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Blogcat's Take, 3/14

Haters, be warned: last night’s Hornets victory over the Chicago Bulls provides the excuse I need to write my annual lover letter to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Longtime readers will know that my outpourings of MKG devotion get borderline homoerotic; such is my passion of the Gilchrist. But how could one not be so affectionate for the Kidd, especially after a tour-de-force like last night, in which I’m pretty sure he guarded all 5 positions, Magic/LeBron-style, and simply catheterized the Bulls’ offense. For sure Coach Clifford unleashed him on a red-hot Aaron Brooks in the second half, and MKG also repeatedly shut off Nikola Mirotic like an overdue electricity bill. But he also had a block on Joakim Noah, a block and two steals on Pau Gasol, and another steal on Brooks. I felt sure he also stuffed Mike Dunleavy at some point, but apparently not. Nevertheless Gilchrist was every in Bull’s face like a nose ring, stimulating both a hugely satisfying comeback win and my basketball fan loins.

Here’s the great thing about being a Gilchrist apologist nowadays: it’s no longer that hard! In his rookie season, being a fan of Gilchrist was like the old Chris Rock line about rap: “love rap, tired of defending it.” That’s because MKG couldn’t shoot, which for a basketball player is a fly in the ointment the size of Jeff Goldblum. But even after last night’s 5-for-17 performance (in which he still sunk two free throws with 40 seconds left to preserve a win that was starting to get just a bit dicey), Gilchrist’s shooting—while not exactly an asset—has at least become a manageable workaround. According to Basketball-Reference.com, MKG is at the highest TS% of his career, .521. This is not going to get him selected for sniper training, but here’s what’s impressive: it’s up from last year’s .516 AND/DESPITE his usage rate surging from 15.2% to 18.8%. And he’s turning it over less; 12.1% of his possessions ended in a turnover last year, and this year it’s down to 10.0%. AND another thing (my elementary school teacher would be rolling over in her grave or sifting around in her ashes—depending on how she was disposed—if she saw me starting all these sentences with the word “and,” but I don’t know what else to do; it’s either that or an obscenely long run-on sentence): Gilchrist’s free-throw rate has dropped off quite a bit—52% to 46%—because he’s using the jump shot more, making his TS% improvement all the more impressive. In fact, we might be at Peak Kidd-Gilchrist Jump Shot right now, because there were a couple of times last night when I thought he settled for a couple of mid-range attempts and would rather have watched him bum-rush the rim and treat Tony Snell like a Wal-Mart employee on Black Friday.

Even when Kidd-Gilchrist settles, though, it’s often no worse than a 50-50 proposition. Basketball-Reference.com says that his accuracy on 10-16-footers is all the way up to 50% this season, which is almost 3x better than last year. Ironically, he’s actually slightly worse compared to last year as he moves closer to the rim, although not significantly so. In fact, when he gets to the rim, he’s only finishing at a 57% clip, which really needs to be north of 60%. From having watched him this long, I’ve often thought that he’s not much of a jumper for a guy who’s 6’7”. It feels like he has to do a lot of work via reverses and shielding the ball from defenders instead of just slamming it down on fools’ heads (and of course NEVER getting the damned call from the obviously biased and/or corrupt refs in the process). Yet when I visited DraftExpress.com (which is lovely this time of year), it shows that in the 2012 draft combine, MKG registered a 35.5” max vertical, which is slightly above the historical average for 6’7” guys (I know this because I actually did a search in DraftExpress.com’s database on the entire history of combine performances, then cut-and-pasted this into Excel, then filtered on guys with heights of 6’7”.1 to 6’7”.9, and averaged out the max verts. A) The historical average happens to be 34.4.” :cool: I am well on my way to a divorce.) So I guess the good news is that he seems to have the physical capabilities for finishing better at the rim, he just needs some coaching. Now that Mark Price has tutored him on his mid-range game, maybe we can bring someone else in to instruct him on finishing at the rim. Gee, if only we had a dominant dunker within the organization...

Anyway, that’s as negative as this article is going to get, because my thesis—nay, my life’s focus—is the following: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the shiznit. ESPN.com is crediting him for 3.4 estimated wins added (EWA), which is only 19th among small forwards. However, total minutes played is a big part of that equation, and Michael (as we’re all painfully aware) has missed time due to injury. He’s only played 48 games so far, and if you look at the small forwards who’ve played less than or equal to that amount of games, only Carmelo Anthony (40 games played, 8.0 EWA), Kawhi Leonard (46 games played, 7.5 EWA), and—in a totally unexpected appearance a la Matt Damon in Interstellar that admittedly threatens to completely derail my entire argument—Shabazz Muhammad (38 games played, 4.1 EWA) have brought more to the table than MKG. ESPN’s RPM stats, which measure overall productivity on a per minute basis, back me up here: MKG is 10th among small forwards in total RPM and 4th defensively. And—I saved the best for last—the Hornets are a net +4.7 points-per-100 possessions with MKG on the court, and—here’s the cherry on top—a net -7.1 pp100p when he sits. It’s an 11.8 point swing! Whoo! MKG is non-traditional metric nerd meth.

The best thing about MKG, though, is that unlike a guy like Shane Battier, he’s loveable even if for some reason you’re not the type of guy who spends his Saturdays cutting-and-pasting onto spreadsheets. He plays with such feral ferocity that old school non-number crunchers like Rick Bonnell find him a joy to behold. This week in particular was a delight, if not for the Bulls game then how about what he did to the Pistons’ Reggie Jackson last Sunday? First-Half Reggie Jackson was 7-for-12 with 21 points. In the second-half Coach Clifford sicced MKG on him like a Rottweiler and Gilchrist nearly erased him from existence, as Jackson proceeded to go 2-for-9 the rest of the way for 4 points in another fantastic come-from-behind romp.

The traditional per-game numbers are probably never going to be there. But PER is slowly gaining traction among the casual/normal fans. With the increase in true-shooting percentage, the drop in turnovers, and also the voracious rebounding (especially on the defensive end, where he’s inhaling a crackpipe-level 22.7% of the boards) MKG has at long last surpassed the officially above-average 15.0 PER benchmark with a 15.5, up from last year’s 12.0. Yup, one more year of this type of trending and it will no longer even be indy-cool to cheer for Gilchrist, because he’ll have gone mainstream; it’ll be like the ratings difference between Breaking Bad season 4 and season 5, and we’ll be able to call out all of the bandwagon hoppers for being posers. Just know that I loved you first and hardest, MKG!

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    So your saying we should trade him for Shabazz!?! YES I AGREE! 

    Yeah MKG has  vastly improved and I still enjoy watching him destroy players on defense. Him being aggressive on the offensive side  is icing on the cake.

    The dunk he had against the kings and his various slams he has on a defenders head at least once a year proves he certainly has the ability to do it more often
    We should NOT trade MKG for Shabazz. Not funny. Words hurt. The only positive of such a trade would be the fun I get from saying the word "Shabbaz." I can't be the only one who likes to pronounce it like Gomer Pyle used to say, "Sha-ZAYUM!"...can I? https://m.youtube.co...h?v=jSpBwt4hFN8 (And in one sentence I managed to show both my age and racism)