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Clippers 2018-2019 Exit Interview: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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Clippers’ rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had an up-and-down season, but was sensational for significant stretches, and cemented himself as one of the keys to the Clippers’ future.

Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors - Game Five Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Key Information

Name: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Age: 20

Years in NBA: 1

Position: Point guard

Key Stats: Played all 82 regular season games (started 73), averaging 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.2 steals in 26.5 minutes per game. Splits of 47.6/37.6/80 for a TS% of 55.4

Averaged 13.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1 steals in 28.8 minutes per game in the playoffs, shooting 46.7/50/85 for a TS% of 59.6

2018-2019 Salary: $3,375,360

Future Contract Status: Guaranteed for next year at $3,952,920, team options for 2021 and 2022 that are locks to be picked up.

Awards: All-Rookie 2nd Team

Summary

When the Clippers traded two second round picks to move up one spot in the draft for the privilege of selecting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Clippers’ fans knew Lawrence Frank, Jerry West, and Doc Rivers had found their guy. Shai was highly regarded in the stacked 2018 NBA Draft class, with some pundits even marking him as the best point guard of the bunch. Shai played well in Summer League, and reports constantly rained in about his maturity and hard work. However, fans were still skeptical, even in training camp, that Shai would play very much, especially to start the year.

Those fans needn’t have worried. Shai was in Doc’s rotation from day one of the regular season, and in fact played all 82 games for the Clippers, an impressive feat for a rookie. Not only that, but after Avery Bradley’s injury nine games into the season, Shai moved to the starting lineup, and never looked back.

After a magnificent November, Shai’s production fell a bit in December, even though his efficiency rose. The Clippers slowed down after their hot start, and Shai’s play gradually dropped off as well. His worst month of the season, by far, was January, which was non coincidentally the worst month of the year for the Clippers in general. It’s a weird chicken and egg question: was the Clippers’ drop-off caused (at least in part) by Shai’s struggles, or did the Clippers’ woes put Shai into bad situations? It was probably a bit of either, but regardless, Shai looked out of sorts for much of January and the early parts of February, playing passively and with little force.

However, Shai’s fortunes turned with the trade deadline, as did the fortune of the entire team. Liberated from the midrange brick-laying yoke of Avery Bradley, Shai began to thrive once more, helped by the additional playmaking of Patrick Beverley and the sharpshooting of Landry Shamet. The Clippers’ new starting unit was excellent down the stretch of the season, and Shai’s confidence steadily grew with it. He had a dazzling March, averaging 14.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game on fantastic efficiency. That play carried into the playoffs, where Shai broke a career high for points scored in Game 4, and contributed significantly in three of the other contests as well. It was an extremely promising end to an already auspicious season.

Strengths

It would be pretty difficult to list all the strengths of SGA, but let’s start with the easiest one. He was a positive defensive player as a rookie point guard, which is incredibly rare. His size, wingspan, quickness, and smarts enabled him to be both solid in man to man coverage (on all but the quickest or strongest of opponents) as well as a useful help defender. He reads passing lanes well, is swift at snatching the ball out of player’s hands, and was even able to protect the rim on occasion with some timely blocks. As Shai gets more reps against NBA players, and understands coverage and scouting reports better, he will continue to improve as a defender. And that’s not even counting what some muscle could do. Shai already flashed the ability to guard multiple positions this season, and could be someone who guards four positions well in his prime. I would not be shocked if he made some All-Defense teams in a few years.

On offense, Shai’s greatest strength is his ability to finish around the basket. His long, dexterous arms can put the ball out of reach from defenders, and Shai can contort his arms and body into all sorts of ridiculous poses to put the ball in the basket. Shai’s adept at scoring with either hand around the rim, utilizing all sorts of flip shots and spin from difficult angles. While he lacks elite quickness, Shai has a solid first step, and he has a workmanlike handle that allows him to get into the paint with frequency. Really, Shai had more incredible finishes this season than many NBA players will have throughout their careers, and he’s just as capable at fundamental layups and touch shots as well.

While he’s not exceptional, Shai is a solid passer and playmaker who can make competent NBA reads as well as more sophisticated passes. He’s particularly adept at wrap-around passes to big men in the paint, getting the ball to them at seemingly impossible angles. He plays with his head up at all times, and never lets himself get rushed. He can make careless passes at times, but generally doesn’t have bad turnovers, and is able to find shooters right in their pocket. Shai will rarely dazzle as a playmaker, but is impressive, and should be able to run a team’s offense in his prime.

Finally, Shai is composed. For a one-and-done rookie point guard, he was remarkably calm throughout the NBA season, even in big games and huge moments. He would let some joy or frustration show through on occasion, but when he was playing, it was usually impossible to tell if he was rattled, feeling pressure, or having an off night. Even in the playoffs against the Golden State Warriors, Shai was calm, collected, and composed, and was actually one of the Clippers’ better and more consistent players in the series. He played at a fairly high level all year, and his brightest moments put Clippers’ fans in awe.

Weaknesses

He has none. Well, that’s not true, but Shai’s weaknesses are mostly encouraging in that they are things that can be improved upon. Most importantly, Shai needs to work on his three-point shot. His percentages look solid, and he definitely grew more confident as the season went along, but his shot is slow and needs time to get off. Right now, Shai is mostly left alone behind the three point arc, and while he can punish teams out there, it’s not a consistent weapon of his. At the very least, he has to speed up his release a bit so that he can take more shots that aren’t wide open. This will enable him to take a higher volume of threes, making him more of a threat behind the line. Ideally, Shai would also work on taking threes off the dribble or coming off screens – he took a few off the dribble this year, but almost all of them were catch and shoot. If he can start taking threes off the bounce regularly, look out.

Shai’s other main weakness this year was his strength (or lack thereof). Shai came into the NBA as a skinny 20 year old, and will need to put on muscle to get to his ceiling on both ends of the court. On defense, Shai needs the muscle to hang with bigger guys in the post, and so that he doesn’t get thrown out of the way defending drives to the basket. This would also probably help his rebounding, which was surprisingly low considering his height and instincts. On offense, gaining some strength would allow Shai to finish at a higher percentage around the basket, and absorb contact rather than bouncing off it. With a couple more years in an NBA weight room and with professional nutrition, Shai will be far deadlier on both sides of the ball.

Outside of shooting and strength, Shai’s only real weakness is that sometimes he needs to be more aggressive. He’s already a really good NBA player and can get to the basket and finish there at a high rate. There were games where he looked to take control from the outset, and he usually dominated those contests. Hopefully, as his game develops and he grows more comfortable in the NBA, his confidence and ability to take over will increase as well.

Future with Clippers

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the prince who was promised, the Clippers’ point guard of the future. He had a great rookie season while also showing the promise for much, much more. Barring a seismic trade for a superstar (Anthony Davis or a player of a similar caliber), Shai will be a Clipper for a long time to come.

Overall Grade: A

Shai had a rookie season beyond what almost anyone expected of him. He played significant minutes for a 48 win team that made the playoffs, and started the vast majority of the season. His defense was excellent for a rookie, he never looked to be rattled by the moment, and he flashed star potential on a frequent basis. Shai is the best prospect the Clippers have had since Blake Griffin, and his season could not reasonably have gone much better than it did.