Hornets Give a Smart Extension to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

There was a time when many considered Michael Kidd-Gilchrist the player least likely to be a bust from the 2012 NBA Draft. That was part of the reason few batted an eye when the (then) Charlotte Bobcats selected him with the second overall pick in the draft. Fast-forward a few years (and a name change) later, and the backers of his stock have clearly decreased in number.

Don’t be fooled either. There have been many reasons to doubt MKG. His jumpers have often looked more like a seven-car pileup than anything remotely resembling an NBA-quality shot. He has a non-existent stroke from anywhere beyond 16 feet out, and — more so — his offensive game has never developed quite the way people were hoping.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been (at least) what we thought he could be defensively. The Charlotte Hornets usually task him with playing against their opponent’s best offensive threat; his rebounding has improved year-over-year; and there’s still the point that he’s a mere 21 years of age. He was, after all, a one-year player in college at Kentucky.

Now, the Hornets are banking on MKG being a proven commodity, rooted in the belief that the former “lack” of skills developed in 2014-’15. The Hornets have given the athletic combo-forward a four-year, $52 million extension — they hope it is a brilliant maneuver.

Even though MKG has only shown slight degrees of offensive improvement each year, it is a pretty safe bet to say he will continue to improve. Given that the salary-cap ceiling is expected to jump exponentially higher , and that $13 million a year isn’t horrible for a terrific defense-oriented player, this is actually a steal for Charlotte.

The Hornets aren’t world-beaters, are nowhere close to being an NBA Finals type of team, and will need to continue to mold their roster into one less resembling “merely competent” and more like one that can make deep runs in the playoffs. However, that doesn’t mean the roster should be blown up. More so, it doesn’t mean the organization should give up on a project, such as MKG, simply because he doesn’t average 15 points per game.

Moreover, most teams in the NBA aren’t ready to win it all next season. Roster building, player development, and the like don’t take such massive leaps in one offseason. A single summer generally does not enable a perennial bottom-feeder to become a league-dominating beast. There’s no need to panic in Charlotte, and there’s no need to overthink the deal the franchise gave to MKG merely because we have all grown accustomed to making fun of his jumper.

With the NBA supposedly going smaller, MKG’s 6’7″ build — which has historically been far too small to play the four — might enable the 21-year-old to do just that. If he can kinda hit jumpers from 10-16 feet at a 50 percent rate, it could certainly make him a more appealing offensive threat. That’s not saying he would become an offensive marvel at the four, but at least competent enough that teams “might” have to respect him as a semi-decent stretch-four.

However, none of that actually matters — not in the grand scheme of things. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is at least, in the worst of worst-case scenarios, a player that has the talent to be on an All-Defensive Team at some point in his career. More importantly than that, given one more year on his rookie deal and the four subsequent years being at a rather reasonable rate, his defensive prowess is close to reaching its ceiling — in a good way.

I’m not sure how good MKG’s offensive game will ever become. Last season he showed improvement, but considering his previous two seasons were mired in offensive woes, deficiencies and debacles, it is less likely he will ever become a 15-points-per-game guy than it is that we will be eaten by a zombie at some point this afternoon. That said, we still might be taking his defensive game — and his age — for granted.

Every team lacks the luxury of a LeBron James or Tim Duncan to build their organization around (well, except for the teams who have those types of players). The Charlotte Hornets do not have a single player on their roster which leads anyone to believe a dynamic switch in fortunes is going to happen anytime soon. However, it doesn’t mean dropping a piece such as MKG would have been a good idea; $13 million a year for a guy who will likely become one of the league’s best defenders seems like a very solid deal for both sides.

And who knows — maybe MKG might end up being not only competent offensively, but something even more than that. Considering the Hornets now have an extra four years to find out, and at a relatively affordable rate, the extension was not only needed, but brilliant.

Patience is a virtue. Let’s see if Charlotte’s patience with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist pays off before we bury his career and this extension.

About Joseph Nardone

Joseph has covered college basketball both (barely) professionally and otherwise for over five years. A Column of Enchantment for Rush The Court on Thursdays and other basketball stuff for The Student Section on other days.