Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Can’t Shoot. Who Cares?

June 10th, 2012 by Kevin Hetrick

Cavs:the Blog’s draft profiles on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes and Jeremy Lamb arrived in December, January and February.  Things change fast with teenaged basketball players though, so time has come to freshen up our thoughts a bit.

Today, I’ll re-visit MKG.  I liked him in December and still do today.  There exists however, a sentiment that his current inability to shoot makes him unworthy of the fourth pick, let alone second.  I’ll estimate that 25% of Cavs fans do not consider MKG as a top-five pick.  For what it’s worth, a poll on NBAdraft.net basically falls at 50 – 50 with regards to “MKG vs Barnes”.  My understanding of the rationale is that the UK freshman star does not possess the offensive chops to warrant such a high rating.  I disagree, and will offer a few points on why.

He played well on offense this year

On a balanced offensive team where six players scored between 10 and 14 points per game, MKG finished fourth in scoring, including a respectable 112 offensive rating on 21.4 usage.  His true shooting percentage of 57% derived through beastly finishing in transition, off-cuts and through offensive rebounding.  With developing ball-handling ability he attacks the basket, earning five free throw attempts per game; he hit 75%.

Frequently, I see an excuse offered up on behalf of Harrison Barnes, that the NBA game will really open things up for him.  The same applies to MKG.  In addition to the NCAA three-point line falling one-yard nearer the basket than the NBA distance, Kentucky’s starting line-up featured four non-shooters.  Finding open lanes for a driving, cutting slasher will be easier in the better-spaced pro-game.

He will be one of the NBA’s best wing defenders

Within five years, maybe THE best.  I don’t know how people can ignore this.  Capable of guarding at least three positions and widely regarded as lock-down, his defense presents a completely elite NBA skill.  He turns nineteen in September and should be fighting for a place on NBA all-defense teams for over a decade.

At the NBA draft combine, he measured 6’ – 5.75” barefoot, 6’ – 7.5” in shoes, 233 pounds, with a 7’ – 0” wingspan and 8’ – 8.5” standing reach.

Not that this means a ton, but as I perused similarly sized prospects in draftexpress’s database, two of the NBA’s best wing defenders popped up.  Luc Richard M’bah a Moute registered 6’ – 5.75”, 6’ – 7.5”, 221 pounds, 7’ – 0.5” and 8’ – 7.5” while Andre Iguodala measured 6’ – 5.75”, 6’ – 6.75”, 217 pounds, 6’ – 11”, and 8’ – 9.5”.

These players are almost identically sized to MKG with one distinction.  At 3 and 1.5 years younger, respectively, he already sports an extra 10 – 15 pounds of muscle.  Defensively, he could be peak-level-Ron Artest, minus the crazy.

His floor is about as high as anyone in the draft

Draftexpress.com listed MKG’s “worst-case” as Gerald Wallace; a player who over the last seven seasons registered per-36 minute averages of 17 points on 56.5% true shooting with 7.4 rebounds per game.  Basically one point every two minutes with above average efficiency, while making one all-defense team.  That’s “WORST CASE” according to one reputable source; that rating is also known as “bust-proof” according to me.

He can learn to shoot

As a side note on Wallace, during his freshman year at Alabama he converted 18% of his three-point attempts, despite the NCAA line at a one-foot shorter distance than it is today.  Over the last six years in the NBA, he made 34% from long distance.

By all accounts, MKG is one of this draft’s hardest working players, a man with an unquenching desire to improve.  I find it unlikely that his three point shooting will not improve to respectable levels.  A quick search reveals several other small forwards besides Wallace to improve their shooting.

  • Kawhi Leonard knocked-down 20% his freshman year, 29% his sophomore year, and in his first season working in the Spurs system – 38%!  With hard work, great coaching and a well-oiled system, he exhibited an overnight transformation.
  • Richard Jefferson shot well in college, but his first five NBA seasons featured 32% three-point shooting, before improving to an average of 39% over the last six seasons.

The following players all played NCAA-ball before the three-point line extended to 20’ – 9”:

  • Paul Pierce made 30% his freshman year at Kansas
  • Danny Green hit 32% his first two NCAA seasons and is now a 42% NBA three-point shooter
  • Andre Iguodala bricked 21% his freshman year, before improving to 33% in the NBA, including a career-best 39% last season.
  • Jared Dudley started at 31% three-point shooting his freshman season, improved every year thereafter, and now strokes 40+% in the pros.

Shooting isn’t the most revered trait for an NBA Small Forward

Without comparing MKG to several of the players included; eight small forwards made an all-NBA team in the last ten years.  Their average three-point shooting percentage in that season was 34.7%, more than one-percent lower than NBA average shooting.  As many three-point shooting specialists rated as all-NBA (Peja Stojakovic) as players noted for their stout defense (Ron Artest).

Summary

Once upon a time, Ron Artest was the second-leading scorer on a 60-win team, the lock-down wing defender on a top-3 NBA defense.  Early in his age 25 season, his up-and-coming team hit their stride, rolling the defending NBA champs by 15 on their own court.  Then he punched a fan and started the brawl that crippled a franchise.

I think Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hits all those high notes, except his story ends without a riot, and instead finishes with a decade-long run of title contention.