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By LARRY VAUGHT
If a NBA team is debating whether to draft Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or North Carolina sophomore Harrison Barnes, who should it take? That’s a question ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas was asked Tuesday during a ESPN NBA draft teleconference previewing Thursday night’s draft when teams with high draft picks like Washington (3) and Cleveland (4) could be facing exactly that dilemma.
“They’d both be good. They’re very different players,” said Bilas.” Barnes has probably suffered from the fact that he was so highly rated in high school. When I saw him in high school, I thought he’s a guy that always makes the right play. I thought he was a tremendous athlete and in his first two years of college, I started to question was he as good an athlete as I thought?
“He went to the combine, the NBA combine and tested athletically literally, off the charts. He had a 38‑inch standing vertical leap, which you don’t see that. That’s phenomenal. His agility drills and speed were fabulous, especially for a guy his size. So he’s got the complete package.
“What that told me is that he is a little bit of a thinker on the court right now. He’s very process oriented. I believe this. I’ve watched him play a lot. I really think that he’s going to be a better pro than a college player. He was an outstanding college player. Averaged 17 a game for two straight years. He’s a really good jump shooter, athletic. He’s got defensive versatility, he’s long. He’s got a terrific skill set, so he’d be a terrific pick.”
Bilas said the one big reason to take Barnes over Kidd-Gilchrist would be Barnes’ shooting and scoring ability. However, Bilas certainly is not anti-Kidd-Gilchrist.
“Gilchrist, they don’t make him like him very often. He’s got a relentless attitude and work ethic that you just don’t see that often. He’s great in transition. Gets to the rim, gets to the free‑throw line, he’s an elite defender because he can guard multiple spots. You can put him on a point guard or put him on a four‑man. He just isn’t a scorer,” Bilas said.
The ESPN analyst wasn’t through praising Kidd-Gilchrist. Actually, he was just getting started.
“He’s going to get his points off of energy, and he can make a shot, but he’s not a terrific shooter. But he’s only 19 years old, so he’s got some growing to do,” Bilas said. “He’s got to fix that shot. His shot mechanics are not very good. If it’s not fixed, he has to be able to shoot it the same way over and over again, and with the way he’s never square to the basket. His arm flies, his right arm flies out on his elbow, he needs to fix that. He has plenty of time to work on it. He’s capable of doing it.”
What else makes Kidd-Gilchrist worthy of a top five pick then if his outside scoring is suspect?
“He can guard anybody. (He’s) 6-7 with really long arms and tremendous athleticism. You can put him on a point guard out front, or you can put him on a big three or a small four‑man, a base up four. He can really impact the game defensively,” Bilas said. “He’s really energetic. I guess that’s what you’d call him is an energy player that he thrives off of the energy that he brings into a game.”
Kentucky fans know that. His energy is contagious, too, as UK opponents found out during Kentucky’s national championship season.
“He’s excellent in transition, a good rebounder, gets shots, gets loose balls. He’s going to make you better,” Bilas said. “The one thing he doesn’t do is he’s not a prolific scorer. He averaged 14 a game last year. He can make an open shot. I wouldn’t classify him as a good shooter, but it’s not like you have to repaint the rims after a game he plays in. He makes free throws and all of that.”
Bilas said scoring is “not his thing” but that doesn’t mean NBA coaches do not value his play.
“I don’t know any coach in the NBA that would say I don’t want him on my team. Anybody would covet Michael Gilchrist because he’s all about winning,” Bilas said. “He’s a great kid, and he’s relentless. I mean, he is absolutely relentless. That is not something that you can teach. You don’t just say to your guys, you don’t say in the huddle, let’s all go out and be relentless. It doesn’t work that way.”