Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky
CPP Big Board Ranking: #13 Overall (#4 PG/#4 SG)
Weight: 180 lbs
Age/Birthday: 19 (7/12/98)
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
High School: Hamilton Heights
(Brett Siegel – 4/3/18)
One of eight ESPN Top 100 recruits coming into Kentucky this season and ranked as the #35 overall recruit in the 2017 Recruiting Class, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander may have been the Wildcats’ most relied on and improved player from the start of the season to the end. Originally expected to be a key bench player behind Quade Green and Hamidou Diallo, Gilgeous-Alexander was called upon near the middle of the season to see 30+ minutes per game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s “breakout” game came against the Wildcats’ rival, Louisville, on December 29th, 2017 in Rupp Arena. Shai had 24 points, 5 REB, and 4 AST in 33 minutes as Kentucky stomped Louisville 90-61. From that point forward, Gilgeous-Alexander was a starter for John Calipari and a big part of this SEC Tournament Championship team. After starting the season not really on many NBA scouts radars, Gilgeous-Alexander has become one of the hottest names pertaining to the NBA Draft. His length and athletic ability for a prospect who can play both guard positions makes him very valuable and a prospect to keep your eye on come time for the NBA Draft in June!
Based on my initial analysis of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, it was very clear to see he is a very confident player and is heavily in control of his temper and emotions on the court. When transitioning to the next level, especially after one season, it is very hard to find a prospect with the maturity level, along with the basketball IQ that Gilgeous-Alexander contains. Confidence is key for any player really, and with Shai showing this composure at a very young age, it only proves that he is in control of his game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s confidence also ties into his shooting abilities and offensive tendencies. Knowing his own abilities and knowing his comfortability in his shot, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is able to understand his own offensive abilities better. He is a very crafty, offensive minded guard and is not afraid to take control of an offense and run set pieces, even when plays are broken. His length and quick feet allow him to attack gaps in the defense and tend to cause defenders to foul him.
As for where Shai will play on the court in the NBA; his versatility is also a great strength to his game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s body frame is large for a guard that possesses the potential to be a very solid combo-guard that can play with or without the ball in his hands. Shai is also a very solid passer on the offensive end. His assist-to-turnover ratio after his freshman campaign averaged out to just below 2:1 and by driving down the lane, he draws a lot of attention, opening up Kevin Knox or Wenyen Gabriel on the outside for an open three. Shai is also not a terrible shooter. He shot about 48.5% for the season and just above 40% from 3-point range this season. Offensively, Gilgeous-Alexander possesses a lot of potential and has a chance to be a dangerous NBA guard, especially in the halfcourt.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander does not really have a great weakness, but more of adjustments that need to be made at the next level. He is a great on-the-ball defender, but gets lost at times when playing man-to-man. There were multiple occasions earlier in the season, especially against UCLA in New Orleans, where Shai lost his man and gave up an easy lay-up. Against UCLA, Aaron Holiday was guarded by Shai for about half the game, and scored 20 points. At the NBA level, where teams only play man-to-man defense, Shai will have to become more aware of his opponents on the court and have better footwork when defending off-the-ball. Another adjustment he must make when making an NBA roster is when to use his athleticism. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is very gifted athletically and is hard to keep up with, but he does not always look as explosive as he could end up being in the future. He has the ability to out-run about anyone on the court and can contend with bigs for offensive and defensive rebounds, but he can be shy and passive at times, resorting to just playing around the three-point line. This adjustment can easily be fixed depending on which NBA franchise drafts him, but something Gilgeous-Alexander must change because NBA personnel want their players to give it there all, especially down the stretch. If Shai is showing signs of playing down from his potential and playing down to his opponents, he will spend a lot of time on the bench when he could be helping his team on the court.
Player Outlook & NBA Comparison: Potential to be like Jrue Holiday, more like Jerian Grant
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a very intriguing prospect because it is hard to find a comparison for him. This simply because his game is so different and exemplifies that “new generation” type player. A blend between Jrue Holiday and Jerian Grant is probably the best comparison for Shai. Both Jrue Holiday and Jerian Grant stand above their position average, and both have been avid and crafty playmakers, much like Gilgeous-Alexander has shown in his one year at Kentucky.
Compared to Holiday, it is clear to see that both Shai and Jrue are crafty point guards and use their ball handling skills and dribble to cause their opponents to become off balance defensively. Both players are unselfish and tend to play their game in the mid-range area, something Gilgeous-Alexander has improved upon throughout his first year at Kentucky. In one year at UCLA, Holiday shot about 53% on 2-point shots and under 31% from long-range. Now in the NBA, Holiday is averaging about 48% on 2-point shots for his career, and 36% from long-range. Gilgeous-Alexander was definitely a better shooter in college, shooting about 50% on 2-point shots, and 40% from 3-point range. Shai is definitely a better offensive player than Holiday, but his defensive abilities still need improvements.
As for Jerian Grant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s offensive game is sort-of a mold of that of Grant’s. Jerian Grant was a 4-year player at Notre Dame that improved every year and earned national attention in his junior and senior seasons. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season, I think we will not only see him improve offensively in shot selection, but grow as a defender, much like Grant did. Jerian Grant was a great defender in his final few seasons at Notre Dame, something Shai could easily turn into.
Overall, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will likely be the first Kentucky Wildcat off the board in this year’s draft and will likely see a solid amount of minutes in his rookie campaign. The biggest thing for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander moving forward is being more vocal on the court and aware of his surroundings defensively. At the next level, isolation defense is important, especially with the shooting abilities of guards in the NBA. Whichever NBA team drafts Shai, they will have a young, explosive guard with a lot of athleticism; a player that could be a solid third or fourth options for the long-haul of his career.
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