Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a breakout player in the NBA’s Summer League. In a season that appears loaded in rookies, here’s why Gilgeous-Alexander will come out at the top of them all.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a special player. He’s a facilitator, scorer, two-way guard with a beautiful mid-range stroke and a seven-foot wingspan. And he’s only 20 years old. Gilgeous-Alexander has a rare combination of length, ball handling, shooting, and court vision that simply isn’t seen often in 6’6″ guards.
Gilgeous-Alexander shined on a Kentucky team loaded top-to-bottom with highly recruited freshman and was no stranger to long minutes, averaging 33 minutes a night for John Calipari’s Wildcats. He also finished among the top ten in nearly every leaderboard in the SEC, finishing first in total minutes and turnovers, third in assists and steals, and ninth in points.
If advanced stats are more your bag, he was top four in both defensive and offensive win shares, and second in total win shares. In fact, Gilgeous-Alexander finished ahead of his SEC counterpart, and now Atlanta Hawks guard Collin Sexton in nearly every SEC leaderboard.
Gilgeous-Alexander also showed up for the NBA’s Vegas Summer League. Many wondered if SGA had an opportunity to be one of, if not the top point guard selected in this NBA draft, and had their suspicions confirmed when he showed off what appears to be an NBA ready skillset during the Vegas contests.
Of course, it’s difficult to know how much we can take away from Summer League matchups, Gilgeous-Alexander showed a consistent ability to use his length to shake off wing defenders and get to the basket. He also showcased an ability to exploit mismatches on smaller defenders and use his height and length to create shots in the mid-range game.
Watch in this video at the four-second mark, how Gilgeous-Alexander uses his length and his body to control the ball and create a turn-around jumper over the smaller Josh Magette. Another eye-popping moment comes at 1:14 in this video, when Gilgeous-Alexander gets victimized by center Damien Jones on a pick-and-pop for Magette.
SGA shows an ability to roll off the much larger Jones easily and recovers to make a come-from-behind block on Magette. His talent goes beyond just a few plays, as Gilgeous-Alexander was one of the most consistent and surprising rookies of the Summer League.
SGA showed a keen eye at Kentucky and continued to do so in the Summer League, as a swipe man. Having already mentioned he ranked near the top of the leaderboard for steals in the SEC, his pickpocket ability appears effortless.
Another striking aspect of his game is his natural understanding of when to turn on the afterburners, and his ability to do so to blow past out of position defenders. Simply put, Gilgeous-Alexander is almost always putting himself in the right spot.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s biggest worry from a Rookie of the Year perspective will be battling for time on the floor as a Los Angeles Clipper. Doc Rivers, the Clippers’ head coach, has demonstrated a track record of not allowing rookies as much playing time as most NBA coaches would.
It is indeed worth noting that Rivers eased up on his strict management of youth last year. Rivers’ propensity to allow rookies extensive minutes and go deeper into his rotations last season may not signal the same for this year, but Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability could force his hand.
Patrick Beverly will start the season as the Clippers primary option at point guard, and the Clippers, who are set to be more of a fringe playoff team than a contender, will likely not seek extensive help from 31-year-old Milos Teodosic.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to get to his spots and a wingspan that allows him to effectively – though maybe not lockdown – guard up to four positions could make him invaluable in an eight-man rotation. By January, it could have him in the starting five.
SGA’s biggest enemy will be himself. He has, up to this point, shown remarkable poise and work ethic, and he’ll need to continue that trend if he hopes to bully his way into the Clippers starting minutes. He’s such a raw talent, and with such a high basketball IQ for someone so young that it would be almost surprising if Rivers relegated him to deep rotations for the majority of the season.
The time is now to turn Gilgeous-Alexander into one of the league’s top point guards. When he finishes next season as a finalist for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award – or if he’s fortunate enough to put the Eddie Gottlieb trophy on his mantle – I’ll be right here to say I told you so.