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Clippers Stock Watch: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is already earning crunch-time minutes

In a new feature, Clips Nation will take a quick look at which Clippers are trending up or trending down.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Stock Watch, a regular feature where we’ll check in on which Clippers are playing well, not so hot, or just can’t crack the rotation.

Trending up:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Doc Rivers said before the season that there were six players who had officially earned playing time: Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. At that point, it was surprising that Shai was on that list over established players like Marcin Gortat or Luc Mbah a Moute.

Six games into the season, what’s more surprising is that SGA hasn’t just earned playing time, he has earned minutes in crunch time. The rookie finished out last week’s home wins against Oklahoma City and Houston, and even played some down the stretch on the road against New Orleans. The return of Milos Teodosic figured to throw a wrench into Gilgeous-Alexander’s role, but the rookie has stayed on the floor playing both on and the ball.

Even in his first year, Gilgeous-Alexander has skills that separate him from other players on the roster. His fluidity on offense and his passing instincts encourage ball movement, and his length is already manifesting itself on defense. The Clippers trusted him to guard James Harden in Los Angeles and Chris Paul in Houston, and then cover John Wall yesterday, and he handled all three responsibilities well.

After the season opener, when Shai played 28 minutes in his NBA debut, Rivers had this to say about his rookie point guard:

“I think Shai’s going to play a lot. I said it before the game — Shai’s a good basketball player. I don’t think we should be surprised if he plays a lot of minutes.”

Rivers has backed up those words throughout the first two weeks, and Gilgeous-Alexander has run with the opportunity to cement his status as one of the best rookies in the league.

Trending down:

Tyrone Wallace and Sindarius Thornwell

Both Wallace and Thornwell benefited from the rash of injuries last year to become valuable rotation players. They have not had similar fortunes this season.

The pair have played a combined 12 minutes thus far, all by Wallace in the blowout wins against Houston and Washington. The glut of point guards makes it hard for Ty to see time at his preferred position, the one. Both he and Thornwell have the size to play at the wing, but Rivers has elected to play three-guard lineups featuring Shai at the three rather than go deep into his bench. In particular, the absence of Mbah a Moute would seem to create an opening for a defensive-minded wing, but Thornwell’s number hasn’t been called yet. Sin hasn’t even dressed for a majority of the team’s contests.

During garbage time, the team has seemed more invested in developing Jerome Robinson, which is perfectly logical given that they spent a first-round pick on him. The Clippers kept both Ty and Sin on their 15-man roster, so they must believe in their potential to become effective NBA players. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how that potential will be realized outside of the Agua Caliente Clippers in the near future.

Keep an eye on:

Marcin Gortat

Gortat is solidly in place as the team’s starting center, but he hasn’t popped enough to earn more than 17.5 minutes per game. Part of that stems from not being need to play in the fourth quarter during blowouts; part of that stems from the excellent play from the other members of the Clippers’ so-called “three-headed center project”, particularly Montrezl Harrell. Gortat’s screening and ball movement separate him from the other LA bigs, but it will be interesting to see if Harrell continues to encroach upon his time on the floor.