The Charlotte Bobcats can become a contender while building around Michael Kidd-Gilchrist by following the Indiana Pacers model of success. For this to happen, the Bobcats need to make good decisions in the draft in the coming years and Kidd-Gilchrist needs to use his physical gifts and tremendous work ethic to capitalize on his potential.
The Bobcats have been mired in basketball irrelevancy for years now, failing to select a superstar after several cracks at the top of the draft. While Charlotte is a growing American city, it still doesn’t have the appeal that draws superstar free agents. The Bobcats instead need to build its roster through good drafts and intelligent mid-level signings in free agency.
As the Bobcats transition back to their purple-and-teal Hornet roots, the key to Charlotte climbing out of the pit of NBA irrelevancy depends on whether or not Michael Kidd-Gilchrist maximizes his potential, something he is far from doing but for which there is still hope, given his athleticism and reportedly tremendous work ethic.
After beating the New York Knicks Tuesday (Jan. 14), the Bobcats are currently sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a mediocre 16-23 record. While a playoff berth would be an exciting moment for Charlotte fans, missing out on the top of the lauded 2014 draft class would prevent the franchise from attaining the superstar that could vault them into NBA finals contention.
While the season is long and the Bobcats could still join the tanking bonanza for Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle, continued tough defensive play from Charlotte could result in the team making the playoffs and missing out on these potential stars. The 2014 NBA draft class is also deep, but the Chicago Bulls have Charlotte’s 2014 first-round pick, which is top-10 protected.
The Bobcats may be better off if the end up in the top 10 of the draft so that they can add another significant piece to their rebuilding puzzle.
But even if they do that they likely will not get a superstar. Being a middling team in the NBA is the last place a team should want to be—not good enough to contend but not bad enough to get a franchise-altering talent at the top of the draft.
Even if the Bobcats avoid the top of the draft this year, there is still hope for the franchise. With Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, Charlotte has one of the most athletically gifted and hardest-working young players in the league. He already has the instincts and athletic ability to be a premier NBA defender, and if Kidd-Gilchrist fixes his broken jump shot and continues to develop his half-court offense, the Bobcats can use the schemes of promising head coach Steve Clifford to build a defensive powerhouse around the young swingman.
If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can develop into the Paul George-type of player that he is capable of becoming—in fact Charlotte could benefit by following the Pacers model of building a contender—the Bobcats can escape the NBA basement without getting a star in the 2014 draft.
This could occur because of Kidd Gilchrist's intensity and high ceiling on both offense and defense.
Work Ethic and Attitude
In his current state, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has numerous holes as a basketball player, but there is reason to believe that he could develop into a franchise-changing kind of player.
Kidd-Gilchrist’s leadership and desire to be great has long been documented, and is a major reason he projects as a player who will greatly improve as his career progresses. As a freshman at Kentucky Kidd-Gilchrist became an instant leader for the championship squad, as Kyle Tucker of USA Today explained:
It’s not just his box-score-stuffing averages: 13.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. It’s not only his effervescent energy that often supercharges his UK teammates. It’s his work ethic when he takes the court in Rupp Arena. It’s his winner’s mentality.
Kidd-Gilchrist already has elite NBA athleticism, so with his winner’s mentality and dedication, the odds of him maximizing his natural physical talents are high.
Kidd-Gilchrist has the competitive instinct that could put him over the top as a player. This desire to compete is evident in how he responds to challenges, like in November when the Bobcats had to play LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
As Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer reported, Kidd-Gilchrist was more than willing to embrace the daunting task of playing LeBron, stating, “I’ve got a lot of respect for him, of course. But at the same time I’m my own man and I won’t back down against anybody.”
Kidd-Gilchrist’s will to win and take on challenges was also evident Tuesday against the Knicks, specifically in the third quarter when he dove to save a loose ball. While it may have been and ill-advised move, given that it was his first game back from injury, it exhibits how winning and playing his heart out is a priority for him.
Kidd-Gilchrist’s far from being a centerpiece of a contender, but his mental fortitude and natural talent make it a definite possibility that he can become one.
Offensively, Kidd-Gilchrist compares favorably to a young Paul George. In George and Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot charts from their age-20 seasons, the similarities are evident. Granted, Kidd-Gilchrist’s chart is taken from a much smaller sample size, but the fact their numbers are similar shows a relationship in their development.
Kidd-Gilchrist’s 61 percent figure from the paint demonstrates his effectiveness driving towards the basket as well as his ability to finish around the rim on fast breaks. His nonexistent three-point shot does not necessarily mean he will never develop one. George shot a pitiful 29.5 percent from three in the season in which he was 20 years old, but he has improved to the point where he is shooting 37.4 percent three so far this year.
Kidd-Gilchrist’s mid-range game has also shown significant improvement. In his rookie season, he shot a meager 29.4 percent on mid-range jumpers, numbers not acceptable for a below-average swingman, let alone the second pick in the draft.
However, this season, his hard work is noticeable on the court. He has improved his mid-range shot percentage to a more respectable 42.9 percent.
While the idea of Kidd-Gilchrist becoming a three-point threat may seem hard to believe for many Bobcat fans, he is still so young and has the natural gifts to work through the kinks in his awkward jumper.
Kidd-Gilchrist is already a well above average defender, but he has the potential to be truly great on the defensive end.
His defensive prowess was evident against the Knicks, specifically with how well he guarded the NBA's reigning scoring champion Carmelo Anthony. It was clear that Anthony was affected by the fact that the Knicks were playing the second of two games on back-to-back days, but Kidd-Gilchrist's relentless defensive pressure on didn’t help either.
Anthony finished with 20 points on 9-of-22 from the field, and he made just five of his first 15 shots.
While Kidd-Gilchrist’s offensive game is still raw, his athleticism and intensity make him a really good defender. Once he masters the nuances of defensive rotations and plays with a controlled intensity, he could be a great on the defensive end.
Kidd-Gilchrist’s development is key to Charlotte’s future if they don’t end up near the top of the 2014 draft, as he has the potential to be the Bobcats' version of Paul George. He was able to lead a defensive-oriented Kentucky team to a championship as a freshman, and he could do the same in the NBA if his offense improves.
The Bobcats have some pieces already in Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller, and if they make smart moves and Kidd-Gilchrist improves drastically, look for Charlotte to play deep into the Eastern Conference playoffs in the near future.
All statistics courtesy Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.