The Kentucky Wildcats won the National Championship and consensus #1 pick and college Player of the Year Anthony Davis was a big reason why. The team was stacked with talent, no doubt, but it's consensus LEADER was an 18 year old freshman who also happens to be the youngest available player in the draft class--Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Seems to be en vogue, so I thought I'd take a crack at selling people on my personal preference at #3 (assuming he makes it that far): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Apologies in advance for the wordiness.
There are many on this board who don't like the narrative on MKG, which focuses more on intangibles than on important elements of his skill-set. I would generally agree. And while I won't argue against other prospects here, I hope the rest of this piece puts some context into why people rave about the same things despite, and in the presence of, empirical evidence that supports his basketball abilities.
Watching his workouts it's easy to see why coaches and teammates love the kid. He's humble, he's a hard worker and he values winning above all else. He started 39 of 40 games for Kentucky last season--and the one game he didn't start he told coach Cal that his backup, senior Darius Miller who'd started and averaged 31 MPG the previous season and shot over 40% from 3, needed some support to get him back playing his best basketball...for the benefit of the team. Maybe not the reason to draft him, but certainly inspires confidence that he's a quintessential team player (and one more likely to be caught watching Disney movies than clubbing after a road game).
As it turned out, MKG would only play 16 minutes in that non-start against Vandy in the SEC Championshiop game before fouling out, one of only two losses on the season for the Wildcats. The other loss, 73-72 to Indiana on a last second three after Doron Lamb missed a free-throw on the other end, saw Kidd-Gilchrist shoot 9-12 from the field for 18 points, nine rebounds, a steal and two blocks. Prior to that, UK had a full week off after beating UNC in the most hyped early season game of the year. Anthony Davis went for 7/9 and 6/9 in the two contests, but MKG certainly hadn't taken either game off, going for 17 and 11 on 6-for-10 shooting in his showdown with fellow lottery pick Harrison Barnes (14 points, two rebounds) while also out-rebounding first-round picks Tyler Zeller and John Henson (eight apiece).
Not enough to support his "gamer" reputation? Kentucky's next test was against #4 ranked Louisville, and MKG put up arguably his best game of the season--24 points, 19 boards on 7-14 shooting (2-4 from 3PT) while getting to the line 13 times. A closer-than-expected slog at Tennessee weeks later required all of his 17 points, 12 boards and 3 steals--down three with under 10 minutes remaining MKG had a three point play, hit two free throws, blocked a layup and dropped a three over the next 4:30 to help them regain the lead. then pulled down three boards in the final two minutes to maintain the lead.
And what about the revenge game against Indiana in the tournament? This time MKG wouldn't let his team lose, scoring 24 and grabbing 10 boards while shooting 7-15 from the field and 10-10 from the line. The performance was so impressive nobody flinched when he had 19/5 on 7-10 shooting against a stacked Baylor team, while helping hold Quincy Miller, an intriguing NBA project in his own right, to 3 points on 1-6 shooting.
And what about his three match-ups against Bradley Beal?
February 7th he scored 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting with 13 boards and three assists. Beal went 5-15 from the field (1-7 from 3PT) for 14 points, six rebounds, and three assists.
March 4th he scored seven points on 3-7 shooting, with eight boards, four assists and two steals. Beal went 1-10 from the field (1-5 from 3PT) for five points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.
March 10th, in the only contested game of the three, MKG had 10 points on 3-5 shooting, eight rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block. Beal had his best game against the Cats, scoring 20 points on 8-15 shooting (4-7 from 3PT), eight rebounds and five assists. But with the game on the line, under 10 minutes left and UF up by three, Kidd-Gilchrist hit a jumper to pull them within one and, following a Doron Lamb bucket, blocked Beal's layup to maintain the lead. He'd get an offensive rebound the next possession that ended in a Terrence Jones three pointer and a four point advantage. All told, the 14-0 Wildcats run included MKGs four points, three rebounds, a block and a steal over three and a half minutes, putting them in the lead for good.
Beal outscored MKG in those three contests, but it took 14-40 shooting to get his 39 points--compare @ 10-20 shooting for 30 points.
Certainly there is more beyond these individual performances. Much has been made of his poor 3PT shooting and odd mechanics, and along with his middling ball handling skills those seem to be the main detractors from the MKG bandwagon. However, fifteen games into the season MKG was 10-for-27 from behind the arc--good for 37%. He would shoot only 3 for 24 the rest of the season, taking less than one a game, favoring easier looks and getting to the line while allowing Doron Lamb (47%) and Darius Miller (38%) to do most of the damage from down town.
As you can see from some of the reports below, which are much more eloquently written and I would encourage all to read, MKG knows he will be expected to play some SG in the pros and is working on his deficiencies. The returns are very positive, and given his work ethic it is hard to argue he will be unable to improve while other guys confidently overcome their own deficiencies. He's already a good FT shooter and gets there often--his TS% is equal to that of Bradley Beal and he scored 476 points on only 326 shots this season.
MKG is an elite offensive rebounder who makes easy shots for himself, and is a plus rebounder on the defensive end as well. As stated he's the youngest player in the class, so those who guarantee their guy has "another inch or two in him" have to admit the same for Kidd-Gilchrist (would put him in the 6'8" range with great wingspan). He averaged 20/11 in his senior year of high school on a team that almost went undefeated, then put up 16/12/4 in the McDonald's All-American Game, earning top honors. He also was good for 15/7 on 65% shooting in the US team's gold medal run at the U-17 World Championships. He's been able to get buckets wherever he plays.
Undoubtedly MKG's jumpshot will determine whether he can get to that elite level. At first glance he seems to be a young Andre Iguodala who will immediately impact on defense but will need to improve his efficiency from outside the paint. But his ability to get to the line, make smart plays, and wreak havoc in transition will mean that he'll still impact the game offensively until he builds confidence in his jumper. His ability to create his own scoring without having plays run for him is impressive, and a pull-up jumper will take him to the next level in terms of his offensive options. It won't happen overnight...but after all that's been seen from and said about this kid I'm not going to be the one to doubt him.
One last point: MKG is not a "hustle player." That analogy conjures up the image of 10-day contracts and D-League-er's who can provide effort and determination at a minimum salary. He's been in the top 5 of his prospect class every year, even winning NJ Gatorade Player of the Year in 2009 as a sophomore over last year's No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving (a junior at the time). He's always been viewed in this high regard, so we should do ourselves a favor and drop the "guys who try hard are a dime a dozen" routine.
Finally, some light reading on MKG (subscription required on the first and most recent) and miscellaneous quotes I have posted previously. Hope they are interesting and, even if they don't sway you're opinion, allow us all to view this particular prospect with context:
“He has another level of toughness…I don’t know if there has ever been a freshman come in and possess the toughness he does with the athleticism he also has.” -former Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury
"I doubt he ever looks at a box score." – NBA GM
“That’s why everyone wants to coach this kid…I want Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Don’t get me wrong, I want Anthony [Davis] and Terrence [Jones] too, but I want Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, believe me.‘’ -John Calipari
“He’s hard to get on…[because] He’s harder on himself, like Derrick Rose was." -Calipari, again
“He never wanted to be denied…He’s got that lion in him.’’ -Dajuan Wagner