Friday, June 14, 2024

Make Way For Shai!

Wait, who? Who’s the skinny guy in that picture? I’m glad you asked. His name is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (SGA). Fascinating, right?

The more important question is, why do you care? Maybe because Gilgeous-Alexander is about to be the next best point guard in the NBA. Interested now?

The Kentucky Wild Dog

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He ranked as a four-star prospect slotting in at no. 35 on the 2017 ESPN top 100. Unfortunately for him, he was Kentucky’s 6th highest recruit on the 2017 ESPN top 100.

One of the brightest minds in college basketball, coach John Calipari, put together the 2nd strongest recruiting class of 2017 only behind Duke. Calipari is a fantastic college coach, but his real strength comes with his ability to dish out NBA talent. The big names that have passed through this Kentucky program are in excess. With players like Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, and DeMarcus Cousins highlighting this program, fans expect a lot out of Kentucky.

Calipari recruited 5 top 24 prospects into this distinguished Kentucky Wildcats program ahead of Gilgeous-Alexander. Kentucky also retained the 2016 ESPN top 100 prospects Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones who were no. 14 and 24 respectively.

So as you can imagine, there wasn’t a lot of hype surrounding SGA. Amongst those 2017 recruits was point guard Quadre Green. Green was set to be starting PG and lead this young Kentucky team for the season.

Shai was ranked as the no. 2 combo guard recruit in the country, meaning he had the versatility to play either guard spot. SGA, the least heralded of the Kentucky prospects, was set to play the 6th man role for Kentucky.

SGA was an indispensable 6th man for the first 11 games, chipping in double-digit scoring games in 6 of those 11 games. Shai even got the chance to fill in as the starter for 2 games while Green was injured.

It was on December 29th, 2017 that Shai had his real coming out party. Gilgeous-Alexander came in for 33 minutes off the bench and dropped a team-leading 24 points to lead Kentucky to victory over Louisville. This was when people really started to take notice of young point guard.

The following game SGA followed it up with a 21 point performance against Georgia. Then an 18 point performance against LSU. Kentucky won all three of those games. Wanna bet there’s a correlation?

Shai was starting to come into his own. The very next game Kentucky was set for a showdown against SEC rival Tennessee. Almost halfway through the season now, SGA still found himself on the bench. Shai struggled mightily against Tennessee. Despite playing 38 minutes, he could only muster 3 points on a woeful 1-6 FG shooting night.

John Calipari had seen enough. A coach that was used to nothing but success, Calipari simply needed his player to play better.

On January 9th, 2018, Shai finally got his shot. Quadre Green was ruled out with back spasms and SGA got to start at point. And from there on, Shai claimed the starting job and never looked back.

From that point onwards, Shai supplanted himself as Kentucky’s best player. He showcased his skillset on a loaded Kentucky roster and proved why he deserved to start. SGA dropped fantastic averages of 16.4 PPG, 5.7 APG, 4.6 RPG in 36.6 MPG once he got the starting job.

Shai showed great consistency racking up double-digit performances in 18 of 22 games which included 4 20+ point games. The hype train around Gilgeous-Alexander was building up steam as he went from undraftable all the way to a potential first-round pick.

As March Madness approached, there was much uncertainty surrounding this young Kentucky team. Their inconsistent season brought up many questions on how they would survive in the big dance. There was no doubting the talent on this UK squad, but experience always outweighs talent when it comes to March.

Before Kentucky would be tested in March Madness, they would have to fight through a tough SEC tournament. To be honest, I don’t know what Calipari did, but let’s just say, he got his players straight.

Kentucky breezed through the SEC tournament looking like the dominant force they were sought to be. They won the SEC tournament championship, with Calipari racking up his 6th in 9 years.

Kentucky kept fighting through March Madness before a tough loss in the Elite 8 to a surging Kansas State squad crushed their title hopes.

Kentucky fans were heartbroken, not just because of the loss, but also shortly after they would be losing their prized point guard Gilgeous Alexander. Shai had an insane tournament run. Through the SEC tournament and March Madness. Shai piled up inane averages of 20.7 PPG, 6.3 APG, 5.7 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 52.1 FG%, 42.9 3PT%, and 84.0 FT% while playing a hefty 37.8 MPG.

After his insane tournament run, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander thwarted his draft stock into the lottery. He showed a propensity to play big, in big moments.

On To The Big Screen

On June 21st, 2018 the NBA draft was finally upon us. The big names were flying around. NBA fans were gushing over physical, dominant presences like DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, and Marvin Bagley. Flashy players like Luka Doncic and Trae Young had fans on the edge of their seats. There was one name that didn’t have that same flare though.

You guessed it. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Today’s NBA is a point guard driven league, so it only makes sense that fans will be looking for the next best at that position. Trae Young and Collin Sexton headlined the PG prospects.

