LAS VEGAS You can't make it if you dont take it. So perhaps one of the last plays in a Thursday-night practice will resonate with Charlotte Bobcats rookie Mike Kidd-Gilchrist.
The ideal scenario for any basketball defense is to force the ball to a non-shooter with the shot-clock expiring. Kidd-Gilchrist was 25 feet from the basket, with everyone on the opposing team thinking the same thing: All he can do is drive.
Or so it seemed. It would be hard to be more open along the perimeter. So Kidd-Gilchrist cocked his wrist and threw up that jump shot the one with the hitch and the funky side-spin. And the ball fell straight through the rim.
Coach Mike Dunlap rushed out to his rookie to reinforce that boldness. Dunlap has been preaching all week that, except for rare end-game situations, hed never sub out a player for missing an open shot.
He didnt hesitate, Dunlap said later. There was hesitation early on (as in), Should I do this or that?
Each day hell get a little more comfortable with me, the system and his teammates.
Thats to be expected for a rookie, even one chosen second overall last month. Former Kentucky freshman Kidd-Gilchrist was scheduled to play his first game in the Las Vegas Summer League late Friday night against the Sacramento Kings.
What he does in five games here isnt nearly as important as what he learns. Drafting Kidd-Gilchrist is the consolation prize for the Bobcats going 7-59 last season. Before they even chose him, the Bobcats traded away last seasons starting small forward, Corey Maggette, to the Detroit Pistons. The starting job is seemingly his for the taking.
Ive been learning a lot, he said following Friday-morning shootaround. Its been a long week so far, but Im having a lot of fun with all of this.
Kidd-Gilchrist grades out high in athleticism, length and intensity. Not so much in shooting or ballhandling. The Bobcats knew that when they drafted him over Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson, Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal and North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes.
He has a long way to go as far as some of the skill pieces to it. But theres nothing I can really teach him about his heart or (how to be) a winner, Dunlap said.
The thing thats really noticeable is at the end of possessions, whether its defense or offense, hes involved in something. He has an uncanny ability to make a play at the end of a clock.
He gets a deflection when the opponent has three seconds to (shoot). Or offensively hell get a back-door cut for a layup. Hes done that several times when theres nothing going hell just make a play in pressure situations. Ive already seen him do it over and over.
Teammates Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker both are impressed with how hard he plays continuously, even in practice settings. Kidd-Gilchrist said twice during the pre-draft process he wanted to play for the Bobcats specifically to be paired with point guard Walker.
Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist are both from the New York area and played against each other in high school. Walker says hes already established a big-brother relationship with the rookie. One of the ways Walker can help is reminding Kidd-Gilchrist not to beat himself up over every error.
When coach told him he had the freedom to do certain things, he looked a lot more comfortable, Walker said. For example: When he gets a rebound now, he pushes the ball and Im able to run out to set fast breaks in motion.