Michael Kidd-Gilchrist listens intently as Bobcats head coach Mike Dunlap instructs the team during a timeout at Summer League Las Vegas
I have a lot of questions with a lot of things for the future of the Bobcats. Some of them are legitimate concerns with how the team is being built and some are just little things that pique my interest as the team improves. At times the qualms recede, and the worry slowly evaporates. Recently, this has been happening with a couple integral pieces that will shape the team for years to come.
This offseason was to be (and probably still will be, mind you) hugely formative for the near future of the franchise. After undergoing one of the worst seasons in professional sports of all-time, the Bobcats face the task of not only building from basically the ground up and implementing a culture change.
And when you cannot rip apart a roster any further and the management is already undergoing transition of its own (moving into year two of Rich Cho's tenure), that is forced to come to a head with the coaching staff.
And so we bade adieu to Paul Silas and awaited a new coach and a new draft pick.
A lot held in the balance. The coaching nominations narrowed to three, including a hall-of-famer and a Phil Jackson disciple from Lakerland. Meanwhile, as Anthony Davis remained the rock-solid nod to get drafted No. 1 by New Orleans, the No. 2 spot was much harder to get a bead on. Without a head coach -- or really any coaching staff -- in place, and no player emerging as a surefire franchise player, it was hard to make any educated guess on who the Bobcats would take. Charlotte had plenty of needs that could have been filled by any one of those top picks.
Then, in a swift act of throwing the shortlist of coaching options into the trash bin, the Bobcats reconsidered St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap and gave him the keys to the gym. The draft picture wouldn't clear up until the Bobcats selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist second overall. After so much talk of trading down or focusing on other players, Charlotte got a player to go with their new coach to implement a new table-turning team culture.
The regular season is far away, but you could get a snifter of what Dunlap wants to install in Charlotte from his work at early practices in Charlotte and at Summer League in Las Vegas. The defense has undergone a complete overhaul, featuring pressure and quick rotations to trap opponents to force turnovers. This in turn starts the offense, pushing the tempo with transition offense trying to get easier buckets. But it really begins with the man.
Mike Dunlap is typically characterized as a general, which is apt. He's what people call in layman's terms a "hard-ass." He's fiery, passionate and particular. And Dunlap's forceful, in a guiding way. As Byron Mullens can attest, he'll rip a guy apart, but to build him up even higher. Dunlap thrusts himself into practices, instructing on driving angles, tweaking shooting form, setting picks. The more you see and read about him, the more you realized change is well on its way. He will be the fire beneath the feet of every player on this roster.
For Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, he would have it no other way. Recent nagging injury aside, Kidd-Gilchrist is a force of nature. He may not be a talented scoring threat, but his heart cannot be questioned. Try to throw him off with screens; he'll just fight through them. And Dunlap designs a defense and transition game that fits MKG well. Kidd-Gilchrist can guard three or possibly four positions in the NBA with his size, strength and quickness. For Dunlap, that translates for MKG. He's fast enough to double and help force turnovers in the trap defensive schemes, or in the zone defense (which Dunlap is going to utilize a fair amount) to cover the space occupied by two opponents and probably manage a respectable closeout on either. With a defense focusing on creating turnovers, Kidd-Gilchrist is clearly at an advantage with his excellence in transition. If Dunlap is the fire beneath each Bobcats' player's feet, then Kidd-Gilchrist can be the quiet fire burning within each of their chests.
Yet of course I still have my questions. Will Kidd-Gilchrist fix his shooting form and develop a respectably diverse offensive game worthy to accompany his defensive skills? Will Dunlap's schemes comes to fruition once they face actual NBA competition? What will this fit matter if Dunlap is gone after three years, like most NBA coaches are?
Who knows. But at this point I'm confident that Dunlap can be the guy to give Michael Kidd-Gilchrist the foundation at this level upon which a great player can be built and that Kidd-Gilchrist can be the young player to bring Dunlap's coaching the dynamo it needs.