IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, MKG. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT

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MKG sketch by Mike S.

Whenever Michael Kidd-Gilchrist launches one his patented twenty-foot airballs, I’m confronted with three stages of conflicting emotion:

  1. Laughter – as in, “OMFG what did I just see“.
  2. Anger – as in, “This is unacceptable, he’s killing us“.
  3. Sadness – as in, “I feel really bad for this kid“.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that MKG and his selection as the number two overall pick in the 2012 Draft is to me what the James Harden trade is to Bill Simmons. I wrote before the Draft that MKG was a questionable fit on a team both bereft of scoring and saddled with an ugly history of developing projects. Charlotte had just used the seventh overall pick a year before on the one-way, uber-raw defensive prospect Bismack Biyombo. The chances of Charlotte successfully developing and playing them together for any long stretches were next to nil, especially if they were actually trying to win games.

The Bobcats weren’t trying to win at all during their infamous 2011-2012 campaign, a strike-shortened season that led to the league’s all-time worst record. To call it miserable would be an affront to misery. The roster was made so purposefully threadbare that they succeeded in losing their final 23 games – the business end of a 3-34 run.

This was all part of general manager Rich Cho’s plan. You see, the league incentivizes rebuilding teams to be as bad as possible in order to secure the highest draft picks. That’s where all the stars are, if you haven’t heard – at the top of the Draft.

The 2012 Draft had one guaranteed franchise player in Anthony Davis and Cho reasoned that subjecting an already fragile, tortured fan-base to another major dose of embarrassment was worth a 25% shot at getting him.

To the surprise of exactly no one, Charlotte didn’t win that May’s Lottery and instead wound up picking second overall. In fact, the league’s worst team had won the Lottery just three times in 22 years. The look on Cho’s face during the broadcast had me worried: “a guy with both an engineering and law degree, who prioritizes advanced stats above all else — THAT GUY was suprised that his 75% chance of NOT WINNING THE LOTTERY happened?

Instead of rewarding a desperate fanbase with a ready-made star in Davis, the front office settled for his Kentucky teammate MKG instead. HE would be the franchise’s reward for the epic losing. HE would be the future star to push this team into the stratosphere. HE would shoulder the massive expectations…

MKG is by EVERY ACCOUNT an awesome, likable young man. His work ethic and attitude are off the charts and he NEVER takes plays off. Every team needs a guy like that. From the portion of his bio that has been made public, MKG has courageously overcome many obstacles in order to become an NBA player. Notably, he’s struggled with a speech impediment which can be petrifying to those who do not live their lives in the public eye. On the court, MKG is a long, rangy defender who occasionally flashes his potential as a top-tier permiter defender – a valuable skill.

MKG is also an absolute disaster on offense. His shot requires a page one rewrite (if that’s even possible) and he doesn’t have an explosive first step or a refined post-up game – so there’s nothing he can consistently resort to while he’s reworking the jumper. While his on-ball defense can sometimes be superb, he fouls early and often and gets lost on screens like he was Gary Neal, not Tony Allen. And because of his offensive liabilities, MKG is unplayable at the end of games especially when the team is down.

Wanna guess how many times he’s played over 35 minutes in a game this season? Once. One time. Turns out that you can’t lock guys down when you’re sitting on the pine. In other words, MKG is a long-term project. An intriguing one that any team would love to have sitting at the end of its bench or hustling in the D-League, honing his craft.

MKG is also a world-class, terrible Number Two Overall pick – especially given the Bobcats’ circumstances at the time. Leading up to the Draft, Cho didn’t go a day without bringing up his Durant/Westbrook/Harden days in OKC: ready-made Lottery saviors with telegenic personalities who revitalized a fanbase and set fire to the league. MKG, with his raw blue-collar game and camera-shy ways couldn’t have been any different.

Leading up to the 2012 Draft, there were whispers that MKG’s people were hoping he would not go to Charlotte at number two. They knew how much work his game would require and how patient a franchise would need to be. They knew he’d need to be surrounded by big time scorers who could carry the offensive load while MKG did all the dirty work and learned on the job via a strong internal development staff. Basically, the opposite of the team he ended up going to.

Some fans have suggested that we “forget where MKG was picked and evaluate him with fresh eyes“. While a noble gesture, it’s not exactly practical. MKG’s $4.8 million salary this season is nearly as much as Josh McRoberts and Kemba Walker combined. He’s owed $5 million next season and $6.3 million the following. His cap hold will be somewhere north of $9 million once his rookie contract ends in July of 2016. In other words, MKG is making real NBA money. His 26 minutes of play every night are minutes that the team cannot dedicate to other, more polished and productive two-way NBA players.