The super freshman Young was coming off a historic season which will forever be remembered. After leading college basketball in points and assists for the first time in history, fans were gleaming over the prospectus of having a player who boasted Steph Curry esque range all year long.

Collin Sexton was viewed as a dog. Or maybe a lion. Or a tiger. He played with serious fire and desire every single night. Sexton was the definition of a player with heart. Sexton gave his all every play on both sides of the ball. He had a no-fear mentality that simply couldn’t be taught. Sexton had tremendous skill on the court, of course, scoring at will, he led an undermanned ‘Bama squad to it’s first March Madness run since 2012.

Young and Sexton were the best PG prospects and put them themselves in a new class by their performance all season long. Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t care. This is a guy who played with a chip on his shoulder all his career.

SGA came onto a loaded Kentucky roster as a 4-star recruit. Now obviously 4 stars entails an excellent player to begin, but this was a Kentucky team filled with 5-star recruits across the board. Shai climbed his way up to becoming the no. 1 option on this talented roster.

So as draft night came along, Young and Sexton were almost assured to go in the top 10, while SGA looked to be a late lottery pick after his fabulous late-season run.

With the 11th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, the Charlotte Hornets select Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Yeah, the Hornets. It’s one of those draft night trades that nobody will remember in 5 years or even next year for that matter.

The Clippers gave up two 2nd round picks and the 12th overall pick for the 11th overall pick. The Clips paid a solid price to move up just one pick and get their man. But the Clippers knew what they wanted, with SGA they get their point guard of the future.

Most people aren’t familiar with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. A player who didn’t start most of the year for a Kentucky team that was very underwhelming isn’t the most popular of prospects. So let’s take a look into why you might just want to fall in love with Shai.

Superstar Gilgeous-Alexander?

SGA is a scout’s dream. At 6’6” Gilgeous-Alexander has perfect height for the point guard position. His out of this world 7’0” wingspan has scouts drooling at his potential. SGA’s 180 lbs body obviously leaves a lot to be desired, but he certainly has the frame to fill it out.

Most NBA fans aren’t familiar with SGA’s game. The Kentucky product was the least heralded of this highly touted Kentucky roster. So let’s take a look at what Gilgeous-Alexander brings to the table.

First off, you get a guy who’s a maestro in the pick and roll. In this play, you see SGA at the top of the key waiting for his big man Nick Richards to set a pick. The LSU defender sees the pick coming and plays stronger to that side. Gilgeous-Alexander sees that and crosses over to the right side and bursts straight to the rim.

When the double team comes SGA uses his beautiful euro step and long strides to get to the rim. You see the balance Gilgeous-Alexander possesses on this layup, finishing with his off hand and getting the “and one”.

The first thing any NBA scout will talk about with SGA is his amazing feel for the game. Shai understands when to go, when to stop, when to attack, when to be patient, and always spots the weaknesses in a defense.

Here you see Shai’s feel for the game on display. A pick is set by P.J Washington and the defender is hesitant on how to defend the P&R. Shai sees this and bursts right to the basket. He gets to the top of the paint and sees the double team approach. Instead of panicking, SGA uses his excellent handles to go behind-the-back and attack the basket with his other hand.

Shai is known for his finesse in the lane. On this drive, you see the underrated strength from a guy who is only 180 lbs. SGA gets right into the middle of the paint, lowers his shoulder and bulldozes his way to the rim for an easy basket.

Shai sets up a very simple handoff to the man in the high post, P.J Washington. Shai takes a casual stroll around Washington, then receives the handoff. Shai sees his defender trailing off of him which forces Washington’s man onto SGA.

Shai once again displays his excellent feel for the game. He sees the Louisville help defender in bad defensive position and makes a strong drive to the basket. You see on this play how SGA’s lack of explosiveness harms him, as he cannot burn the defender completely, but Shai compensates for that with his incredible length and balance, which allowed him to finish with ease.

Once again Shai sets up in the P&R. Wenyen Gabriel sets the pick and Shai attacks the defense immediately. This in effect, switches Louisville’s big man Anas Mahmoud onto SGA. Once again, Shai displays his great feel.

Big men are generally slow-footed and Shai knows this. He drives right into the paint and then stops on a dime using his patented behind-the-back move to switch directions. This whooshes Mahmoud down past SGA, causing Mahmoud to lose his balance and footing. SGA sees the advantage and takes the ball straight to the rim once again using his incredible length to finish with his off hand.

The steal is made and Gilgeous-Alexander is smart enough to understand he can run the break for an easy transition opportunity. He does just that and receives an outlet pass which requires him to slow down a bit.

The UVA defender catches up with him and once again SGA shows off his fabulous feel for the game. He has a great knack for changing speeds which he displays here. Once the defender catches up, SGA slows down and euro steps around the overanxious UVA defender for the easy basket. Talk about smooth.

