Paralleling His Persona, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Quietly Having Career Year

By Sam Perley

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t really one for cameras and generally steers away from being in the spotlight. Ever since he was drafted by the Hornets over five years ago, his introverted nature has always been a characteristic of his personality, although he has gradually opened up over time. Perhaps it’s appropriate then that Kidd-Gilchrist’s play this season has subtly been some of the best of his NBA career.

Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford has never put tremendous stock into what he refers to as “fantasy basketball stats.” Instead, he values how a player impacts the game with intangibles more so than his ability to populate a box score.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s primary numbers this season of 10.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.0 assist and 1.5 combined steals and blocks per outing don’t necessarily jump off the page. The scoring average is the second-highest mark of his career (not counting the 2015-16 season when he appeared in just seven games because of multiple shoulder injuries) and it’s coming on a personal-best 51.0 percent shooting.

More specifically, Kidd-Gilchrist is knocking down 40.0 percent (28-of-70) of his mid-range shots this year, compared to a 38.0 percent conversion rate last year (82-of-216). He’s also connecting on 43.2 percent of non-restricted-area paint shots (16-of-37), after hitting just 31.5 percent of such attempts in 2016-17 (28-of-89).

In terms of distance, he hit on just 112-of-315 attempts (35.6 percent) from between three feet and the three-point line last season, although this year, that number has been upped to 42.4 percent (42-of-99).

Kidd-Gilchrist’s strides offensively might not be causing his scoring to skyrocket, but it’s certainly helping open things up for his teammates. Opposing defenses now have to take into account his improved versatility, knowing he’s more of a threat to score from different areas on the floor.

“I’ve been shooting the right shots,” he said after practice on Dec. 19. “If they come to me, if I’m open, I’m going to shoot them. I’m not going to hesitate anymore and that’s really it. It’s really simple. The game is really simple if you work hard at it every day.”

“Teams this year and previous years have played him all the way in the paint and this year he’s making that jumper,” said Associate Head Coach Stephen Silas following the team’s win over New York on Dec. 18. “The other thing that he’s doing is he’s driving the ball really, really well. Even if [the defense] is all the way back in the paint, he’s going to drive it and use his eurostep. He’s really been working a lot on his finishes and he’s improved a lot.”
One particular area that Kidd-Gilchrist has worked on this season is turnovers, especially when driving towards the rim. Some recent tweaks have helped his giveaways reach a career-low 0.6 per outing while sporting a league-leading 5.2 percent turnover ratio this campaign (turnovers per 100 plays; mini. 25.0 MPG).

“I don’t know,” said Kidd-Gilchrist when approached on the reason behind his low turnover numbers. “I’m just playing as hard as possible and making the simple plays. I’ve always been working on having [low turnovers].”

“We spend a lot of time watching film on it and working on his handle and his finishing for that matter, but one thing he would have problems with in the past is losing the ball or having it stripped as he was going through [the lane]. We’ve been working on hiding it in his pocket, hiding it in his ear, that sort of thing as he’s going through,” added Silas.

Kidd-Gilchrist also ranks second on the Hornets in offensive rating (career-high 107.7), just a sliver behind Kemba Walker (108.1). This measurement quantifies the average amount of points Charlotte scores per 100 offensive possessions with their starting small forward on the court. Prior to this season, Kidd-Gilchrist’s best offensive rating in any full NBA campaign was 105.4 last year.

Taking into account his defensive rating this season (101.0 points allowed per 100 defensive possessions), Kidd-Gilchrist is producing a team-high 6.7 net rating. His previous best was 3.1 in 2014-15, less than half of where he’s at now. Overall, he ranks 13th in the NBA in net rating and 10th in defensive rating amongst all forwards averaging at least 25.0 minutes per game this season.

“He capitalizes on his opportunities whenever he gets the basketball. He’s been aggressive. He’s making plays, getting to the basket,” said Walker. “Whenever he gets his open shots, he’s knocking them down. It’s all due to hard work. He works on his shot each and every day and he watches tons of film. He wants to be a great player and he’s coming along really well.”

Silas and Kidd-Gilchrist have worked together extensively in the past, although there doesn’t seem to be any change in their relationship with the former now running the team with Head Coach Steve Clifford away on medical leave.

“[Coach Silas] means a lot to me,” said Kidd-Gilchrist “That’s my guy on and off the court. We talk a lot, text. On the court, I told him I’m going to work as hard as possible every day, all day in practice and in the games. I owe it to my teammates, I owe it to myself, I owe it to [Coach Clifford] and I owe it to this organization.”

Kidd-Gilchrist might not ever be a 20-point-per-game scorer or average double-digit rebounds, which is perfectly alright. Now fully healthy, he’s showcasing noticeable offensive improvements while also continuing to play to his strengths, particularly on defense. Whether it’s apparent or not on the surface, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is making as big an impact as any player on the Hornets roster this season.