Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was nowhere on the map in terms of draft stock entering the year. In fact, it wasn’t until the fall of his senior year where he began to rise up the high school recruiting rankings. Over the past 18 months though Gilgeous-Alexander has gone from unknown prospect to lottery pick. He was especially good for Kentucky in March where he averaged 20 points, six assists, and five rebounds a game. He wasn’t even starting the first half of the year when Kentucky was struggling.
John Calipari inserted him into the starting lineup around the beginning of conference play and his play took off. He was consistently the Wildcats best player over the course of the last two months of the season. Let’s look at some of the reasons for his strong play to end the season that has enticed teams picking in the lottery.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has elite size for the point guard position standing at 6’6″ with a 7’0″ wingspan. This allows him to guard multiple positions as well as finish in a variety of ways at the rim. His frame is wiry though, standing at only 180 pounds he is definitely going to need to put at least ten to fifteen pounds on at the next level. Outside of the weight though Gilgeous-Alexander physique is a major plus for him because of his length. Most teams are looking for point guards with long arms and this Kentucky guard has this in abundance. It’s a big reason why his defensive versatility is so high and why many teams have risen him to the lottery section of their draft boards.
Although he isn’t the quickest of guards he is still a good defender for a guy his age. You don’t see many guards, especially at the freshman level that are able to be good to great defenders. He uses his length extremely well to jump passing lanes and envelop smaller guards. Because of his sheer size alone being 6’6″ he should be able to guard both ones and twos and some threes at the next level.
Gilgeous-Alexander was the head of the snake for Kentucky’s defense this past year. It wasn’t a historic Calipari defense like 2012 but this team was still solid finishing in the top 25 according to KenPom. In his 37 games this past year he totaled 61 steals averaging out to 1.6 steals a game. His defensive game should immediately translate similarly to Frank Ntilikina.
Finishing at the Rim
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an excellent finisher at the rim, mostly due to his length. He showed the ability to finish with both hands at the rim in a variety of ways. He has outstanding body control in the paint allowing for a high rate of conversion around the rim. His long arms allow him to finish at angles where most guards wouldn’t have a shot or angle to get the shot on the glass. His elite level finishing ability is another positive in his game placing him in the lottery discussion.
One of Gilgeous-Alexander’s weaknesses is his shooting. Now while he shot 40% from three it was on a limited number of attempts. He never seemed to fully trust his own jumper throughout the year going eight games throughout the year without even attempting a three. Catch and shoot opportunities he has shown an ability to knock down shots consistently but off the dribble shots are where he’ll need to continue to improve. He’s not a great pull-up shooter but has shown the ability to knock down mid-range jumpers. The mechanics are there for him to be a good shooter in time.
NBA Comparison: Frank Ntilikina
The comparison between the two is eerily similar as both prospects look and play similarly out on the court. Both are decent playmakers at the point guard position with elite level size and length. In his first year in the league, Ntilikina showed to be a great on-ball defender something Gilgeous-Alexander will need to hang his hat on early in his career as well. Neither are bad shooters entering the league and both have shown the ability to knock down shots on limited attempts. Ntilikina was regarded as the better prospect but Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t far behind and their careers could play out in a similar way.