Sean Kilpatrick made his way from the D-League to a real role for the Brooklyn Nets, and has shown a blueprint for the Nets to find other such success stories.
Sean Kilpatrick’s NBA journey didn’t have a promising beginning, despite his collegiate success. After making the Big East conference team multiple times and earning a second-team All-American nod after his incredible senior season at Cincinnati (he was named as one of the 10 finalists for the Naismith Award, college basketball’s highest individual honor), Kilpatrick went undrafted and spent the majority of his first two seasons hopping between D-League teams with short stints with the Timberwolves and Nuggets in the meantime. He was signed to the Nets’ roster on February 28th, and proceeded to average 23.2MPG and 13.8PPG for the rest of the season. Kilpatrick’s success on the Nets showed not only that he has a place in the NBA, but also gave some insight into how the Nets can right the ship going forward.
Sean Kilpatrick’s greatest strength, and easiest path to NBA relevance, is his scoring ability. His shot chart below gives some perspective on why the Nets kept him around (Source: nbasavant.com):
Three salient points become clear when looking at Kilpatrick’s shot chart. Despite being an average-sized wing player without otherworldly athleticism, Kilpatrick is ridiculously efficient at scoring close to the rim. Although the sample size isn’t exactly as large for him as it is for the true superstars of the league, Kilpatrick is able to score at the rim almost as efficiently as LeBron James and more efficiently than the majority of the league’s centers. Another useful tool in Kilpatrick’s arsenal is his mid-range game. Although 45% on long two point shots isn’t often the most efficient way to go about scoring, the Nets would certainly rather have Kilpatrick take those shots than Shane Larkin and his 27.9% efficiency from 15-19 feet. Lastly, Kilpatrick is not crippled by his three-point shooting, which is almost exactly average—he shot 34.2% from behind the arc, just below the league average of 35%. Although being a 3-point sniper would really help advance Kilpatrick’s career, he does just well enough from behind the line that teams can’t entirely abandon him on the perimeter. Given his great numbers at the rim and decent numbers from his mid-range game, his mediocre long-range shooting isn’t as much of a weak point as it could be.
Sean Kilpatrick’s biggest hurdle in trying to achieve long-term stability is his defense. While the Nets scored 1.1 points per possession with Kilpatrick on the floor, they also allowed an atrocious 1.22 points per possession with Kilpatrick in the game. Although his own shooting touch is quite good, Kilpatrick often has issues preventing other players from doing the same. According to the NBA’s official tracking website, Kilpatrick allowed opposing players to shoot 5.9% better from the field than their average. He isn’t a spectacular athlete, but he is at least a decent one that should be able to hold opposing players to at least average levels offensively. Instead, he often concedes at least as much improved shooting to the other team as he gives to his own.
That being said, it is more than a little unfair to fault Kilpatrick for his defense given the struggles of the team around him. According to nbawowy.com, the three bigs that spent the most floor time together with Kilpatrick were Chris McCullough (a rookie who spent a big portion of the season recovering from injury), Thomas Robinson (whose main weakness during his time in the NBA has been his poor defense), and Henry Sims (another all-offense player like Kilpatrick who somehow managed to allow offensive players to shot 18.4% better against him than their average numbers). While Kilpatrick certainly has a lot of work left to do on the defensive end, he clearly isn’t getting much help from a frontcourt that wasn’t exactly doing a top-notch job of defending the rim.
Overall, Sean Kilpatrick seems to have carved out a role for himself on the Nets’ bench. While he could use some work on his dribbling and passing touch as well as on his defense, Kilpatrick was certainly thriving in his role off the bench as a scoring spark-plug. Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams have survived in the NBA for years with very similar games (although both of them have far better handles), and it stands to reason that there will be no shortage of opportunity on the Brooklyn roster in the years to come. It seems quite fitting that Sean Marks’ first move as GM was giving Sean Kilpatrick a 10-day contract. While it might be funny that Marks was doing a favor for his fellow Sean, the truth is that Sean Kilpatrick is an almost ideal outcome for the GM and a positive sign for the Nets’ new era. Despite his defensive issues, Kilpatrick was essentially signed off the street yet was able to make a clear and definitive impact for the Nets as they approached the end of the season. Henry Sims was also signed to a 10-day contract that lasted until the end of the season, although given his defensive numbers that may not have been a positive. Either way, Kilpatrick alone has shown that the Nets can at least have some success with plugging in various D-Leaguers and seeing who will and won't be able to help them on the floor. If Sean Marks can continue to find other players as ready to fill a role as Sean Kilpatrick was, then both Seans will definitely have a brighter future ahead of them.