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NBA Saturday: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Extension is a Steal for the Hornets

Despite his limitations, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is worth more than the four-year, $52 million extension he agreed to.

Jesse Blancarte

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Earlier this week, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist signed a four-year, $52 million contract extension with the Charlotte Hornets. Drafted second overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, Kidd-Gilchrist was eligible for a rookie extension prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. By agreeing to this extension, Kidd-Gilchrist is passing on becoming a restricted free agent next offseason, where he could have potentially landed a max offer sheet in the range of four-years, $90 million.

There are many who will argue that $52 million over four years is plenty of money for a small forward that has missed 47 games over the last two seasons, averaged just 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game and did not attempt a single three-pointer last season. But as new methods of evaluating player performance are developed, we are better able to assess how much a player is worth based on his actual impact on winning games, rather than just box score numbers.

While Kidd-Gilchrist may not put up impressive box score stats, anyone that has paid attention to the Charlotte Hornets the last few seasons knows just how important he is to his team’s success. Over the last two seasons, Charlotte has gone 62-55 with Kidd-Gilchrist in the lineup and 14-33 without him. Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford and point guard Kemba Walker touched on this point after Kidd-Gilchrist agreed to the extension.

“When he’s on the floor, we play well; when he’s not on the floor, we don’t. … As much as anybody that we have had in the two years I’ve been here, he’s been the guy that we can’t play well without for any long period of time,” Clifford said.

“His motor is different,” Walker said. “The type of player he is, you have to have him on the court. We need him on the court every single night. When he’s out there, your chance of winning is definitely higher — definitely.”

Last season, when Kidd-Gilchrist was on the court, the Hornets scored 99.4 points per 100 possessions, while allowing opponents to score 96.3 points per 100 possessions, which was good for a +3.1 net rating, according to NBA.com/stats. However, when Kidd-Gilchrist was off the court, the Hornets scored just 96.5 points per 100 possessions, while allowing opponents to score 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which resulted in a -7.7 net rating. This is a +10.8 point swing per 100 possessions for the Hornets and shows just how valuable Kidd-Gilchrist is to the team’s success. To give context to this, here are the on/off court net differential numbers for some top-level players that recently signed extensions or re-signed with their respective teams as restricted free agents:

Anthony Davis (+11.6)
Damian Lillard (+1.3)
Kawhi Leonard (+11.0)
Draymond Green (+14.0)
Jimmy Butler (+2.7).

It should be noted that each of these players’ on/off court numbers are affected by the quality of their teammates, along with several other factors, but it’s clear that the Hornets are a much better team with Kidd-Gilchrist on the court. This is true despite the fact that Kidd-Gilchrist is a below league-average player on offense (-0.82 Offensive Real Plus-Minus). It’s no secret that Kidd-Gilchrist had terrible shooting mechanics coming out of college, which got even worse with some tinkering. However, Kidd-Gilchrist has been rebuilding his shot with Mark Price for some time now, and the results are encouraging. His mechanics are more fluid, he is a more confident shooter and his percentages are on the rise.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Shooting
Courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 2013-14 Shooting ChartMichael Kidd-Gilchrist 2013-14 shot chart

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 2014-15 Shooting ChartMichael Kidd-Gilchrist 2014-15 shot chart
Courtesy of www.statmuse.com/nba

While Kidd-Gilchrist is still a work in progress, we should remember that he’s just 21 years old. Adding three-point range is the next natural step for him, which will probably take a few seasons. However, Kidd-Gilchrist has already found other ways to contribute on offense, including timely cuts to the rim (75th percentile), scoring in transition and beating his defenders off the dribble, which is why he is still a net positive on offense for the Hornets.

Though he is a positive factor on offense, despite his limitations, Kidd-Gilchrist’s real value comes from his defensive impact. Last season, the Charlotte Hornets ranked ninth in defensive efficiency, giving up just 101 points per 100 possessions. However, when he missed 12 games during November and December, the Hornets gave up 109.7 points per 100 possessions, which would have been the worst rating in the league over the course of the entire season (just edging out the Minnesota Timberwolves). And when he missed the last 11 games of the season, the Hornets gave up 105.5 points per 100 possessions, a mark which is tied with the Denver Nuggets’ 26th ranked defense. Furthermore, Kidd-Gilchrist ranks fourth among all qualified small forward in Defensive Real Plus-Minus (3.63), behind only Draymond Green, Tony Allen and Kawhi Leonard (last season’s Defensive Player of the Year).

