Tuesday August 25th, 2015

One of the NBA’s premier lockdown defenders has reportedly been locked up through 2020.

The Hornets reportedly agreed to sign Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a rookie contract extension Monday, with Yahoo Sports and the Associated Pressindicating that the 21-year-old small forward will receive a four-year, $52 million deal. The contract will kick in for the 2016-17 season and run through 2019-20; Kidd-Gilchrist is on track to be Charlotte’s highest-paid player next year, pending center Al Jefferson’s free agency and any other moves.

Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft, joins classmates Anthony Davis (5 years, $145 million) and Damian Lillard (5 years, $120 million) and 2011 draft holdover Jonas Valanciunas (4 years, $64 million) by signing an early extension this off-season. He will make $6.3 million in 2015-16, the fourth year of his rookie deal.

Although he entered the NBA as the youngest member of the 2012 class after a one-and-done season at Kentucky, Kidd-Gilchrist has been a full-time starter for three years, averaging 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 28.9 minutes per game in 2014-15. The scope of his early work has been dampened slightly by various injuries (foot, ankle, ribs, concussion), by-products of his take-no-prisoners activity and physicality that have cost him 20+ games in each of the last two seasons.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's jump shot, voice remain a work in progress

Kidd-Gilchrist’s awkward and unorthodox shooting motion has been a punchline, but his defensive impact is no joke—and it’s the much bigger story. After ranking dead last in defense during Kidd-Gilchrist’s rookie season, Charlotte has risen to a top-10 defense in each of the last two seasons under coach Steve Clifford. The impact numbers strongly suggest that Kidd-Gilchrist is already one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA: He posted the best defensive rating among Charlotte’s rotation players in both 2013-14 and 2014-15, and last season he improved the team’s defensive rating by nearly eight points when he took the court.

Hornets Defensive Rating

2014-15: With Kidd-Gilchrist: 96.3 | Without Kidd-Gilchrist: 104.1 | Net: +7.8

2013-14: With Kidd-Gilchrist: 98.8 | Without Kidd-Gilchrist: 102.6 | Net: +3.8

That defensive impact has directly translated to wins and losses: Charlotte is 62-55 (.530) with Kidd-Gilchrist and 14-33 (.298) without him over the last two seasons. League-wide, Kidd-Gilchrist ranked No. 12 with a +3.63 Defensive Real-Plus Minus, trailing only Tony Allen, Kawhi Leonard and Khris Middleton among wing defenders. Really, if you wanted to build a wing defender from scratch, he would make for an excellent prototype: he’s strong, quick, smart, versatile, competitive and disciplined. Most importantly, Kidd-Gilchrist possesses an elite motor and no off switch.

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Given his top-tier work on the defensive end, Kidd-Gilchrist would have been a max candidate with an above-average offensive game. Of course that’s not the case: his floor-shrinking presence on offense demands compromises and it limits his team’s ceiling. That’s not being too harsh: Kidd-Gilchrist was the first wing (6’7” or shorter) to log at least 1,000 minutes without attempting a single three-pointer since Desmond Mason in 2007-08. There’s only so much offense you can create by cutting, hitting the glass, getting to the line and taking off in transition; at some point, completely refusing to shoot from outside the arc is going to cost you, and cost you big.

There are clear signs of progress: Kidd-Gilchrist made a giant leap from atrocious (15% in 2013-14) to dependable (50%) as a mid-range jump-shooter last season, and his tireless work on his shooting mechanics has drawn praise from Clifford, among others. If that work sticks as defenses adjust and if he can continue inching back as he progresses through this rookie extension, Kidd-Gilchrist has a shot at joining Gerald Wallace as the only All-Stars of Charlotte’s second basketball era. He’s (still) that young, his overall physical tools are that good, and he should soon benefit from All-Defense and Defensive Player of the Year buzz.

As with Valanciunas, this looks like a team-friendly deal that probably should have been larger. Charlotte is hardly in position to play hard ball after treading through years of mediocrity, and with two major unrestricted free agents (Jefferson and Nicolas Batum) set to hit the market next summer. That Kidd-Gilchrist was willing to “settle” here shouldn’t be that surprising: the threat of injury has been very real during his career. In particular, his 2013 head injury—which required a stretcher and a hospitalizationwas one of the scarier scenes the NBA has produced in recent years. Security has different value to different people, and it wouldn’t be surprising if a player with Kidd-Gilchrist’s “Crash” style values it more than the average player.

At $13 million per season, Kidd-Gilchrist’s deal is still in line, proportionally, with early extensions given to Danilo Gallinari (4 years, $42 million in 2012) and DeMar DeRozan (4 years, $40 million in 2012) when compared to this season’s $70 million salary cap, and it’s a cut above Alec Burks (4 years, $42 million last year). Through three seasons, Kidd-Gilchrist’s strengths have been clearer than each of those comparable players, and that puts Charlotte in the right ballpark, at minimum, despite his offensive limitations.

It’s tempting to envision this contract becoming a hypothetical steal if Kidd-Gilchrist fills out his game on offense. That could become a reality, but this contract’s real determining factor will be whether he can consistently stay on the court. If Kidd-Gilchrist can log 70 games per year over the next four years, it’s hard to believe Charlotte will regret these terms given the force of his defensive work.

Grade: B+

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