Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a name that you may not recognize that is slated as a potential lottery pick in many mock drafts.

The highest that Gilgeous-Alexander ever climbed on ESPN’s top-100 high school players was 35th as he spent the majority of his high school career in the bottom half of the top-100. He was the rated as the second-lowest prospect to commit to Kentucky in 2017 behind the likes of Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington, and more.

Fast forward a year later after Gilgeous-Alexander committed to Kentucky, and his resume is now bursting at the seams with accolades and accomplishments. He started the year off of the bench, but finished the season starting in the backcourt for the Wildcats, became the SEC tournament MVP, and proceeded to average 20.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and six assists throughout the tournament as he led Kentucky to the Sweet Sixteen where Kansas State eventually defeated the Wildcats. Gilgeous-Alexander finished out his freshman year at Kentucky averaging 14.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2.7 turnovers in 33.7 minutes per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from three-point distance on just 1.5 attempts per game, and 82.2 percent from the free-throw line.

Now, Gilgeous-Alexander is looking like he is likely to be drafted in the late lottery, if not even sooner, after showing off his significant bag of tools that he has developed combined with his high-level defensive tools. He has been slated to go as high as eighth to the Cleveland Cavaliers in mock drafts while odds are high that he does not fall past the Denver Nuggets, who have the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA draft — if he even falls that far.

The right-handed, soon-to-be 20-year-old Canadian is a defensive nightmare at the point of attack who also has above-average playmaking ability to go with plenty of other offensive weapons. He is as patient as he is motivated and has the skill-set of a hyper-verstailte guard who can defend multiple positions. In this day and age of NBA basketball, those kind of players are a dime a dozen and unbelievably helpful.


Gilgeous-Alexander is a legitimate two-way player even without elite-level athletic ability.

Gilgeous-Alexander uses his deceptively-quick lateral movement and smothering 6-foot-11 wingspan to engulf not just opposing guards, but perimeter players of all kinds. He takes pride in his defense and feasts in passing lanes all over the floor. What makes him so intriguing is that Gilgeous-Alexander is not just another defensive stalwart with size who doesn’t have an idea of how to contribute offensively.

Gilgeous-Alexander is at his best with the ball in his hands offensively, and is a much better offensive player than he has been given credit for. He can score in a multitude of different ways, knows how to make up for his lack of vertical athleticism, is a better-than-advertised playmaker, and knows how to play the game the right way.

Changing Speeds

There are plenty of ways that Gilgeous-Alexander can help an NBA team, but his skill-set is really predicated on one trait: changing speeds and flipping through gears like a Lamborghini.

Look at how Gilgeous-Alexander changes speeds three times on the drive above. He goes from stopped into his long first step which gets the defenders hips to open up. Once Gilgeous-Alexander forces help to step up to him, he slows up to get his opponent leaning the wrong way before bursting away from the help defender. Once he gets just the slightest bit of space, Gilgeous-Alexander uses his length to finish at the rim with his off hand.

That simple drive to the rim shows more awareness and understanding than a 19-year-old should possess and it is what has allowed for him to make up for not having an elite-level athletic ability.

Just to make his ability to shift gears even more deadly, Gilgeous-Alexander is also great at adapting on the fly based on what the defense gives him, like in the play below.

That stop-and-start shake that Gilgeous-Alexander uses has become second-nature to him which is why he is able to use it to split the hard hedge that he faces above. Gilgeous-Alexander uses a hang dribble to allow the big to hedge too hard. Once the big jump out, Gilgeous-Alexander calmly goes from a stop into a right-to-left crossover and splits the defenders before pulling up early for an acrobatic under-handed finish at the rim to keep the defense from covering on him in time.

That ability to flip through gears quickly and frequently does not just aid Gilgeous-Alexander as a scorer either. Thanks to his above-average playmaking ability and court awareness, Gilgeous-Alexander can break down a defense and make passes on the move, even while switching speeds so regularly.

