Kidd-Gilchrist was our best player this season, no matter what’s the measurement of your preference.
Our defense, which is built on limiting drives and wings (mainly, MKG and Henderson) who keep action towards the side-lines, collapsed whenever Mike hit the bench. With Kidd-Gilchrist on the court we were the best defensive team in the league at 96.3 points given up per 100 possessions. With MKG on the bench we allowed 104.1 points, a ho-hum rating that would have you defending as the 19th best team in the league.
Those who talk coach lingo and throw intangibles out there, claim that we lack intensity when Mike is side-lined with an injury. This argument could actually be backed-up by our defensive rating. Per example, we gave up 109.7 points per 100 possessions for a 12-game stretch back in November when Kidd-Gilchrist was out with a foot injury. That would be just a smidgen worse than the mark that the league’s worst Timberwolves recorded for the season.
In related news, we had a record of 27-25 in games which Kidd-Gilchrist actually finished (we lost the three times he hurt himself during a game, bringing the overall record in games that MKG participated in to 27-28).
Whether it was the perception of referees all along or it’s on Kidd-Gilchrist to commit less unnecessary fouls, he’s tidied up this aspect of the game by recording a career-low in personal fouls per 36 minutes (2.6). The more slow-working brutes at the wing positions now have a tough time due to this. Mike can freely use not only his speed to stay in front of his assignment, but body him up without picking a foul, a frequent problem in seasons past. Just ask Joe Johnson who ended the season against Charlotte with 7 points in two games.
It’s not that the Armadillo Cowboy went out blazing and couldn’t make his shots (3/15 FG in two games). He just practically couldn’t find a field goal attempt that wasn’t coming after five dribbles of trying to shake Kidd-Gilchrist off his grill. Similarly, as I wrote a month ago, when unleashed on opposing point guards, Kidd-Gilchrist would force them to be unsure whether there indeed is enough place to launch up a shot or even advance further with the ball.
He is just as much of a terror off the ball. It’s the matter of a split-second between Mike hanging on the base-line near his weak-side assignment and him swooping in to make a defensive play. MKG’s ready to make such a play both for rebounding or shot contesting purposes.
Moreover, his improvement in defensive rebounding (5.6 per game, 7.0 per 36 minutes) has him leading the league among wings (depends on what you consider Draymond Green to be).
My personal favorite type of play that Mike makes is his recoveries from over-playing his man. His ability to let somebody slip through the back-door before managing to get back in the play really is uncanny. On such plays the passer almost has to wonder whether there actually is a way to get the ball to MKG’s man.
His defensive impact is evident enough both on tape or by metrics. Us again finishing as a top-10 defense with Al Jefferson manning the middle is a testament to how our conservative system works. Penetration through the middle is limited as evidenced by us leading the league in least opponent field goal attempts within five feet of the basket. Kidd-Gilchrist, in my mind, deserves a spot on the second All-Defensive team.
The feel-good story of the season concerning him though was the addition of a workable jump-shot (and the confidence to take it). Per NBA.com, he almost took half as many mid-range looks as he did last year (a rise from 88 FGAs to 167) and those came in seven less games played. Obviously, his mechanics have improved as has his percentages (from 28.4% to 39.5%). Take a look at how his hitch has relatively vanished and his elbow doesn’t go out all the way like it used to.
What needs to be acknowledged here is that while this is a noticeable and necessary improvement, Kidd-Gilchrist is still miles away from not hurting our team’s spacing. Perception of a shooter’s prowess tends to lag behind in this league. Just ask Thabo Sefolosha who made 108 threes on a percentage of 41.9% in 2012-13 before going 2 for 10 in a series against Memphis, where the Grizzlies did everything but pin a sign that said “Leave Open” on Thabo’s jersey while slaughtering Kevin Durant.
Michael didn’t attempt a single three this season so it’s fair to say that him showing off a workable corner three-pointer isn’t an event of the near future. Moreover, even when that does happen the stigma of him as a bad shooter will still be there. I reckon that him, let’s say, making one three per game for a whole season on an acceptable percentage, wouldn’t stop an opponent of pulling what Memphis did to Thabo or Chicago to Gerald Wallace. Adding a three-point shot is just the first step towards a world where you aren’t sagged off of.
Even with his admitted improvement in mid-range shooting, here’s how Joe Johnson is able to muck up the paint before a very hesitant close-out on Michael.
Now, to Kidd-Gilchrist’s credit he’s done everything to combat that by providing the team with a steady diet of games where he’s in double digits thanks to an aggressive approach of attacking the basket. Not to mention the fact, that the organization hasn’t done him any favors either by slotting him aside mediocre long-range shooters at the two-guard position.
An improvement I would like to see from him next season is finishing at he rim. Kidd-Gilchrist finished this year at a blah 57.8% at field goals within three feet of the rim. That’s a number that should go up considering the fact that he’s a slashing type of NBA forward-athlete.
His main flaws is that the type of athleticism he possesses doesn’t really help him to finish at the rim and that he’s a shaky ball handler. Kidd-Gilchrist is a two-legged jumper who leaps much higher when he can set up for a power-type of jump. That’s obviously not always an option when driving to the rim, where a one-legged jump is much more suitable for a quick finish.
Thus Mike tends to have some awkward finishes near the basket with him often ploughing into defenders or throwing up difficult attempts. His two-legged jump doesn’t get him anywhere on such dribble drives.
Michael’s iffy handles don’t help either. Kidd-Gilchrist dribbling the ball always has the unfortunate potential of turning into a comedy of errors. He also is very unwilling to ever go to his left hand.
It does seem like the scouting report is out on these deficiencies. Whenever MKG isn’t attempting to finish with a straight over-powering move, defenders are expecting him to go to his right hand. A Kidd-Gilchrist drive ending with the ball swiped away from him isn’t a rare occurrence.
Washington recently managed to stop his drives with a block three times in one quarter. There’s almost no trickery to any of these lay-ups with Kidd-Gilchrist once even going to his right hand from the left side. The low lift doesn’t help either.
I would call it a concern and definitely something that needs to be improved upon during the summer. Thankfully, what we do know is that whatever he’ll be working on in the off-season, he’ll be giving it his 100%.
I might have had to lower it to a “B+” if this was more of an evaluation of his season (because of the 27 games he missed) than his performance when he did indeed play.