Thunder at Bobcats 7 p.m., SportSouth

Kidd-Gilchrist finding his way back

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comMarch 7, 2013 

Charlotte Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist says he’s not going to use a concussion as an excuse.

Others who care about him say mentioning the concussion Kidd-Gilchrist suffered in early February isn’t an excuse, it’s an explanation. Until the last two games he hadn’t been the player worthy of the No. 2 overall pick; not the guy who occasionally totals 25 points or 10 rebounds or three steals.

Simply put, not himself.

“He’s always in the action – he’s a physical player who attacks – so for him to get a concussion, you’ve got to make sure it’s all the way out,” said Bobcats co-captain Gerald Henderson.

“That’s nothing to play with.”

Yet that’s precisely what Kidd-Gilchrist did; play with it. He collided with teammate Jeff Taylor Feb. 2 in Houston. First his head and neck made contact with Taylor’s leg, then his head bounced off the floor at the Toyota Center. The injury was serious enough that his neck was immobilized by medical staff and he spent the night in a Houston hospital.

Kidd-Gilchrist missed the next two games before passing the NBA’s post-concussion protocol to play again. But there’s a difference between being well enough to play and effective. He struggled the past month, and appeared to hit a low point against the Los Angeles Clippers at the start of a four-game West Coast trip.

That night he went scoreless – the only time that’s happened his rookie season. In 21 minutes he totaled one rebound and one block. He looked lost.

When asked how the concussion affected him, Kidd-Gilchrist implored, “I don’t make excuses.” But when told his coach thinks this very much impacted his play, Kidd-Gilchrist let down his guard a bit.

“I think it was a big deal,” he acknowledged. “I was hurt. I’m trying to bounce back right now, still.”

There’s now evidence of that bounce-back. Monday in Portland against the Trail Blazers, he finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, his fourth double-double of the season and first since the concussion. He followed that Wednesday with 17 points, five rebounds and two steals against the Brooklyn Nets.

Coach Mike Dunlap has said repeatedly this week that Kidd-Gilchrist is just now truly recovered from his head injury. Dunlap noted that he’s taken two blows to his head – the Houston accident and the kick he took in an earlier game against the New Orleans Hornets that scratched his cornea.

“This is the Michael we drafted,” Dunlap said Wednesday.

Dunlap indicated indecision was an issue.

“He’s not thinking about playing as much (as in), ‘Do I do this? Do I not do that?’ ” Dunlap said. “That’s allowed him to play.”

Playing assertively is important for anyone in the NBA, but maybe more so for Kidd-Gilchrist because so much of his game is based on intensity.

“The No. 1 thing about Michael is he always plays hard. He gets a lot of points off his energy and his aggression – the way he attacks the rim,” Henderson said.

“He had three put-back dunks (against the Blazers) with nobody around because he’s always around the action.”

Kidd-Gilchrist’s skill level still must catch up to his energy. He showed up in the NBA with a severely flawed jump shot. There was an odd side-spin to his delivery and his release came almost at the end of his jump.

The coaching staff works with him constantly on this. Dunlap said fixing that shot is a three-year process, but there has been progress; he now releases the ball from his fingertips, not his palm, and his release point is higher in his jumping motion.

Dunlap encourages Kidd-Gilchrist to shoot whenever he’s open; you don’t get better without testing a skill under game conditions.

“I’m working on it daily – in the nighttime, in the morning,” Kidd-Gilchrist said of his shot. “I’m more comfortable. But I have a lot more work to do still.”

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