Look above how Gilgeous-Alexander backs out to reset the offense once he notices his big slip the screen. In doing so, he attracts the attention of the defense and switches up the pace. Once Jarred Vanderbilt clears out, Gilgeous-Alexander attacks once again. Instead of going to the right elbow, as he was going to do before resetting the offense, Gilgeous-Alexander attacks the middle of the paint, spins back out to the right elbow into the teeth of the help defense. Gilgeous-Alexander did that on purpose drawing Vanderbilt’s defender to him before dropping a pass to Vanderbilt for the uncontested dunk.

Again, Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to flip through different speeds bends the defense in ways he is not able to without being freakishly athletic, but that is not to say that Gilgeous-Alexander cannot get up when he needs to.

Look at how just a slight hesitation can throw off the rhythm of the defense so intensely that it allows Gilgeous-Alexander take flight from a full-step outside of the restricted circle. Gilgeous-Alexander does not have wonderful vertical explosion, but when he has a full head of steam and jumps off one foot, he can flat-out float.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to use his long strides and tempo-changing hesitation moves has given him the ability to bend defenses in the way that is difficult to scout. It unlocks his ability to get to the rim, which gives him more space as a shooter, as well as forces defenses to key in on him opening up his ability to make plays for others. It also helps him defensively, but before we get there, let’s discuss the rest of Gilgeous-Alexander’s offensive game.

Well-Rounded Offensive Game

While Gilgeous-Alexander is not great at any one single offensive skill, he is beyond proficient in many. He can score from anywhere from the three-point line to the rim, make plays for others, can play on or off the ball offensively, and is a creative finisher at the rim as well.


As a playmaker, he can find shooters on the move, can pick apart defenses in the pick and roll as well as dribble handoffs, can throw skip passes from one corner to the other, and always has his head up looking to make plays for others.

Gilgeous-Alexander is a maestro in the pick and roll for his size. He is able to use his height advantage to find shooters and cutters and can also get to the rim with or without a screen to break down the defense and open up shooters.

In pick and roll possessions including passes, Gilgeous-Alexander is in the 81st percentile and is scoring at 0.99 points per possession in those actions. Look at how methodical and precise Gilgeous-Alexander is in the pick and roll possession below.

Gilgeous-Alexander just keeps slowly switching gears at a low speed as he continues to seduce the Vanderbilt defense to collapse on him, and not Knox, who slid down the baseline into position for the automatic dunk. There are three separate times in which Gilgeous-Alexander pulls up, and then re-engages his drive into the paint. That back-and-forth dribble penetration forced the defense to continue sliding away from the far corner giving Knox the open dunk. All of that was set up by Gilgeous-Alexander.

Stepping up and pressuring Gilgeous-Alexander is not the answer to slowing him either. The second the defense plays too aggressively up top, Gilgeous-Alexander’s size and length come into play as he handles the pressure, looks over the top of the defense, and makes the pass wherever needed, as he does below.

Because the defense is designed to play so aggressive at the point of attack, once Gilgeous-Alexander uses a in-and-out dribble to get by the first line of defense it forces the rest of the defense to step up to stop the ball. That is when Gilgeous-Alexander has the defense exactly where he wants them.

Even while on the move, Gilgeous-Alexander’s head is up looking for an open teammate. It doesn’t take long for Knox to slide into the dunker’s zone and make himself available for the lob out of the hands of Gilgeous-Alexander that lead to a poster dunk for Knox.

Gilgeous-Alexander doesn’t just find teammates around the rim either. He can find shooters in any situation. Look at the difficulty of the pass below.

Gilgeous-Alexander is in the middle of a spin move when he realizes he has an open shooter rotating into a passing lane. Gilgeous-Alexander takes his time, stays calm, gets one extra step into the paint to maximize the space for Knox, and delivers the pass.

Gilgeous-Alexander ability to understand the attention that he receives opens up his ability to be a facilitator in a massive way. That awareness is what allows Gilgeous-Alexander to see two or three steps ahead of the defense and his creativity is what allows him to catch his opponents off guard.

When all of his skills come together with his under-heralded creativity, it can be a beautiful sight.


While Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid facilitator, he is no slouch as a scorer either. If he can become consistent from the three-point distance, there is nothing holding him back from being a legitimate three-level scorer.

Gilgeous-Alexander can hurt you from anywhere on the floor. If you let him get to the rim, he can finish with either hand and do so creatively. Back off of him and force him to be a shooter? He has enough three-point shooting to hurt teams that leave him wide open. Try and drop the big to keep him out of the paint? He can hit pull-up elbow jump shots or floaters around the rim.

Where Gilgeous-Alexander is best is going to the rim; especially, in the pick and roll. Gilgeous-Alexander is rated in the 86th percentile in pick and roll scoring possessions according to Synergy. Scoring out of the pick and roll was by far the most common way that Gilgeous-Alexander was able to score as well with 38.9 percent of his shooting possessions coming out of the pick and roll.

He has the length to finish around rim protectors and has the shake to get by perimeter defenders like he does below.

Gilgeous-Alexander uses the screen to get the big switched onto him. He throws an incredibly-subtle hesitation move at his defender at the top of the key before unleashing a vicious behind-the-back dribble to create just enough separation to use the rim as a shield. Gilgeous-Alexander attacks from the right side of the rim but finishes on the left side with a reverse to keep the defender from blocking Gilgeous-Alexander’s shot as he uses his length to finish the play.

The subtly of Gilgeous-Alexander’s game is what makes his shake look so modest while actually being quite effective.

Look at how quickly that Gilgeous-Alexander is able to go from catching the ball mostly stopped to directly by his defender. Even better is that Gilgeous-Alexander knows that the defender is going to be closing out behind him looking to block his shot so Gilgeous-Alexander pulls out the off-handed finish off the wrong foot to throw off the timing of the shot blocker.

Gilgeous-Alexander also is able to produce with his jump shot as well. According to Synergy, Gilgeous-Alexander is in the 71st percentile as a jump shooter and is even better off the catch, where he is in the 94th percentile at 1.36 points per possession albeit on a small sample size of just 39 possessions. The point is that there is legitimate hope for the development of a reliable three-point jumper. So far, he has shown that he can hit three-pointers off of a dribble and off of the catch, but his form is inconsistent and still developing.

You can see Gilgeous-Alexander’s form above on a three with his feet set and a three off of the dribble. The one thing that stands out is the lack of shot preparation in the lower-half of his body. His feet have to rhythm to them and, when off the dribble, it drastically slows down the rest of his mechanics as he tries to get his feet under him. Gilgeous-Alexander’s release is quicker when shooting off of the catch, but it is clear there is still quite a bit of development left in his long-range jump shot.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t signs of improvement on Gilgeous-Alexander’s jump shot from distance. Look at his jumper below.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s feet are set on the catch. He taps his right foot on the catch for rhythm, the ball does not dip below his waist on the catch, and he quickly rises up and lets the shot fly perfectly. If Gilgeous-Alexander can hit corner three-pointers like he does above, it will make him a dangerous offensive weapon.

Another reason for optimism as Gilgeous-Alexander continues to develop distance on his jump shot is how fluid and instinctual his mid-range, pull-up jump shot is.

Look at how effortlessly Gilgeous-Alexander is able to get to his pull-up jumper at the elbow. He uses the screen to force the switch and the second that Gilgeous-Alexander realize that the big is dropping to keep him from getting into the paint, he just pulls up and nails a jumper right in his face.

That pull-up jumper is the perfect counter for a player who thrives getting to the rim. Opponents will just keep dropping their bigs like Louisville did in the video above if the only offensive weapon is to get to the rim. With Gilgeous-Alexander able to hit this elbow jump shot consistently, it will keep the painted area open for him to either hit cutters or get to the rim himself to score.

Just to be complete, Gilgeous-Alexander also had a nice floater game in his arsenal and he uses it regularly to keep defenses honest. He can hit floaters on either side of the floor and has a softer touch on them than expected.

