Reputations are hard to overcome: When a 19-year-old Michael Kidd-Gilchrist showed up in Charlotte as the NBA Draft’s No. 2 overall pick in 2011, he arrived with a jump shot so flawed it was labeled unfixable.
Over most of his five-plus NBA seasons, the abridged scouting report on the former University of Kentucky star read, “Hornets’ best defender, but an offensive liability. Back off and let him shoot.”
MKG, as he’s known to teammates and fans, has begun changing that. He’ll never be a true three-point threat in a league infatuated with that skill. But his mid-range shot has improved dramatically of late, enough so that teams will have to guard him differently if that productivity continues.
Over the first 30 games of the 2017-18 season, Kidd-Gilchrist is making 59 percent of his shots between 10 and 16 feet from the basket. Over his entire career, he’s made 41 percent of those shots.
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The mid-range jump shot looks outdated in the NBA’s new math, where teams want a majority of attempts either at the rim or outside the three-point line. However, Kidd-Gilchrist making a respectable share of those jumpers means defenders can’t just back off him to the extreme to focus on drives.
“It changes a lot,” Hornets acting coach Stephen Silas said. “Teams in previous years have (only guarded him) all the way in the paint.”
One of the hot terms in NBA-speak these days is “two-way player:” Only players who are great at one end of the court can be a significant liability at the other end and still succeed.
The Hornets are struggling at 11-19, but Kidd-Gilchrist has been solid at both ends, particularly of late. He reached double-figures scoring in five of his past seven games, and scored nine in each of the other two. In that seven-game span, he averaged 13.7 points and shot 59 percent from the field.
“He’s a confident shooter in a way he wasn’t in the past,” said Silas, filling in for Steve Clifford, who is on a medical leave. “If he misses one, he’ll take the next one, and that says a lot about him.”
Kidd-Gilchrist worked on his shot with Mark Price earlier in his career, before Price left the Hornets to be Charlotte 49ers coach. Since then, Kidd-Gilchrist has worked with shooting specialist Bruce Kreutzer.
He’s better technically. He’s also good, he says, at tuning out the noise.
“I’ve always been confident in myself over the years, despite what everybody says or thinks about my game,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “It doesn’t make or break my day, what other people think. I know how hard I work. That’s all that matters, and it’s showing.”
Kidd-Gilchrist said teammates — particularly point guard Kemba Walker and power forward Marvin Williams — constantly remind him to shoot whenever teams leave him open.
His jump-shot stroke looks simpler now, with fewer extraneous motions. As defenders have to guard him more for the jump shot, one of his offensive strengths — ballhandling — increases in value.
“The other thing he’s doing is he’s driving the ball really, really well,” Silas said. “We’ve really worked on his finishes and he’s improve a lot: A lefty finish (at the rim), a righty finish over size.
“You do have to honor that mid-range jumper, and you also have to honor that drive, so it makes it easier on the other (Hornets) on the floor.”
“We don’t run any plays for him, and he still finds his way.”