The honeymoon is over for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It didn't last long.
The South Jersey native is in the NBA now. Kidd-Gilchrist participated in February’s NBA All-Star festivities. He played in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge (eight points, four rebounds, three assists). He’s received all the praise that comes with being drafted second overall. His rookie year is approaching its final days.
Now comes phase two. Now it’s about development.
“We have a number of guys that are in that phase,” Charlotte Bobcats head coach Mike Dunlap said.
But it’s Kidd-Gilchrist that will take the heat if he doesn’t come out of that phase a better player.
He and the Bobcats made their final appearance at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night, which resulted in a 100-92 loss. Being near home, he was center of attention; but after the pregame smiles and hugs concluded, he spoke of his NBA development.
It can’t be sugarcoated. Kidd-Gilchrist knows he has work to do. He knows his game, on both offense and defense -- but mainly the former -- needs work. And he’s up for the challenge of doing whatever he needs to do to improve.
“I feel it,” Kidd-Gilchrist said of the pressure he’ll be faced with to get better over the offseason. “I’m ready to work hard this summer.”
It’s not like he hasn’t shown flashes of his potential during the course of this season. In fact, the University of Kentucky product just had his best month since December. Coming into Saturday’s contest against the Sixers, he was shooting 46 percent (his best all season), averaging 8.8 points and 5.5 rebounds. He finished Saturday’s game with a team-high 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting, and pulled down nine boards.
Dunlap spoke about the strides Kidd-Gilchrist has made in his rookie year. The first-year coach mentioned Kidd-Gilchrist’s “attitude” and “toughness” as the attributes that have impressed him the most.
“I think that he’s a guy that’s kind of a jack of all trades, master of none type,” Dunlap said. “The second thing, that I think is above the crowd, is his ability to finish 94 feet. He can get the defensive board and literally go coast-to-coast and finish. And he’s shown that at times during this year.
“Defensively he’s just stubborn – he’ll take any challenge.”
Dunlap gave Kidd-Gilchrist some advice at the beginning of the season in attempt to change his shooting stroke. Kidd-Gilchrist has a very unique shot that NBA scouts say is flawed. Dunlap said Kidd-Gilchrist hasn’t abandoned the advice, but warned it’ll take some time to progress.
“It’s a three-year project for that thing to get ironed out and do what he wants with it,” Dunlap said. “Right now he’s taking the 18-footer with great confidence. I like where he’s headed.”
When approached about his jumper, Kidd-Gilchrist said his shooting style will probably be permanent. He’s concentrating on the results, not the look.
“I’m just going to work on it," he said. "Night in, and night out, I’m just going to work on my jump shot.”
Even if he doesn’t change his jumper, Dunlap still wants Kidd-Gilchrist to work on some secondary moves.
“That’s what we’re working on offensively,” Dunlap said, “so when we do [isolate] him, he can go ahead and take that off the elbow, short corner and do some things that I think are going to take a couple of years.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for Kidd-Gilchrist was losing, something he was immune to at Kentucky. For reference, the 27 wins the Miami Heat put together during their recent win streak are more than the Bobcats have the last two seasons combined. Their 17 wins this season is much better than the seven victories the they finished with last season, but still far away from where owner Michael Jordan would like the team to be.
His second-overall pick, too.
“Not really,” Kidd-Gilchrist said, when asked if he’s learned to handle losing. “We want to change it around and go to the playoffs in a couple of years. …I think we’re headed there. Soon, it’s going to come.”
He plans to return to South Jersey to workout over the summer, saying he’ll choose a beach location “away from everybody” in an effort to “focus more.”
He is thinking ahead, though. At 19-years-old, he already knows the risk of not developing into the player the Bobcats are hoping he'll be. Talking about his progress and knowing where the conversation was headed, he said two words -- "a bust" -- answering the question before it was finished being asked.
“I don’t want that,” he followed.
He paused, thought for a moment, and then continued.
“That’s probably my biggest fear,” he said.
Kidd-Gilchrist said he spoke with Sixers forward Evan Turner about the pressures of being drafted high, as Turner was selected second overall in the 2010 draft.
Asked what Turner told him, Kidd-Gilchrist said: “Just play my game, that’s it. Just play my game and stay focused.”
Time will tell if that advice will pay dividends for the Bobcats.