One of the biggest themes of the 2015 NBA offseason has been the lengths teams have gone to either acquire or retain top-notch defenders. Among the quintet of elite defending wings that entered the off-season as free agents (Kawhi Leonard, Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green and DeMarre Carroll), each player was awarded with eye-popping contracts, which you can see from the below graph:
|Khris Middleton||Milwaukee||5 years/$70 million|
|Jimmy Butler||Chicago||5 years/$95 million|
|DeMarre Carroll||Toronto||4 years/$60 million|
|Kawhi Leonard||San Antonio||5 years/$90 million|
|Draymond Green||Golden State||5 years/$82 million|
Versatile defenders that can defend multiple positions are one of the biggest treasures in the modern NBA, and this week the Charlotte Hornets retained one of those gems at a bargain price, agreeing on a four-year, $52 million extension with former second overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Often overlooked due to his playing in Charlotte and noted offensive issues, Kidd-Gilchrist fits right into that aforementioned core of players. Ever since arriving to the team after the 2012 draft, Kidd-Gilchrist has been looked at as one of the most promising young defenders in the game. That promise turned into actual defensive dominance during the 2014-15 season. According to NBA Stats Database’s On/Off numbers, opponents averaged 98.7 points per 48 minutes when Kidd-Gilchrist was on the sidelines compared to 92.5 points when he was on the court.
Simply put, the Hornets were a drastically better team when Kidd-Gilchrist was on the court, compiling a 6-20 record when he was injured compared to a 27-28 record when he was available to play. While that second record isn’t particularly groundbreaking, that would have been good enough to put the Hornets into the playoffs.
Per ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus stats, Kidd-Gilchrist only trails Tony Allen, Khris Middleton and Kawhi Leonard among wing defenders.
Kidd-Gilchrist is able to be such a pioneering defensive force through three major factors:
- A 6’7” frame with a long 7’0” wingspan
- Elite athleticism
- Exhibiting tremendous effort on each possession
- Whether he’s working against some unknown backup small forward on the Philadelphia 76ers, or Anthony Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist works his ass off to stick to his opponent until the end of the possession, staying with them in both pick and roll and isolations.
While defending in space, Kidd-Gilchrist displays tremendous footwork which allows him to cut off angles and work through screens. And if an opponent manages to shake free, Kidd-Gilchrist has great recovery speed and can still contest shots with his long wingspan.
Undoubtedly the biggest elephant in the room regarding Kidd-Gilchrist’s all-around value as a player is his work on the offensive end. Since making his way to the NBA, Kidd-Gilchrist has been looked down upon due to his lack of a jumper.
An aesthetically displeasing jump shot has made Kidd-Gilchrist one of the more inefficient shooters of all-time. During his first two seasons, Kidd-Gilchrist failed to shoot better than 30 percent from mid-range (between 16-24 feet).
Despite those struggles, Kidd-Gilchrist was able to etch out a little niche on the offensive end through transition plays and off-ball cuts, showcasing enough potential to be an intriguing weapon due to the aforementioned quickness and athleticism.
Following that 2013-14 season, Kidd-Gilchrist and then-Hornets assistant coach Mark Price worked hard to rectify that horrendous shooting stroke. While the “Rome wasn’t built in a day” phrase certainly fits, you could definitely see the hard work start to pay off last season. While there’s still a little hitch at the top of the arc on his jumper, Kidd-Gilchrist’s shooting stroke looks a lot smoother and more fluid than anybody would ever expect. Alongside that, Kidd-Gilchrist shot a respectable 39 percent from mid-range, a nine percent improvement.
Just the reality of a not yet 22-year old player becoming an elite perimeter defender in today’s game should be enough to make Kidd-Gilchrist worth the commitment the Hornets have made. When you factor in his progression as a shooter, there stands a lot to like about Kidd-Gilchrist as he is now, and what he could turn into if he continues to improve as an offensive weapon.
While he’s definitely not worth the same price of Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler, Kidd-Gilchrist’s deal looks pretty good compared to other extended wings. For example, Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler recently agreed to a four-year, $46 million extension, which is only slightly less than MKG’s deal. However, the 28-year old Chandler has peaked as a player and has battled injury problems throughout his career. Another notable comparison would be with Orlando forward Tobias Harris, who signed a five-year, $64 million extension despite only being an offense-oriented player.
From a team perspective, the Kidd-Gilchrist extension could become one of the biggest bargains of the offseason. Considering the amount of teams that will be entering next year’s off-season with plenty of cap space and the rarity of someone like Kidd-Gilchrist being on the open market, the young forward could have been due for a much bigger paycheck.
Looking past that, witnessing the continued progression of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the Charlotte Hornets should be extremely entertaining to watch for years to come.