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Whatever Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s role is, he’ll fit in the Clippers’ rotation

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a trendy pick for the Clippers. He’s a tough player to project, but the Clippers should be able to find a role for him.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kansas State vs Kentucky Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the most perplexing players in the 2018 NBA Draft class. He drove himself into the lottery conversation with a solid second half of the season for Kentucky, and he offers some exciting potential because he combines two profiles that draft scouts absolutely love - being incredibly long (point guards that are 6-6 with a 6-11 wingspan sell), and also being incredibly smart on both ends of the floor.

SGA has very strong playmaking tools. He has great vision, and puts it to smart use, particularly in the pick-and-roll. He might be the most experienced pick-and-roll point guard in the class outside of Luka Doncic, and his ability to make drop-offs and drive-and-kicks is very strong. That passing ability is coupled with a strong understanding of team defense, as he’s a gifted pick-and-roll defender who is comfortable switching, and has great hands for generating steals.

The weird part of Gilgeous-Alexander’s game comes with his weaknesses. His strengths would point to him being a gifted point guard, but he has definite impediments to being a starting-caliber one in the NBA. Chief among those is his shooting - while he hit over 40 percent from 3 this season, it came on just 57 attempts which was less than many of the draft’s top centers. Over 70 percent of those attempts were assisted. SGA has almost no pull-up game to speak of, which is incredibly important if the rest of your offensive game points to you being a pick-and-roll ball-handler.

The other issue comes in athleticism. Gilgeous-Alexander can be overwhelmed by quicker guards, and he lacks ideal vertical pop, which limits his ability finishing at the rim. That SGA didn’t test athletically at the NBA Draft Combine is telling - he doesn’t appear to want to show how his limitations with agility and bounce could impact his NBA ceiling. Both are big questions that remained to be solved, and are unlikely to improve much, either.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s role then becomes a little murky. His offensive game points to him being a pick-and-roll distributor, using his incredible vision and interesting craft around the rim to probe and collapse the defense for the rest of his teammates.

However, his weaknesses point to a player who may need to play with another on-ball initiator to make full use of his strengths. He probably needs to attack downhill off another action to get to the rim, and he definitely needs to be off-ball to make use of his shooting.

The role for SGA is the ultimate question - is he a primary initiator point guard, or is he capable of some creation, but best left spotting up off ball while guarding opposing initiators?

The Clippers might actually be able to turn this on its head, though. Their roster is a nice fit for what he likely will need early in his career, and the idea would be that he can float between both of those roles given the lineup he’s playing with. You can slot him as a two with Milos Teodosic or Austin Rivers at the one, knowing that those two are strong enough shooters and playmakers that you can get that ideal setup to use SGA as a secondary pick-and-roll threat without making him drive your entire offense, and he should be able to guard the most dangerous assignment to save either from having to try (or in Milos’s case, pretend) to defend the league’s elite primary creators.

DeAndre Jordan’s (potential) presence also helps SGA, giving him both an elite lob threat to free up space in the pick-and-roll, and helping to bail him out against the league’s more elite guards. SGA looked really strong running pick-and-rolls with P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel - imagine him coming off the screens that Jordan sets and throwing passes to DAJ’s catch radius. If he’s around, that’s a great partnership. Tobias Harris’s role as a pick-and-pop threat that can also create opportunities for him off the catch is even better.

There’s also the defensive end, where SGA is one of the more advanced guards in the class, and the Clippers have some interesting pieces to compliment him. SGA/Beverley/Thornwell/Harris/Jordan sounds fun. And having another defensive-plus guard is always nice if you’re going to devote significant minutes to Teodosic.

Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t the perfect prospect, and it’s tough to really figure out his exact NBA role. But half of draft success if finding a nice marriage between skill set and roster role, and SGA to the Clippers seems like a strong fit for both parties. If SGA comes to Los Angeles, he could end up having a higher ceiling than if he landed in some other spots in the same area of the draft, like Phoenix or Charlotte. He may not be a sure thing, but he’s more likely to be good on the Clippers than he is in a lot of other potential landing spots.