Being able to counter getting to the rim with a pull-up jumper or a floater is a big deal, but Gilgeous-Alexander’s offensive ceiling will rely on him becoming a consistent shooter from beyond the three-point line. He did shoot 40.4 percent from deep this year for Kentucky, but that was on just 1.5 attempts per game. His free-throw percentage, which is one of the better indicator’s of future shooting ability, is sitting at a solid 81.7 percent, which provides optimism, but until Gilgeous-Alexander shows he can keep hitting threes, there is a limit to how helpful he can be offensively.

Regardless, there are quite a few offensive skills that Gilgeous-Alexander possesses that will serve him well at the NBA level.

Defensive Potential

Where Gilgeous-Alexander is going to make the biggest impact is on the defensive end of the floor. He is a dedicated defender who just so happens to play point guard while being 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan. That combined with his awareness is the ideal archetype of a guard who can defend all perimeter positions.

There is very rarely a moment where Gilgeous-Alexander is not engaged and disruptive defensively, like he is above. He uses his length to get into passing lanes or pressure ball handlers who are under distress. Once he gets his elongated arms near the ball, it never leaves his hands and he is usually already headed down the floor for an easy bucket.

Where he is special is defending the ball handler in the pick and roll. His on-ball pressure is terrific and that has resulted in Gilgeous-Alexander being ranked in the 84th percentile defending the ball handler in pick and rolls while allowing just 0.56 points per possession. A simpler way at looking at how dominant Gilgeous-Alexander was defending pick and rolls is like this: ball handlers in the pick and roll shot just 36-121 against Gilgeous-Alexander over the entire 2017-18 season. That is an insane 29.8 percent that opponents shot against Gilgeous-Alexander in the pick and roll.

Thanks to his tenacity and length, Gilgeous-Alexander is able to play way up on opponents because he can recover in time (and had some of the best bigs in college basketball at Kentucky, which he may not have at the NBA level). He puts so much ball pressure on the Georgia ball handler that there isn’t even enough time for the screen to get to him before Gilgeous-Alexander forces the turnover and gets the run-out dunk on the other end.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s defensive pressure is also just as effective off the ball as it is on the ball. Look at how he smothers his opponent who is trying to be the release valve off-ball.

Instead of allowing the opposing offense to reset, Gilgeous-Alexander eradicates the passing lane and gets a pretty reverse layup off of his favorite move in transition — the euro-step.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s awareness allows him to feast in passing lanes as well. Look below as he hunts the steal.

Gilgeous-Alexander is off-ball, but toe opposing LSU Tigers have the ball in the corner and their ball handler has picked up his dribble. Gilgeous-Alexander is just far enough off of his man to bait LSU into passing back out to the wing to reset the offense, which is when Gilgeous-Alexander jumps the passing lane and throws up a beauty of a lob pass in transition for the big dunk.

Gilgeous-Alexander seemingly always finds a way to positively impact the defensive end of the floor. His dedication to the defensive end of the floor is what makes Gilgeous-Alexander such a tantalizing two-way prospect.

Fit with the Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are going into an offseason with questions at backup point guard and on the wing. Gilgeous-Alexander has the size and skill set to not only fill both of those roles, but also elevate the defensive pressure on the floor. With Will Barton being an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason, Denver will need to prepare to fill his role just in case.

Nikola Jokic is best when surrounded by hyper-versatile wings who can defend multiple positions, spot up from three, and keep the ball moving. Again, Gilgeous-Alexander is ideal in that role and he would also allow the Nuggets to use smaller lineups thanks to his size. It is hard to see a scenario where Denver does not select Gilgeous-Alexander if he falls to them at 14 unless another prospect that Denver likes better somehow magically falls to them.

Gilgeous-Alexander has the size, scoring acumen, and playmaking ability for himself and his teammates to take up that mantle while also bringing more defensive intensity to the floor. Not only that, but he would double the amount of Kentucky guards who hail from the Great White North, also known as the country of Canada.

Regardless, it is hard to not see how well Gilgeous-Alexander would fit in Denver with this Nuggets’ roster. Gilgeous-Alexander’s mixture of scoring from everywhere on the floor and elite size combined with his defense-first mindset is exactly what Denver needs on its roster to take the next step as a defensive team.