Charlotte Hornets guard Gerald Henderson chuckled Friday when teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist subtly told him he was standing in the wrong spot for a particular play.
“I used to be the one telling him that all the time: ‘Get over here, be right there.’ ” Henderson recalled. “It surprised me a bit. But it’s great to see. The more guys you have who know exactly what is going on and what coach wants,” the better.
This is a different Kidd-Gilchrist than he was his first two NBA seasons: more assertive, more vocal, more ready to share knowledge and opinions.
Coach Steve Clifford likes that a lot. Kidd-Gilchrist is a serious guy with an intense approach to basketball, and if that rubs off on other players like rookie P.J. Hairston all the better.
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Clifford noticed a difference in Kidd-Gilchrist at training camp in Asheville. It’s easy to forget that Kidd-Gilchrist was just 19 when the then-Bobcats selected him second overall in the 2012 NBA draft.
Back then he would get anxious doing interviews. Now he jokes with reporters about not using big words to describe him.
Simply put, he’s starting to find his place on this team and in this league.
“He’s helping to organize his teammates at both ends of the floor, both offensively with sets and defensively with coverages,” Clifford said.
Kidd-Gilchrist doesn’t see this as a big thing, more something that naturally evolves for being in the same place for a while.
“I don’t think it’s just me. I learned from the best and that’s coach Cliff,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I understand the game of basketball and I’m getting older. I guess that’s part of it.
“I’ve always been a leader. Now I’m more comfortable; just putting in the work before and after practice.”
That work is most reflected in an improved jump shot. Kidd-Gilchrist, a forward, made an 18-footer to start Thursday’s exhibition against the Indiana Pacers. That forced the Pacers to guard him more tightly, opening driving lanes. He hit his next three shots, all on drives, because of how Indiana’s defense changed.
That’s the technical part. The interpersonal part is just as noticeable to teammates.
“With P.J., for example, he’s always telling him what to do and where to be,” said point guard Kemba Walker. “He’s a natural-born leader and I think he’s getting that now.
“He’s a lot more vocal and it’s always good to have an extra voice. He just gets it.”
Henderson said the qualities that make Kidd-Gilchrist valuable – particularly toughness – should rub off on other Hornets.
“He plays rugged. He’s tough and strong. So much of how he performs is about his intensity and he’s brought that from the first day of training camp,” Henderson said.
“Mike is young, but he’s really coming into his own as far as being comfortable on the court. You’re not going to talk and communicate as much if you don’t know exactly what is going on every play.
“He’s gotten to a point now where he’s feeling the game instead of thinking it.”