In his column on Sunday, Rick Bonnell discussed the steps Jeff Taylor has made this offseason which in his eyes have moved Taylor past Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. So buckle your seat belt, chums, because this is going to be a bumpy ride. Talking about the former number two pick and the guy drafted with the first pick of the second round at the same position is bound to make people sore.
Though I'd like to get some regular season games in before making judgment, I can't ignore how well Taylor has improved his floor presence. His confidence seems to have made significant jumps showing to a much more fluid offensive game in Summer League and preseason. Last year, Taylor didn't have an impressive season, but he showed flashes at times of an offense that could benefit the Bobcats. His three-point shot (34.4 percent) gave the Bobcats their third-best shooter from long range (excluding Tyrus Thomas because come on). Lithe and athletic in both agile and vertical ways, I'd posit Taylor plays more like Gerald Wallace than Kidd-Gilchrist, who earns the comparison from far more people.
I also think Taylor's fit in the Bobcats' starting lineup is more cohesive than Kidd-Gilchrist. One of Steve Clifford's priorities on offense is spacing, which could have some difficulties with Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson and Cody Zeller occupying similar spaces. Kidd-Gilchrist's poor shooting weakens the Bobcats' ability to stretch their wings (and their defenders) to the three-point line, which crowds the interior. On the flip side, Taylor's range maximizes the team's spacing and shooting efficiency, assuming he shoots threes as well or better than in his rookie season. Further, Taylor doesn't need the ball in his hands for extended periods of time to be effective on offense. As an average or below average ball-handler, this is a good thing. Taylor got about 38 percent of his possessions as a spot-up shooter, scoring 0.93 points per possession, per MySynergySports.com. Unfortunately, that puts him in the middle of the pack in the NBA in spot-up shooting efficiency. That said, as a rookie, that's not a bad starting point for a wing that often looked hesitant on offense. The only other type of play that constituted more than 10 percent of his possessions was transition offense at 25 percent. With Kemba Walker, Henderson and Jefferson in the starting lineup, the Bobcats could use a complementary off-ball threat at small forward with a three-point shot.
And yet, this is still counting on significant offensive improvement from Taylor, of which he is capable. Last season's performance is the past but I cannot overlook that Taylor's effectiveness in the Bobcats starting five would rely upon better scoring on plays he struggled with last season. Clifford has said that he wants to create offensive spacing with movement and screens to create open shots and cutting lanes. Taylor shot coming off a screen on only 6.5 percent of his possessions, making 28.6 percent of those shots. He also had 8.2 percent of his offense on cuts for 1.13 points per possession (149th best in the NBA). With a bigger volume of shots and a more confident Taylor, one would hope his scoring efficiency on these plays would improve from last year's relatively small sample.
Kidd-Gilchrist brings significant benefits, too. With him on the floor, the Bobcats' offensive rebounding jumps 4.5 percentage points from when he's off the floor and the inverse is true with Charlotte's defensive rebounding at a 3.3 percentage point drop. That means Kidd-Gilchrist extends the Bobcats' offensive opportunities for second-chance points and preventing their opponents'. Taylor doesn't have that impact. Kidd-Gilchrist also is a more solid defender. Taylor tends to take more risks, which helps him get his offense going in transition but also leads to breakdowns on defense. Kidd-Gilchrist also is a low-usage player on offense that can score efficiently on cuts, but he lacks the ability to come off screens. He's also a better ball-handler and can drive into the paint for shots at the rim in isolation. Kidd-Gilchrist also is decent with his back to the basket, though with spacing issues, that can be trouble in a starting lineup like the Bobcats'.
Zeller's ability to shoot long twos could alleviate that problem, but we've yet to see him shoot from that range consistently. The same can be said for Henderson if he keeps improving his three-point accuracy.
Another important part of the question of whether the Bobcats should start Jeff Taylor is one that can be reinterpreted as "Should the Bobcats bench Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?", which could make the move more problematic for some fans.
Though that's accurate, benching and starting can have a larger meaning than simply moving around the lineup. Being named a starter is not only an honor signifying one's improvement to the top of their position on the depth chart, but can also be a financial incentive as the number of starts can decide how much money a player can be offered in a qualifying offer or other contract incentives.
However, this isn't a high school band meritocracy of just moving the best clarinetist to first chair.
Such a move can benefit both the first and second squads. I think Taylor fits the starting group better with a complementary offensive skill set at this point and Kidd-Gilchrist is probably a better fit as the first or second player off the bench. His versatility in the post and driving with the ball could make him a bigger scoring threat off the bench and help his development. Of course the starters and bench don't play as exclusive groups of players and often mix and match, but the process of resting players and bringing in reinforcements can better fit both players' skill sets.
I would hope such a move isn't seen as a simple demotion for Kidd-Gilchrist. He faces a higher level of scrutiny than Taylor because of his draft position. We knew the nature of his offense when the Bobcats drafted him and it's going fairly well considering the project of developing his shooting form. Rather it's Taylor's improving his mindset and potentially his consistency to better fit in the starting lineup.
But - and this is a big but - the Bobcats haven't even played a single regular season game yet! This is all just food for thought and thinking about fits in rotations. Once we get into the season we will see if Taylor's offseason improvement translates to more consistent offense.