stopped him from being a leader, and his motor can't be beat.
Overall: B+. So far, it's been a very good season for MKG. I've highlighted some of the biggest things he needs to work on, but he's been as good or better than advertised in most aspects of his game. The Bobcats got a great piece to work with in MKG, and he's only going to get better with age.