Two years ago, as Kentucky dominated college basketball en route to a 38-2 record and a national title, many wondered how it would fare against the NBA's worst teams. In theory, the Wildcats, who had the No. 1, 2, 18, 29, 42 and 46 selections in the 2012 draft, had as much high-level talent as a team like the Charlotte Bobcats.
In reality, the gap between the NBA and the NCAA is more like a chasm, as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist found out last season.
Kidd-Gilchrist, drafted No. 2 overall by Charlotte, was the farthest thing from a savior as a rookie. He started 78 games at small forward, averaging nine points, six rebounds and 1.5 assists a game on 46 percent shooting. The Bobcats, meanwhile, were as bad as ever, finishing with a 21-61 record (second-worst in the NBA) and a -9.2 point differential (the worst). Nothing went right: they had the No. 28 offense in league and the No. 30 defense.
Kidd-Gilchrist's biggest issue was his shooting. While that was his main weakness coming out of college, the Bobcats couldn't have expected his historically bad shooting performance in 2013. The numbers, via Hoopdata, speak for themselves: 30 percent from 3-9 feet, 9 percent from 10-15 feet, 29 percent from 16-23 feet, 2-9 total from beyond the three-point line. That's how you provide zero floor spacing for a team that desperately needed it.
Charlotte hired Mark Price, one of the best shooters in NBA history, primarily to work with Kidd-Gilchrist this summer. Price has a lot on his plate; there's no easy fix for Kidd-Gilchrist's form. Not to get too technical, but this doesn't look very good (h/t Zach Harper of CBS Sports):
In Summer League, Kidd-Gilchrist unveiled a bizarre new tweak to his free-throw form as well:
And while many of the other top picks from 2012 are already well past playing in Summer League, Kidd-Gilchrist struggled to make an impression in Las Vegas. He averaged 11 points and three rebounds a game on 52 percent shooting, hardly the numbers you would expect from a No. 2 overall pick headed into his second season in the NBA. Jeff Taylor, whom Charlotte drafted 29 spots behind Kidd-Gilchrist, averaged 20 points and three rebounds on 47.5 percent shooting.
But even without a jumper, Kidd-Gilchrist has the chance to be a special player. For all his struggles, he still had a 14.6 PER as a rookie. At 6'7 and 230 pounds with a 7'0 wingspan and a 35' max vertical, he is one of the longest and most athletic players in the NBA. You can see his athleticism in his 65-percent field goal percentage at the rim, as well as per-36 minute averages of 8.1 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and one steal. He's built so much like Shawn Marion that he should think about that two-handed chicken-shot.
As a rookie, Kidd-Gilchrist's lack of shooting was compounded by sharing the floor with Bismack Biyombo and Byron Mullens. Mullens seemed to be under the impression that he was a stretch 4, but he never made defenses respect his shot, shooting 38 percent from the field and 32 percent from three. Biyombo didn't have to be defended at all, averaging 6.4 points per-36 minutes. There was no room to slash to the rim, the strength of Kidd-Gilchrist's offensive game at Kentucky.
This season, Charlotte will have a much more legitimate frontcourt. It gave Al Jefferson a three-year, $41 million contract to be its starting center, and it drafted Indiana power forward Cody Zeller with the No. 4 pick. Jefferson is a legitimate first option that can shoot mid-range jumpers, while Zeller has an unusual amount of skill and athleticism for a 6'11 player. Playing next to two big men who can score will be a welcome change of pace for Kidd-Gilchrist.
Neither Jefferson nor Zeller is a defensive stopper, but after finishing dead last in defensive rating in 2013, it's not like the Bobcats can get worse. With Jefferson and Zeller up front and Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson in the backcourt, Kidd-Gilchrist will be surrounded by four NBA-caliber players. He can focus on moving without the ball and doing all the little things on both sides of the floor that he became known for in college.
The operative word in Charlotte these days, like for any rebuilding franchise, is patience. Considering the difficulties Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis had as rookies, the idea that their 2012 Kentucky team could have defeated an NBA team is a bit silly. However, if you put that same team together in 2017, they would be able to handle whatever is left of the 2012 Bobcats.
At that point, when Kidd-Gilchrist is 24, we'll have a much better idea of what type of player he'll be.