Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffery Taylor: Grading Both of the Bobcats' Rookies
Things ended on a high note. I read in one of the many articles I have read the past couple of days that it was a season of high peaks and extreme lows. With a 21-61 season, it's obvious that most of it was low.
But not hopeless.
The Charlotte Bobcats looked like an NBA team this year. They didn't look over-matched in every single game like they did last season. They may have lost 61, but a lot of those games were close, and the 'Cats never looked like they were playing out of their league.
Okay, well...almost never. But I'll take a couple of blowouts in a season compared to last year's perpetual night-in and night-out blowouts, obviously.
This is one of the youngest teams in the NBA; the co-captains of this team were fourth-year shooting guard Gerald Henderson and second-year point guard Kemba Walker.
It's an article for another day, but the 'Cats co-captains ended up being one of the best backcourts in the NBA down the stretch. The youth of this team is beginning to flourish.
A season ago, rookies Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo were thrown into an impossible situation, and the fact that they both made it out alive respectably and ready to get better this season is a testament to this organization's dedication to its young players. Both Kemba and Biz improved drastically this season (beyond statistics) and emerged as real leaders for this team.
The youth doesn't stop there, however. The Bobcats used the second overall pick to acquire University of Kentucky SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and their 31st (first of the second round) pick on Vanderbilt standout shooting guard/small forward Jeffery Taylor.
I'm going to talk about them individually, but first I feel like I need to make a blanket statement about them both. They came in under incredibly difficult conditions: A rookie coach, a revamped coaching staff and a partially revamped team. They both came from winning college teams to an NBA team that is the butt of every joke, where fans expect to go watch their team lose.
And considering all of that, they did damn well.
2012-13 stats: 26 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.9 BPG, 0.7 SPG, 45.8 FG%
MKG, as I mentioned, was the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was considered a consolation prize to college teammate Anthony Davis, who prior to the draft was viewed as one of the best prospects in recent memory.
With MKG, the 'Cats organization—faithful to the rebuilding strategy to make this team a contender—chose to skip more polished prospects to draft an extremely gifted athlete with an unmatched motor, but a very raw offensive game.
I stand by my previous assessments in other articles that MKG was given a bit of a short stick this season, as Mike Dunlap (again, also a rookie) played him erratically and in rotations that didn't make a lick of sense. If MKG had been played more like a starter and less like a prospect rotationally (and minutes-wise), his offensive production would've been much better than it was this season.
That's not to say it was bad, but 9.0 points per game isn't much to brag about. It won't win MKG the Rookie of the Year trophy, but considering how raw his jump shot is, it's really not that bad.
Offensively, MKG proved to be excellent in transition, he showed a potentially elite ability to get to and finish at the rim, he showed strong offensive rebounding abilities and, most importantly, he showed that he is working on expanding his range.
A lot of things need work for MKG to become the team's small forward of the future, but he's one of the hardest-working athletes in the NBA, he's passionate and he wants to win. He's already hired a shooting coach for this offseason to try to work out his shooting mechanics. I full expect MKG's production to expand across the board next year (as long as Dunlap figures out how to play him).
In the very near future, we are looking at a potential second or third scoring option, and a player who can score 13-15 points per game, grab eight rebounds per game and dish out two to three assists per game.
That isn't even taking into account the fact that MKG (the youngest player in the NBA) has already emerged as very, very good wing defender with quick feet and fast hands.
The outlook is bright for MKG.
2012-13 stats: 19.6 MPG, 6.1 PPG 1.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.6 SPG, 43.1 FG%, 34.4 3PT%
2012 was a very strange draft. By all accounts, it was strong, and many players coming out of it will have long and successful careers in the NBA. It was also extensively deep.
But one of the weirder (and fortunate for the Bobcats) things that happened in the draft was Taylor falling all the way to the second round. Most scouts considered him the best of the three Vanderbilt draftees, having experience, versatility, athleticism, strong defensive skills and the ability to score from anywhere on the court.
Still, the smooth-shooting John Jenkins was drafted at No. 23 overall by the Atlanta Hawks (clearly looking for the shooting guard of the future after Joe Johnson's departure), and center Festus Ezeli was drafted with the final pick of the first round—one spot ahead of Taylor.
I may be biased, but I'd say that Taylor had the best rookie season of the three, and has the most potential for the future in the NBA. A major positive is the fact that he is 6'7", and his natural position is small forward, but the Bobcats slotted him into the shooting guard position, where he did fairly well. His size at that position—along with his versatility on the wing—give Taylor a positive outlook for the future.
Taylor started at the 2 to begin the season as a placeholder for the injured Gerald Henderson—something that surprised many, considering both Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon were available. It's just a testament to Taylor's capabilities.
His numbers obviously don't blow you away, and Taylor suffered from what appeared to be some lack of confidence. The kid can clearly score everywhere on the court, but at times it was like he'd miss a three-pointer and shut off for the rest of the game. As a second-round rookie, this is forgivable and very fixable.
Taylor was a steal as a second-rounder, and I firmly believe he has a bright future once he gains more confidence and translates both his offensive and defensive abilities from college to the NBA.
He's very gifted, intelligent and athletic, All of the tools are there, and as a second-rounder, he made a good impact on the team in his first year. His offseason focus needs to be on gaining confidence so he can comfortably take more shots, get in the paint and rebound more effectively.
Both MKG and JT met the expectations that were thrown upon them and in many ways exceeded them. Sure, the contributions they both made won't light up your stat sheet, but like I mentioned earlier, they came in and helped turn around the worst team in NBA history.
Given some more time to develop, MKG is going to be a very good swingman in the NBA, one of the better rebounders at his position and a defensive nightmare for opposing teams. Taylor can develop into a good sixth man, and possibly even a fringe starter, depending on where the team heads into the future.
It's just a matter of development, both for the players and for coach Dunlap.
For a guy who has been notoriously bad at drafting players, Michael Jordan and his staff have had two very good drafts in a row and have set this team up for future success.
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