Gilgeous-Alexander is savvy when he gets to the rim. He is not overly explosiveness, but rather a solid athlete with a high basketball IQ and a fantastic feel for the game. He uses his body and length to perfection, getting to the rim at will despite the lack of top-tier athleticism.

Shai has a whole bag of finishing moves. He’s adept at performing euro steps, spin layups, hop steps, the whole repertoire. Shai also possesses excellent handles with his crossovers, hesitations, etc. His combination of speed, balance, handles, and finishing moves makes him a handful to keep out of the paint.

A lot has been made of Shai’s inability to shoot jumpers. Despite that, his midrange is actually very underrated. He has shown off the ability to hit pull up jumpers in addition to step backs and contested jumpers. In this clip you see him pump fake at the 3 point line and take a one-dribble pull-up in the mid-range, a staple play in the NBA.

One of the biggest drawbacks is Gilgeous-Alexander’s hesitation to shoot 3s. He shot only 1.5 3PTA while at Kentucky, a very low mark for a guard. Despite that, people always brush off his elite 40.5 3PT%. SGA is far from a sniper at the 3 point arc but has a more than capable standing jump shot, a necessity in today’s NBA. In the video, SGA displays that he can spread the floor and hit catch and shoot 3s.

Shai is more than just a scorer, however. SGA is an excellent playmaker. In this clip, you can see how he combines his great feel for the game and passing vision. Shai drives right into the paint drawing the double team. While most players would hit the wide open teammate (Sacha Killeya-Jones) in the corner, Shai knows better.

He knows Killeya-Jones is not very adept at shooting jump shots or handling the ball, so instead of hitting his teammate in no man’s hand, Shai takes a few more dribble into the paint. This in effect creates a perfect cutting lane for Killeya-Jones. Shai drops a perfect bounce pass to a cutting Killeya-Jones for the easy slam. It’s the little things that add up.

Gilgeous-Alexander is a tremendous defender. He displays great effort and tenacity while he is heavily benefited by his 7’0” wingspan. Here you see a hounding ball denial by SGA. #20 on Davidson thinks #3 on Davidson has created enough space to receive a pass.

The pass is made and Shai simply uses harassing length to knock the ball free and get an easy steal. Shai uses his underrated speed to push the ball in transition for a basket.

One of the biggest aspects of Gilgeous-Alexander’s game is that he doesn’t panic. Even in the last second, he knows how to create. He doesn’t freeze and break down in these moments. You see exactly that here. With 3 seconds left on the clock, Shai is double teamed. While most players would panic and put up a bad shot, SGA knows better.

Shai sees the two Alabama defenders have not doubled him properly. Gilgeous-Alexander uses his pristine handles to split the double and head straight to the rack. He then picks up two more ‘Bama defenders and using his fabulous playmaking ability he throws a perfectly placed lob to Sacha Killeya-Jones for the easy dunk.

If there’s one word to describe Shai-Gilgeous Alexander it’s smooth. This is a guy who lacks elite athleticism or explosiveness but still finds a way to score at will. The physical attributes are eye-popping, the length, the potential, it had the Clippers drooling.

On To The Next One

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander blew everyone away at the Summer League. Point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton were headlining the Summer League before it started, but it was SGA who looked like the best point guard out there. And yet, nobody seems to talk about him.

In 27.8 MPG Shai put up averages of 19.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.0 APG on 46.8 FG%. He displayed the same tremendous feel for the game that he did in Kentucky. He once again displayed the handles, finishing moves, and IQ that he boasted in college.

Shai showed off the same defensive prowess he did in Kentucky. Whilst putting up 2.3 SPG, Gilgeous-Alexander played elite defense. He disrupted the flow of opposing players and showed how well he could use his length.

The Clippers drafted SGA to be their point guard of the future, but he may be too good to not start now. Looking at the Clippers depth chart, all that stands in his way are defensive specialist Patrick Beverly and overhyped international player Milos Teodosic.

Beverly is a solid starter on most teams, but one who does not have much of a ceiling at 30 years old. Teodosic had a promising, but injury-riddled first year in LA. Despite that, at 31 years old, Teodosic is not going to improve a significant amount in the future.

Neither of these players should be a real threat to Shai’s playing time. After LA has dispersed their main core of Chris Paul, J.J. Reddick, DeAndre Jordan, and Blake Griffin over the past year, they are firmly in rebuild mode. The drafting of Gilgeous-Alexander and SG Jerome Robinson represents a new era for a tandem that will look to supplant the future backcourt of the Clippers.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks to be the real deal. A player who lacks elite explosiveness, he makes up for it every other category. He has fantastic length, balance, IQ, and an absolutely tremendous skill set. This guy has the feel of another Donovan Mitchell. A player who nobody has circled for ROY, but could absolutely bust out for a ridiculous season. If you don’t know him yet, you best familiarize yourself with the NBA’s next best point guard.

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