My biggest concern is with MKG himself. Again, he comes off as a forthright and genuine young man. Heck, he even called up his college coach before the Draft and asked him if he was truly ready for the NBA. It’s a near certainty that he feels bad for not being able to help his team more as they push for a Playoff spot. So if I may, allow me to channel my inner Frank Underwood, turn towards the camera and address MKG directly:

MY PERSONAL MESSAGE TO MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST

It’s not your fault, MKG. It’s not your fault.

Bobcats management put you in a position that did you no favors. Any resentment or impatience that you receive from the fans (this writer included) is aimed squarely at them, not at you. Imagine if Gerald Wallace had been drafted as a Top 3 overall pick? The words “failure” and “bust” would’ve haunted that guy until he was scared out of the league. Don’t let that happen to you. Realize what is really going on and rise above it.

If guys like Crash and Lance Stephenson can do it, so can you. It will take time and it might take a change of scenery but you are a legitimate NBA player who will one day excel despite the challenging circumstances in which you’ve arrived. I’m certain of it. From the little I’ve read about how you got here, overcoming obstacles is without doubt one of your skills that is NBA-ready.

- ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

6 thoughts on “IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, MKG. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT

  1. Ok – so Rich Cho couldn’t even buy a suit that fit him. He’s only gonna be on national TV once or twice in his life. He looks so bummed.

    If the Bobcats don’t want to pay the cash to send the roster to a Tony Robbins seminar over the summer, I think they could book this Baseline blogger for the gig.

  2. Honest question: what do you guys make of the big games Lebron and Carmelo had against MKG/Bobcats this year? I know defense is a team effort, and plenty of the points came against other defenders, but MKG was the primary defender both times.

    I ask because what I think I see is a team that tells itself (and their fans, and the league) that MKG is an elite wing defender. And I think I see that Lebron and Carmelo scoff at that notion and welcome the fact that the Bobcats put MKG on an island against them. And to take my suspicions further, I think Lebron and Carmelo sense that MKG’s confidence is fragile and particularly delight in busting his chops (not unlike how his Airness would destroy opponents — and teammates — who didn’t have backbone).

    I hope I’m reading way too much into this, but I felt this during both Lebron and Carmelo’s 60+ point games — basically that they were picking on MKG.

    Which would really dovetail with your whole point in this post — that MKG is miscast/oversold as this fully realized elite wing defender.

    • Well Doc, you can just read my post on MKG (or the team’s load of BS about the kid)

      He’s oversold as an elite dude on defense, and I get the feeling that the club has convinced themselves of that myth. So, they leave him out there to get manhandled by truly dominant scorers like Lebron and Melo.

      I definitely appreciate your insight into the killer instinct that those superstars must have when they see a young buck touted as a worth opponent. They’re killing him for fun, and it’s probably not too smart of Clifford to leave him out there to go one-on-one with these types of dudes.

      • Hope you two watched the Pacers post-game presser. Steve Clifford went out of his way to put MKG over as a defensive catalyst. He played an aggressive 15 minutes on Paul George and helped set the tone but picked up more fouls (4) than points (3) in that span.
        Agree with you, I’m not so sure the “Dave Batista hard push” is the best idea. Undersell, overdeliver is generally a safer, more satisfying strategy.

  3. RobC

    I think you guys are being a little to hard on the kid. You are talking about a 20 years old kid that is just learning what it takes ti be an elite defender and HE WILL GET THERE in the very near future. I think is very unfair to judge him based on those two games. Both Melo and LBJ were just on fire, they would’ve score 50-60 pts regardles. In the Melo game, MKG just played 18 minutes since he was just coming from a wrist injury. In the case of Lebron, the defensive rotations were just horrible. Most elite wing defenders have above average Centers behind them. Sefolosha has Ibaka and Perkins, Kobe had Bynum, Douglas has Gasol, etc.

    Those two games were “outliers”, just like George going 0-9 today was also an outlier. If you are to blame MKG for those two 60PPG games, then you have to credit him with holding an elite player to 0-9, 2PPG in 34MPG – and we all know that is not accurate. Also, when MKG was out with his injury, the Cats defense was simply embarassing, it was painful to see how lost they were on defense. As soon as MKG came back, the change in the defensive approach was evident. Is his ofense bad, sure it is; was he worthy of a #2 pick, no he was not; is he an elite defender, he definetly is one in the making, but still not there yet.

    • Those are good points RobC. He certainly has the tools to one day become an “elite defender” but there is still work to be done. Take the Pacers win for instance – he really made Paul George’s night difficult from the beginning but was again limited to just 15 minutes due to foul trouble (4) and offensive limitations. I have faith that he’ll eventually figure it out and become at least a valuable starter one day.
      The point that I wanted to stress in the post is that players like MKG (and Biz) are done a disservice by being selected so high in the Draft. High selections come with high expectations and impatient fans who are sick of losing. Hoisting that amount of additional pressure onto guys who already have a ton of work to do is a tremendously bad idea in this writers’ opinion.

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