On November 5, the Clippers announced that starting shooting guard Avery Bradley would be sitting out against the Minnesota Timberwolves with a sprained ankle. For some teams, having the starting shooting guard go down might be a major cause for concern (e.g., Washington Wizards). However, the Clippers arguably have as much depth as any team in the league and rebounded from Bradley’s absence by inserting one of the Clippers two first-round pick rookies into the starting lineup. And just like that, rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got the first regular season start of his very young career.
Now 12 games into the regular season, Gilgeous-Alexander has already shown the ability to contribute, which is making quite an impression with his teammates.
“I think he is really good,” center Boban Marjanovic told Basketball Insiders after the Clippers beat the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday in an overtime nail-biter. “Good person, great basketball player.”
In a larger sense, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Clippers have been very high on the Kentucky product for some time. Leading up to the draft, Gilgeous-Alexander worked out exclusively for the Clippers. The Clippers’ affinity for the talented rookie was so obvious that the Charlotte Hornets, slotted one spot ahead of the Clippers, drafted him. This required the Clippers to draft Miles Bridges with the 12th overall pick and trade him, along with two future second-round picks to the Hornets for Gilgeous-Alexander. A few weeks into the regular season, the Clippers probably aren’t regretting their decision to make that deal with Charlotte.
Reacting to and succeeding with a next man up mentality is not an uncommon occurrence for the Clippers. Last season, Los Angeles dealt with a slew of injuries throughout the year. As a result, the team relied on the Agua Caliente Clippers for multiple G-League call-ups to fill holes in the lineup. Last year, it was the likes of C.J. Williams and Tyrone Wallace that came up to make key, yet unexpected contributions.
At this point, it is not necessary for the Clippers to call up a two-way player to play key minutes. Instead, the Clippers were able to turn to Gilgeous-Alexander when Bradley went down. Rookies are often prone to mistakes, which can result in losing playing time to other players. Luckily, head coach Doc Rivers has provided Gilgeous-Alexander with consistent playing time to work through his mistakes, showing that Rivers has a lot of trust in his rookie point guard.
“He must understand. He’s young, if he makes some mistake, he must understand that everybody make[s] mistake[s],” Marjanovic stated. “He’s like that person, every day in the gym, every day working, every day trying to get better.”
Putting Gilgeous-Alexander into the shooting guard spot might seem a like a bit of an odd fit since he is a lead guard and is still working on his jumper. Luckily, both Gilgeous-Alexander and Beverley appear to be comfortable enough alternating and taking turns bringing the ball up, initiating the offense, playing off the ball, and spotting up.
This past Saturday in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Gilgeous-Alexander started again and did a little bit of everything. Not only did Gilgeous-Alexander contribute in a close game but he played heavy minutes, including in the most critical moments. In a game that was competitive throughout, Gilgeous-Alexander posted 16 points, six rebounds, four assists, three blocks and one steal in nearly 40 minutes.
Danilo Gallinari had a few thoughts on Gilgeous-Alexander’s performance after the game.
“He played great for us and we know that even if he is young, he is a very mature player. Very high IQ. He made some great plays for us,” Gallinari told Basketball Insiders.
Gilgeous-Alexander not only demonstrated high basketball IQ but also kept a positive temperament, even after making a few mistakes. Gilgeous-Alexander turned the ball over late and committed an unnecessary foul on Giannis Antetokounmpo at a crucial moment. Despite this, Gilgeous-Alexander maintained a calm demeanor and didn’t let one bad play impact the way he approached the rest of the game. Coach Rivers praised the rookie and noted that he was able to remain calm in a high-pressure game. Gallinari agreed with Rivers’ thoughts on the young guard.
“I think its rare,” Gallinari stated. “I think the more he plays, the more we can see that from him.”
Calm is a great way to describe Gilgeous-Alexander’s play. On Saturday, he hit a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter. When the game went into overtime, Gilgeous-Alexander fed the ball into the post to Gallinari, who was promptly double-teamed and passed the ball back. When the defender failed to rotate back to Gilgeous-Alexander, he calmly hit another three-pointer.
“That’s something rare in a rookie. I mean he’s always calm. He has a calm game. He plays at a great pace. He’s a great rookie,” Tobias Harris told Tomer Azarly of Clutch Points. “I was telling him, ‘They don’t make rookies like him anymore.’ Especially somebody that comes to work, always listening, trying to get better. Those are great qualities to have in a player and especially a player of his talent level.”
Although it’s still early in the season, Gilgeous-Alexander is already showing the poise and ability to necessary to contribute to a team with playoff aspirations right now. What will occur when Bradley returns from injury is unclear, but in the meantime, Gilgeous-Alexander is taking advantage of the opportunity and is demonstrating he has the poise to succeed, even in high-pressure situations.
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