From November through March, no other high major recruit raised their draft stock more than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. After beginning his season off the bench backing up Quade Green, Kentucky ended up running its offense through him by March Madness.
Compared to other top point guard prospects in this year’s draft class — Trae Young, Collin Sexton, and De’Anthony Melton — Gilgeous-Alexander has a unique blend of length and controlling pace as the play caller.
This past season at Kentucky, Gilgeous-Alexander displayed an array of moves driving to the rim with either hand. With his length, he’s able to not only create separation going up but can also create angles for himself.
Even with his slight frame, which at the combine revealed he only has 3% body fat, Gilgeous-Alexander was able to consistently create contact effectively if opportunities didn’t arise on the possession. Of the aforementioned four point guards rated in my lottery, Gilgeous-Alexander ranks third behind Sexton (57.2%) and Melton (47.2%) in terms of free throw rate at 46.4%. However, SGA’s combine measurements also reveal he likely won’t bulk up all that much more when packing on more muscle mass.
From a physical comparison standpoint, SGA is eerily similar to other longer playmakers like Michael Carter-Williams and Shaun Livingston. The thing that separates him from those two, though, is his overall two-way upside. Unlike Carter-Williams, Gilgeous-Alexander had success from the perimeter in college.
Although it was only 57 attempts, Gilgeous-Alexander converted 40.4% of his three point shots. As SGA also let the media know in Chicago at this year’s NBA Draft Combine, he’s eagerly awaiting the opportunity to prove his outside shot is legit in predraft workout settings.
With shooting splits consisting of 48.5/40.4/81.7, the framework is there for a shot doctor like Igor Kokoskov to sculpt. Free throw percentage is usually a telltale sign whether someone has the ability to translate an improving shot.
SGA can not be coming into the NBA at a more valuable time for his prime skillset. Not only is he versatile enough to play on and off the ball, but he can help facilitate your offense in primary actions. And from the potential standpoint, you are buying in on Gilgeous-Alexander becoming consistent on offense from all three levels.
The main course that Gilgeous-Alexander can consistently provide is his playmaking ability. He can get a little too reckless when his first option is taken away, but in the pick-and-roll he has proven to dynamic. Many of the plays I saw Gilgeous-Alexander set up Hamidou Diallo for would be rather exciting if that was Josh Jackson instead.
His assist percentage trails only Young in this draft class, and in a more wide-open attack surrounded by shooting he could just focus on the little things for him to jump even higher on his overall ceiling.
What could be even more appealing is Gilgeous-Alexander’s potential impact defensively. His block and steal percentages (1.7% + 2.8%) rank him near the likes of Lonzo Ball, Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart so he certainly has a nose for the ball on the other end.
With a wingspan just below 7-foot (+5.5 H2W discrepancy on top of his 6’6” height), SGA could be an ideal scheme fit into switch-heavy defenses who try to avoid mismatches on slower-footed players.
In this sequence above, Gilgeous-Alexander effortlessly switches off the primary initiator as Florida tries to exploit him on a big. The thing is, Gilgeous-Alexander is able to hold his own and his rangy length pays off as he pickpockets him to set up mismatches out in transition.
This signals there is potential for him to grow into spot roles checking wings on occasion. That’s an essential skill, as Boston is showing off to perfection throughout their playoff run without Irving and Gordon Hayward.
There are plenty of tools SGA has at his disposal already that could be valuable to any organization. If he lands in the correct situation, he could really develop beautifully into the ideal modern two-way ball handler.
Unlike his counterparts at the top, Gilgeous-Alexander doesn’t have insane blow-by ability. He’s nowhere close to Derrick Rose-like levels of acceleration, but as we mentioned, he balances out with utilizing his length on top of angle advantages.
However, that could cause doubt when crunch-time situations come around and teams begin to hound SGA until he coughs the ball up. That’s why having secondary initiators play such beneficial roles now.
His thin frame might hold him back towards reaching higher levels of offensive output, which means his playmaking and defense will have to immediately translate for him to be a plus on the floor.
When Kentucky was eliminated by Kansas State during the NCAA Tournament, it exposed the major flaw in SGA’s attack where overall lack of burst was exposed on the big stage.
Outside of physical measurement concerns long term and him needing to tone down turnovers, SGA signals to me someone who’s floor is high. The big question with him will be whether his shot will be legit on the next level. That’s the make or break bullet point in the portfolio of Gilgeous-Alexander.
Fit in Phoenix
If the Suns draft DeAndre Ayton #1 overall, there might not be a better candidate to trade up for than Gilgeous-Alexander.
From a developmental standpoint, SGA would be able to learn the ropes for two years alongside Brandon Knight until his contract expires in 2020. At that point, SGA would be 22 and ready to likely handle the everyday burden of running the point.
Gilgeous-Alexander is the ideal long term backcourt partner with Devin Booker, especially if Kokosokov is able to tweak his off-the-catch mechanics. Adding length and consistent two-way players around Booker is an ideal blueprint to winning around today’s pace-and-space revolution.
Not only is Gilgeous-Alexander an extremely high IQ player, but his role in Phoenix would allow him to focus more on the little things. With Booker, Ayton, Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren, Gilgeous-Alexander won’t have to worry about attempting 10+ shots per game. All he will have to do is focus on grinding it out defensively and set easy looks for their high-powered offensive attack.
There’s slim odds SGA reaches No. 16, so Phoenix likely will have to move up to nab him. Teams like Philadelphia, Charlotte, Los Angeles Clippers, and Denver Nuggets likely make this scenario of him falling unlikely.
If Ayton is already in place and they believe Gilgeous-Alexander could be the consistent, calming two-way backcourt presence, though, they should pull the trigger on surrendering No. 16, No. 31 and maybe their future Milwaukee pick to move up into the 9-12 range (if you think that’s a lot to pay, remember the Celtics were turned down in 2015 trying to make the same move while offering SIX picks).
I’m higher on SGA’s offensive ceiling with refinement on his jumper, so I’m on the bandwagon of placing him a few spots above Sexton and Melton on my big board.
Big Board: No. 11; No. 3 Ball Handler
Comparisons: Ceiling - Dejounte Murray with better playmaking + shooting / Floor - Elfrid Payton (defense, jumper never develops as planned)
Stay tuned as BSOTS will be dropping new scouting profiles daily over the next month preparing you for one of the biggest drafts in franchise history.