ASHEVILLE — Change is never easy and seldom fun. So if the No. 2 overall pick in an NBA draft said, “What I have is good enough,” he could probably get away with it.
Charlotte Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t view it that way. Over the summer new coach Mike Dunlap approached Kidd-Gilchrist about fixing the glaring hole in his game – a jump shot with a hitch and an awkward follow-through that sometimes found its way through the rim only by chance.
“He listened,” Dunlap recalled at training camp Tuesday at UNC Asheville. “He’s a great, willing student.”
Former Kentucky star Kidd-Gilchrist is just 19, but he’s savvy enough to appreciate his weaknesses. He has potential to be an elite NBA defender and will finish fast breaks as emphatically as ex-Bobcat Gerald Wallace once did in Charlotte. But his jumper, particularly beyond 18 feet, doesn’t just look bad. It is bad.
If he wants to be anything special as an NBA small forward, then opponents have to consider him a threat along the 3-point line. Otherwise defenders will just back off him and choke his driving lanes to the rim.
“It was frustrating at first,” Kidd-Gilchrist said of reinventing his jump shot. “But I learned, and I’m getting better and better at it.
He thinks for a second and adds for emphasis, “very frustrating.”
Dunlap and the staff broke down his shot in a high-school gym, when the Bobcats vacated Time Warner Cable Arena several weeks for the Democratic National Convention.
“He has a hitch in his shot, so we’ve tried to smooth that out,” Dunlap described. “And then, too, when he was behind the 3(-point line), he was jumping very high. So we were trying to smooth it and make it a one-piece shot or set shot, or more of a set shot.”
Not everything is off. Dunlap doesn’t want Kidd-Gilchrist changing anything inside 18 feet. The high arc of Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot offers some compensation for the flaws, providing “shooter’s roll” at the rim.
This is still a work in progress. Dunlap figures it entails a year of hands-on coaching and maybe three years until Kidd-Gilchrist maxes out as a jump-shooter.
But the coach is gratified how receptive Kidd-Gilchrist is to change. That isn’t automatic, even for rookies.
“He listens. When you ask him to do it, it’s without reservation,” Dunlap described.
“Some guys want to discuss it for a half hour, and then you know part of that discussion is that he doesn’t want to change and you have to move on. … Or you have a long campaign, and you find when they’re most frustrated, that’s when you move in to make those changes. It means the teacher has to wait.”
Kidd-Gilchrist is pretty compliant. Dunlap never had to wait.
“I want to learn. He’s my coach now, so I should listen to him,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “You just have to get the technique, and that comes with reps in practice. Do it every night.
“I’m excited. This is my job now.”