The Charlotte Hornets are on the verge of locking up 21-year-old forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a four-year, $52 million contract extension. That may sound like a lot for someone with career averages of nine points and six rebounds, but in the current salary cap climate, $13 million a year is good value for Kidd-Gilchrist. It could even turn into a major bargain if his offensive game continues to improve.
Charlotte picked Kidd-Gilchrist No. 2 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft after losing out in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. A versatile forward out of Kentucky, Kidd-Gilchrist has blossomed into one of the league's better defenders and rebounders for his position.
The rub with Kidd-Gilchrist has been his offensive issues, specifically his jump shot. When he first entered the league, his jumper was a mess. Not only did it fail to go in, but it was ugly and looked painful:
In his rookie season, Kidd-Gilchrist shot 28 percent on shots 10 feet and longer, per NBA.com. That mark went down to 27 percent in 2013-14. In a league that's emphasizing spacing more than ever, poor jump-shooting like that is a death knell for an offense.
With this in mind, the Hornets remade Kidd-Gilchrist's jumper to make him more of an outside threat. While the youngster didn't attempt a single three-pointer last season, that fixed form resulted in much more proficient shooting on two-point jumpers. That 27 percent mark from 10 feet and out jumped all the way up to nearly 40 percent on 177 attempts. Kidd-Gilchrist also shot a solid 41.3 percent on spot-up opportunities last season, the best mark on the Hornets for players with at least 100 spot-up possessions, per Synergy Sports Technology. The next step in his shooting development will be to extend that range out to the three-point line.
But even if Kidd-Gilchrist never becomes a three-point threat, he still makes a positive contribution on offense. Our Mike Prada highlighted Kidd-Gilchrist's strong cutting ability and work on the offensive glass earlier in the year, and the numbers bear out his skill in those areas. His points per possession on cuts placed him in the 75th percentile in the entire league, and he ranked fourth among qualified small forwards in offensive rebound rate, per ESPN.
Furthermore, Kidd-Gilchrist was perhaps the only Hornet that was a threat on the break. Charlotte ranked near the bottom of the league in fast break points with just over nine per game, but MKG's 2.6 fast-break points per game was best on the team, per NBA.com. Without his speed, Charlotte wouldn't score in transition at all. Toss in MKG's ability to get to the free throw line at a good rate, and you have the makings of a quality offensive player even without a legitimate three-point shot.
Then there's the defensive end of the floor, which is where Kidd-Gilchrist really shines. He has ideal size, length (7-foot wingspan) and athleticism on the wing, and he uses those tools to his advantage as a defensive stopper.
Kidd-Gilchrist was fourth among small forwards in ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus, and his impact on that end is clear when looking at his on/off splits. In the 1,587 minutes he was on the court last season, the Hornets gave up just over 96 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. In the 2,394 minutes he was on the bench or injured, they gave up over 104 points per 100 possessions.
He was that essential to the Hornets' defense. During a 12-game stretch ranging from mid-November to early December when Kidd-Gilchrist was sidelined to injury, Charlotte gave up nearly 110 points per 100 possessions. When he missed the last 11 games of the season, the Hornets gave up over 105 points per 100 possessions. Both of those marks would rank near or at the bottom of the league.
Kidd-Gilchrist's long arms, quick feet, never-ending activity and dogged tenacity make him the ideal modern shutdown wing defender. Kidd-Gilchrist fared excellently in isolation situations and allowed just 43.7 percent shooting on shots he defended, one of the better marks among forwards, per NBA.com. He was especially good stopping shots closer to the basket, holding opponents to 4.4 percent less than their normal field goal percentage on shots less than 10 feet and an even stingier 7.7 percent less on shots less than 6 feet.
The scary thing is Kidd-Gilchrist still has room to improve on defense, especially in pick-and-roll and situations. He's already good enough as it is, but as he gets older and continues to learn the finer points of defense, he'll improve even more. If he stays healthy, he should be a perennial member of the All-Defensive Team. He could even find himself in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.
With the cap jumping up to around $90 million next summer and possibly near $110 million in 2017, signing a 21-year-old lockdown defender with a budding offensive game at $13 million a year makes sense for Charlotte. Eventually, that deal will be for less than 12 percent of the cap. That's equivalent to a contract at around $8.5 million a season at the current salary-cap level.
It's also for less money than many of the deals Kidd-Gilchrist's wing contemporaries. While MKG isn't worth top dollar like Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, his youth and upside make his deal look good compared to players the next level down. For instance, 23-year-old Tobias Harris just received $64 million over four years despite being a one-way player. DeMarre Carroll is a solid two-way threat, but he's likely peaked at 29 years old and he got $60 million over four years from Toronto. Wilson Chandler is 28 and has had injury problems over the course of his career, and even he got a four-year, $46 million extension that's only slightly less than MKG's. Kidd-Gilchrist is already as good as those players and has much more room to grow.
It's a little surprising Kidd-Gilchrist is signing an extension now, considering he could likely get a lot more money next summer with so many teams possessing cap space. But with a history of unrelated injury problems, he clearly prefers the security of $52 million right now.
In this new cap climate, the Hornets should be thrilled he feels that way.