Kidd-Gilchrist is a long, athletic and motivated defensive-wing. It should be no surprise that he has this much of an impact on defense, especially considering the fact that Kidd-Gilchrist said he wants to be the best defender in league history.

“I want to say ever; not just in the league (now). The best defender this league has seen,” Kidd-Gilchrist told the Charlotte Observer.

“I don’t like getting scored on. I take it personally,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.

With all of this in mind, the question isn’t whether Kidd-Gilchrist is worth this extension, but why didn’t he hold out for a better offer or test his market as a restricted free agent? Consider that other wing-players recently cashed in big deals that are either on par with, or in excess of Kidd-Gilchrist’s deal:

Jimmy Butler (RFA): five years, $95 million
Kawhi Leonard (RFA): five years, $90 million
Khris Middleton (RFA): five years, $70 million
Tobias Harris (RFA): four years, $64 million
DeMarre Carroll (FA): four years, $60 million
Wilson Chandler (Extension): four years, $46.5 million
Al-Farouq Aminu (FA): four years, $30 million

Guys like Leonard and Butler are top-20 players in the league (if not higher) and are deserving of their big contracts. Khris Middleton is an advanced statistics darling that doesn’t put up huge box score numbers, but makes the Milwaukee Bucks a much better team, much in the same way Kidd-Gilchrist does for the Hornets. And while Harris and Carrol are both good players, Harris only plays one side of the court at this point and Carroll is already 29 years old. While Kidd-Gilchrist is not a perfect player, he is young, improving and already one of the best defenders in the league. Had Kidd-Gilchrist waited until next summer, he would be entering a weak free agent class with an inflated salary cap and could have potentially signed an offer sheet in the range of $90 million (assuming he plays well this upcoming season, shows more improvement and stays healthy).

There is something to be said for the security that comes along with signing a deal now rather than waiting and risking injury. And it’s almost unfair to criticize a player for not holding out for more money when players are so often criticized for not taking less money to help their respective teams add more talent (just as Kobe Bryant). But it seems that in this case, Kidd-Gilchrist seriously undervalued himself and his importance to the Hornets. The benefit is that the Hornets have a very talented 21-year-old locked in on a very reasonable deal, which will allow them to spend their money elsewhere to add more talent. So while there are questions as to why he may have decided to sign for less than he is probably worth, we should also appreciate a player that doesn’t put his sole focus on money, which seems to be case for Kidd-Gilchrist.

“Why wait? I’m learning from the best,” Kidd-Gilchrist said, referring to playing for owner Michael Jordan, Clifford and assistant coach Patrick Ewing. “I don’t do this for the money.”

Reasonable people can debate whether Kidd-Gilchrist should have bet on himself the way Jimmy Butler did last summer. But don’t be surprised if in a few seasons, we consider Kidd-Gilchrist’s deal to be one of the best values in the NBA.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode

With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.

Dennis Chambers

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After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.

Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.

First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.

Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.

In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having  Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.

Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?

Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.

The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.

Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.

“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”

That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.

Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.

After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.

At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.

The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.

In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.

An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.

It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.

Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.

Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.

Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.

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NBA Daily: Anthony Davis is Shouldering New Orleans’ Playoff Hopes

After losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury, Anthony Davis has played MVP-caliber basketball to keep the Pelicans playoff hopes alive.

Dennis Chambers

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Nineteen games have passed since DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon during the New Orleans Pelicans game against the Houston Rockets.

At the time, Cousins was the second leg of an All-Star frontcourt combo with Anthony Davis, playing the best basketball of his career and appeared poised to send the Pelicans to their first playoff appearance in three years.

Immediately following the injury, New Orleans lost five of their next six games. In a crowded Western Conference playoff race, doubt was beginning to set in down in the Big Easy about whether the Pelicans could cope with the loss of Cousins.

Then, fitting in with the always unpredictable and chaotic nature of the NBA, Anthony Davis skyrocketed into other-worldly levels of production, and New Orleans followed suit. Before Friday’s loss to the Washington Wizards, the Pelicans won 10 straight games while Davis averaged 35.6 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, and 2.8 steals per game. Over the course of those 10 contests, Davis topped 40 points three times, and 50 points once.

