In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
Today’s breakdown evaluates Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Upon arrival at Kentucky, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was not widely projected as a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. While recruiting services were at least somewhat split on the Canadian guard, Gilgeous-Alexander ranked as the No. 31 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to the 247Sports composite, and that isn’t the traditional profile of a one-and-done player.
In fact, Gilgeous-Alexander started only 2 of his first 15 games at Kentucky and he was relatively anonymous in the early going. Over the first 11 games of his (brief) college career, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 9.6 points, 4.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game, operating purely as a supporting piece for John Calipari and the Wildcats.
After that, however, it quickly became apparent that a) Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t returning to Kentucky for another season, and b) he was a probable lottery pick.
Over his final 26 games, Gilgeous-Alexander’s production soared, averaging 16.4 points, 5.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game on a team filled with five-star prospects. By the end of the season, he was the unquestioned “go-to guy” for Kentucky and, even if the campaign ended sooner than members of Big Blue Nation would have preferred, Gilgeous-Alexander left a considerable impression.
At 6’6 with a 6’11 wingspan, Gilgeous-Alexander doesn’t bring traditional point guard size to the table. He is almost unfathomably long for a lead guard and, while there are at least some questions about his ability to translate into a full-fledged NBA point guard, it is tantalizing to see a player of his size and length deploying the skill set that he has.
It has to be noted that Gilgeous-Alexander will turn 20 in July, making him significantly older than the average one-and-done prospect. Still, that isn’t a disqualifying number by any means and it certainly helped that he measured off the charts at the combine, headlined by a class-leading 3.0 percent body fat.
For some, defense is potentially the more suffocating part of his evaluation. Because of his length and acumen, it is possible that Gilgeous-Alexander simply turns into a multi-positional defensive force, especially if he is able to continue to build on the considerable strides he made as a freshman.
It is absolutely worth noting that Gilgeous-Alexander did not participate in athletic testing at the combine and, well, he isn’t a transcendent athlete. Still, it would be unfair to characterize him as wholly unimpressive in that regard and, with his size, there is no reason to think he will be a negative on the defensive end, even with very little development.
As with most lead guard prospects, offense will be the part of the evaluation that will determine where he lands and, ultimately, how impressive Gilgeous-Alexander is at the NBA level. He uses his size quite well on the offensive end, finishing with length and he displayed impressive polish at times during his run at Kentucky.
He is absolutely aided by length when looking to pass, and that allows him avenues that simply aren’t available to other guard prospects. Still, it will be interesting to see how Gilgeous-Alexander handles the amount of ball pressure and intensity he will encounter at the NBA level, especially if asked to function as a no-doubt primary ball-handler immediately upon arrival.
From a shooting perspective, the numbers are good (40.4 percent from three) but Gilgeous-Alexander was also timid at times when it came simply letting it fly. He is a highly skilled player but Gilgeous-Alexander will absolutely need to improve his burst, particularly in half-court settings, and his ability to actually get to his highly functional jump shot will be important.
Percentage-wise, it feels safe to project solid long-distance shooting from Gilgeous-Alexander. The key, however, will be his ability to create for himself in that regard and shooting off the dribble is a skill in high demand in today’s NBA.
Because of his length and overall skill level, it is (very) easy to be seduced by Gilgeous-Alexander’s considerable upside. At his peak, he could be a legitimate lead guard that defends three positions defensively, facilitates offense, scores at a relatively high rate and does virtually everything well. On the flip side, he could be too much of a floater on the offensive end, slipping in to a supporting role that highlights his length and defensive potential but without the explosiveness of a traditional lottery guard on the offensive end.
That package, in and of itself, is likely worthy of a pick somewhere in the 9 to 14 range in this class and that is where Gilgeous-Alexander is projected to land. From an Atlanta Hawks perspective, it seems wildly unlikely that he would drop to No. 19 overall, though Gilgeous-Alexander would be a logical target in the event that the Hawks can acquire an additional late lottery/mid first-round draft pick by virtue of a trade.
It probably isn’t wise to fully project Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as a star-level offensive player, though I truly believe he has the upside of a strongly above-average player on that end of the floor. When considering his other tools, however, the lottery is the right landing spot for the Kentucky guard and his transition to the NBA will be fun to monitor.