Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Has Returned and Is Breaking Out Again

Through only three games, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has put his mark on the Hornets and their opponents.

In one of the more surprising injury comebacks the NBA has seen in the last several years, Charlotte Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returned about two months early after tearing his labrum in the first preseason game of the year.

Intitial reports after the story broke was that he would need about six months to recover from the surgery, which would have basically ended his season. However, not only has Kidd-Gilchrist come back early from his injury, but he has also played heavy minutes right out of the gate, and the 22 year-old forward could be the boost that Charlotte needs to get back on track and in the playoff hunt.

Charlotte has had some of the worst luck this season when it comes to injuries. At one point, they ranked inside the top 10 in Offensive and Defensive Rating, but injuries to Al Jefferson and more recently to Cody Zeller and Nicolas Batum have hampered their momentum.

Charlotte is getting healthier with Zeller and Batum being able to play last night, and with Kidd-Gilchrist back in action, this team is poised to make a run at the playoffs in the East, now sitting only a game and a half out of the 8 seed.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s Defense and Rebounding

Before his 2014-15 season ended prematurely because of injury, Kidd-Gilchrist was having a breakout season. He had upped his scoring to nearly 11 points per game while playing career highs in minutes and, even more important was, his defense and rebounding rates, which were skyrocketing.

For small forwards who appeared in at least 50 games last season, Kidd-Gilchrist ranked fourth in Defensive Rating among small forwards at 103. His Defensive Rebounding Rate was easily the best among small forwards at 21.9 percent.

This year, however, while it’s only been three games, and while Kidd-Gilchrist won’t be able to qualify for any statistical leader awards this season due to the 58-game minimum, his three games so far have been even better on both ends of the court.

Triumphant Return

What Kidd-Gilchrist did last season was nice to see for the young former second overall pick, but while it is basically the smallest of sample sizes, Kidd-Gilchrist has exploded back onto the scene through three games since returning from injury, and his numbers are once again rising at astronomical rates.

Not only is Kidd-Gilchrist well on his way to being the best rebounding small forward once again after grabbing 32 in three games, but also his offense has impressed. He has reached double figures in scoring in all three games since returning. He has double-doubled twice, and after making only three three-pointers his entire career, in the game against the Lakers, he netted two three-pointers in as many attempts.

If this is the evolution that scouts, coaches and Charlotte Hornets fans everywhere have been waiting for, this team has just become dangerous, and the stigma that has followed Kidd-Gilchrist his entire career for being “drafted too high” mat finally have the doubters eating their words if he can keep this up.

Even his efficiency has improved through the first three games, and this is all after missing most of training camp, the first three months of the season, and the final 11 games of last season. 

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist PPG RPG FG% eFG% TS%
2014-2015 10.9 7.6 46.5 46.5 51.9
2015-2016 14.3 10.7 55.2 58.6 59.7

Through the small sample size, Kidd-Gilchrist has a Free Throw Attempt Rate of 0.552 free throws per field goal attempt, which if he qualified would rank him fourth among guard or wing players. 

This is mostly because of how much he is shooting the ball close to the basket. Like other players who have recently abandoned the long jump shot, Kidd-Gilchrist has shot 18 of his 29 total attempts this year within three feet of the basket, and he is shooting 72 percent on shots within three feet so far. Continuing these numbers would not only once again be a huge jump but also career highs if he sustains them throughout the last half of the season.

This helps quiet the doubters of the team's decision to give him $55 million this offseason; the contract might quickly turn into a value for the Hornets. Through the three games that Kidd-Gilchrist has played this season, the Hornets’ Offensive Rating jumps more than three points with him on the floor, and their Defensive Rating drops from 105.3 to 94.2.

So far, the difference he has made through three games is off the charts. If it’s sustainable, he and the Hornets should not be taken lightly.