Every question that was thrown Davis’ way following Cousins’ injury about whether he could shoulder the load of a Pelicans’ playoff run seemed to be answered.

The Western Conference is no joke. Currently, the playoff race is so tight that the 4th-seeded Pelicans are only two and a half games out of ninth place. While Davis has clearly been unstoppable, in order for the Pelicans to maintain their relevance in the playoff picture, he’s going to need some sort of help.

Luckily for him and his team, he’s gotten just that.

During New Orleans’ win streak, Jrue Holiday emerged as the team’s second option, looking more lethal than the Pelicans could’ve ever hoped when they signed him to an extension last summer. Holiday’s averages of 24.9 points, 8.5 assists, and 4.6 rebounds — all while shooting a blistering 43 percent from beyond the arc — positioned the eighth year point guard as Davis’ second fiddle.

This heightened production is the result of head coach Alvin Gentry’s offense finally coming to fruition in its most effective form. Gentry loves to play “pace and space” basketball, and the Pelicans’ No. 11 and No. 9 ranking in pace the last two seasons reflect that. While Cousins is fantastic in his own right, and a cross between the old-school big man and today’s new hybrid big, his insertion in New Orleans’ lineup slowed things down just a bit. Before the injury, the Pelicans were still pushing the fifth fastest pace in the league, but after losing Cousins the team is now pushing the ball faster than any club in the Association. As a result, Davis’ freakish athletic advantages are proving to be overwhelming for opponents.

With 17 games left on the schedule, the Pelicans only have five opponents remaining who are either already in the playoff picture or just outside of it. Matchups against Houston, Boston, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Golden State and Portland (among others) remain. Continuing the excellence Davis and his teammates are producing is the only conceivable way to imagine the Pelicans hosting a playoff series — or even staying in the playoff landscape for that matter.

The enhanced level of play from Davis and Holiday make the Pelicans a threat to compete every night, assuming the production continues as it did over the course of the team’s winning streak. But the injected play of the team’s supporting cast since Cousins went down is not to be overlooked while surveying New Orleans’ recent success.

Since Nikola Mirotic arrived from Chicago he’s added a scoring and rebounding punch outside of Davis that the Pelicans desperately needed. In the wake of Cousins, he’s finding success inside Gentry’s running system that allows him to shoot over seven three-point attempts a game.

All of the running and scoring the Pelicans have become accustomed to over the last month needs to be orchestrated by someone on the court, otherwise, it can turn into a hot mess quickly. By using Rajon Rondo on the court at the same time as Holiday, Rondo becomes responsible for quarterbacking an offense that needs precision accuracy and execution. At the same time, it allows Holiday to move and rotate without the ball, putting him in a more natural situation to score rather than set up an offense.

Is losing an All-Star player ever ideal for a team’s hopes at making the playoffs? Absolutely not. But when Cousins went down for the Pelicans, followed by their first week of basketball without him, the team quickly looked to be on the outside looking in of the playoff race.

Instead, with just about a month left on the regular season schedule, Davis and Co. are playing well above expectations and are in position to host a playoff series for the first time since 2008 when Chris Paul was running around in a teal jersey.

Davis is an MVP candidate, the New Orleans Pelicans are a playoff team, and Cousins in wearing a walking boot on the sidelines. The NBA is a wild ride of unpredictability.

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NBA Daily: A Reinvigorated Bench is Pushing Philadelphia’s Recent Success

Once a major weakness, the Philadelphia 76ers’ bench could provide some much-needed firepower during the postseason.

Dennis Chambers

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Consistently winning games in the NBA is one of the harder tasks in professional sports. The rigors of an 82-game schedule, playing consecutive nights, or sometimes three games in four days, can really take a toll on players. In order to be successful, the first order of business would be to have superstar caliber players. But what comes next, competing for 48 straight minutes, is arguably just as crucial.

The Philadelphia 76ers have a few star players in hand. Joel Embiid is already amongst the league’s best, and Ben Simmons seems to be climbing the ladder on a daily basis. But those two didn’t stop the Sixers from dropping multiple games earlier this season where they either had the lead or were in a close battle.

