Having a veteran mentor is a timeless tradition in the NBA.
Two weeks ago, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit his rookie wall. The once named “steal of the NBA draft” found himself averaging season lows (6.0 PPG, 3.6 APG, 1.9 RPG, 25% from three) in over 15 games straight. His early confidence turned into noticeable apprehension. It was a struggle head coach Doc Rivers knew would come.
“You gotta go through stuff to get stuff. I think Shai realizes that, this is a hard league. Today was our 50th game, that’s probably 16 more than his college season last year. He still has 32 games left. It’s hard. The players are just a tad bit better than what he played at Kentucky every night. With that all in mind, it’s very difficult for rookies.” - Doc Rivers
As Shai struggled, the LA Clippers rallied towards his aid; the results showed on the court. In the past six games, Shai has averaged: 11.6 PPG, 3.6 APG, 2.3 RPG. The most noticeable difference besides the point average, is the fact that Shai found his confidence again.
What was the advice that coaches and players gave Shai to help renew his confidence?
“Try sleeping, try not listening to everybody. When you struggle, everyone has advice. I told him he probably got here doing what he was doing, he doesn’t need to do anything else, just keep doing it.” - Doc Rivers
“Just keep playing. He’s a young player, but at the same time he works hard. Keep playing every night.” - Tobias Harris
The advice came from every direction, but there was one particular person’s advice that stood out from the others.
“The thing that stood out the most was Lou telling me stick to who I am. Don’t try to be someone I’m not, eventually it’ll come back.” - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
While Shai appreciated the advice he received from everyone on the roster, Lou’s resonated with him the most. The two may have completely different play styles, but they both entered the league at an incredibly young age. The expectations that come with the pressures of being a hyped young player are what bond the two and give them a special relationship.
“I’ve got a good relationship with all the young guys, but Shai is 20, and I came in the league when I was 17. I can kind of relate to some of things he can go through with the pressures of fans expecting him to do somethings. Just the natural rigors of the season. I’ve been through it, I’ve seen countless guys go through it. Especially guys like him, that so much is expected of him.” - Lou Williams
It may seem like simple advice, but the best advice you can tell someone struggling with confidence is to be themselves, and that’s exactly what Lou Williams did for Shai.
“Just put your arm around him, and make sure he has a positive attitude. Just continue to play, don’t change it.” - Lou Williams
That simple, yet timeless, advice from Lou Williams came from one of the league’s most timeless players, Allen Iverson.
“I had some really good vets that really took me under their wing: Doug Overton, AI, Chris Webber” - Lou Williams
Like osmosis, the words assimilated from player to player, until it reached Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It’s an important reminder of what having a “good vet” means. Someone who guides a rookie through the turmoils of an NBA season isn’t enough: good vets allow a young player to figure out who they really are during their struggles, and that’s what Lou Williams has done for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.