Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Is the Clippers' Best Kept Secret

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has a unique skill set that is easy to look past. Don't.

It's hard to understand what a 6'11 wingspan looks like in person. The most helpful way might be to imagine someone standing at the back of a large SUV, spreading their arms out into prime T-pose, and their arms extending past the width of the vehicle. 

SUVs are large vehicles

Have you ever played basketball against one? I haven't, and I hope I never do. How hard would it be to pass around waving tendrils spanning the width of a tank disguised as soccer mom transportation? 

And yet here we stand: digitally face to face with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the man with a Chevrolet Suburban wingspan who can't even buy a beer. Which is sad, considering he's got lots to celebrate given his strong rookie season. 

SGA's physical measures often define him, but his game denies them. The long and lanky point guard plays like someone who doesn't have physical tools. He's a cerebral player, which sets him up to have a unique 1-2 punch of strengths: size and smarts. Players who have one don't often exercise the other, and rarely do we see players who use both so well. 

Based on what we know, here are the things we talk about with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: His length, his intelligence, his low turnover rate. There is one little blip in his skill set that gets little attention. The lack of attention is proportional to its lack of prevalence, which is by design. The Clippers don't call many plays that, statistically speaking, use his best skill set

Here's the secret: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the best isolation scorers in the league. Right now. As a rookie.

Per Synergy Sports, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scores 1.06 points per possession in isolation situations, which is better than 87% of the league. And I don't want to hurt you, but here's a list of people he's ranked ahead of: 

  • Kevin Durant
  • Kahwi Leonard
  • Kemba Walker
  • DeMar DeRozan
  • Jimmy Butler
  • Kyrie Irving
  • Lebron James

The smart and seasoned of your number will cry out, weeping: "SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!!" And you are correct! SGA is, by no means, a better isolation scorer than those players. They have much higher rates of isolation situations, and with volume, efficiency will begin to deflate. Only 5% of Gilgeous-Alexander's possessions are isolations.

But here's the question: What if he had more? And how does his length help him score?

Isolation

That length helps. This is not intended to be blasphemous in any way, but Gilgeous-Alexander has shades of Giannis. Watch this drive. He, like Giannis, uses his elite Suburban-like length to keep the ball far away from defenders. Even in traffic, SGA easily shields the ball from defenders and finishes at an unconventional angle, all because he's got arms like pool noodles.

You gotta feel sorry for the Cavaliers, being used twice in a row in this article.

The clip above is extra impressive. Gilgeous-Alexander does his best Jason Williams impression, but the finish is key. Even though Nance Jr. is hot on his tail, Shai still uses his inside hand, the one closest to the defender, to finish. He's able to do that because he can get the ball far enough in front of himself that he can use his own body as a shield without worrying. His length gives him the ability to guard his own shots against defenders with ease.

Without question, having flailing tendrils for arms lets you slam home the most efficient shot in basketball more frequently. When "shades of Giannis" was mentioned, does this do it for you?

This is huge. Gilgeous-Alexander does a couple of things here. First, Rudy Gobert is in the perfect position to defend this play, and SGA doesn't care one bit. He has some sort of quiet confidence in him that wills him forward. Second, Gilgeous-Alexander makes his length his greatest weapon, nullifying Gobert's own length, and finishes around Rudy. It's not a pretty finish, but not many players at his position could even attempt that, much less make it. His length gives him the ability to be more creative when he chooses.

Conclusion

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is playing quietly behind the stars of his class: Trae Young, Luka Doncic, and Deandre Ayton. It shouldn't be this way. As far as rookies are concerned, the go-go-gadget arm sporting Clipper is a unique kind of player. He's long and athletic, cool, calm, and collected, and he's doing impressive work when left to fend for himself.

But it isn't happening enough. What would happen if Doc Rivers let SGA have 5-7 more possessions per game in isolation? Were Gilgeous-Alexander's 1.06 points per possession to hold given the uptick, he could easily average 15-17 points a game as a rookie.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has a bright future. And while the others may get the glory, he'll be getting difficult buckets.

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