A major reason for that: the Sixers’ bench was thin. Razor thin at times, while the team dealt with injuries.

When the trade deadline approached at the beginning of February, and Philadelphia was in the middle of a playoff race, they were viewed as a team that could potentially make a move for a key veteran off the bench to ensure a postseason berth.

The deadline came and went, and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo stood pat, unwilling to give up any assets for a rental. A frugal move, but not one that would help the Sixers realize their playoff dreams after declaring them as such for the entire season.

There’s another plus about having star players in the NBA, though. Usually, veteran guys gravitate towards them, viewing stars a way to be part of something meaningful. In the case of Philadelphia, they experienced that for the first (and second) time over the last three weeks since beginning their rebuild.

After securing buyouts with the Atlanta Hawks, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova decided to head north to Philadelphia for a playoff push. Ilyasova spent the first half of last season with the Sixers before being traded away, but he returns to a much different situation.

“It’s always great to be back here,” Ilyasova said. “It was a helluva speech Brett Brown made to get me here. We’re playing good basketball. It’s a tremendous job that they did compared to last year and they play as a unit.”

Tremendous growth almost puts what the Sixers are doing lightly. In terms of their starting unit of Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid, they rank near the top of the league with their 18.9 net rating. For comparison’s sake, that’s more effective than Golden State’s starting five.

Ilyasova and Belinelli were brought on board to complement the winning basketball Philadelphia’s starters have already established. On Friday night against the Charlotte Hornets, the team’s newest bench weapon came up in a big way.

In his first game back at the Wells Fargo Center, Ilyasova played a big role in the Sixers’ come from behind win, scoring 18 points while adding four rebounds and three assists. Outside of the team’s starters, he registered the highest plus/minus rating on the team.

“Tonight you were going to see him and Dario a lot with each other,” Brown said of Ilyasova’s performance. “You see him have the ability to make great passes from that pick and roll spot.  I put him and Joel in some pick and rolls and they delivered. You saw him take a massive charge at the end of the game that he got rewarded for.”

Following back-to-back wins over Cleveland and Charlotte, the Sixers find themselves holding onto the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. On top of that, Philadelphia is just two games behind Cleveland for the 3rd seed with 21 games remaining in the regular season.

Now that the Sixers have players like Ilyasova and Belinelli to add to their regular reserve group, Brown is excited to tinker with the team’s versatility moving forward. Having the benefit of a 6-foot-10 point guard in Simmons leads to constant mismatches on the court, and the Sixers’ head coach doesn’t want to forget that moving forward.

“All over the place,” Brown said. “Whether it’s (Ilyasova) making a three, or him passing to Joel, or him taking a charge. Him coexisting with Dario Saric. I think that flexibility, that versatility, is what excites me the most about him. It’s not like we don’t know each other, we know each other very well. He knows the system quite well. There’s still lots to refamiliarize him with.”

This late in the season, adding Ilyasova deserves just one explanation from Brown.

“He’s a massive pick up at this stage in my eyes,” Brown said.

Along with the recent additions, the Sixers also have a rotating carousel at the backup center position. Whether it’s Richaun Holmes or Amir Johnson that subs out Embiid, the team’s growing fluidity in their rotations have Brown pleased with the results.

“I think that we have something unique,” Brown said. “You know you gotta juggle and figure out with Richaun and Amir. I thought Richaun was a little down tonight, and so Amir sat back-to-back. You have those options available, and that’s a team. That’s what a team is about. If you can get a team to believe in what I just said, then you’ve got it all.”

Brown went on the boast about his team’s “legitimate locker room” saying they’re one of the most cohesive bunches he’s seen during his time in the NBA. Brown added, “I’m lucky to coach it.”

With just over a month remaining in the regular season, a hotly contested playoff race, and plenty of games to play, the Sixers are far from finishing what they started.

But with the upward trajectory of their recent play, coupled with the new bench additions, the team from Philadelphia that just spent years in the NBA’s basement is on the cusp of achieving what they set out to do at the beginning of this season.

“I think it’s a collective, progressive growth born out of rough times early in the season,” Brown said. “And now sort of delivered into March that we’re really close to achieving something in our eyes that’s special and was a declared goal. And that is to play in the playoffs.”

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