Back in May at the NBA’s draft combine, Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander mentioned he was training in Los Angeles, and he’d enjoy it if he ended up playing there.
In that same interview, Gilgeous-Alexander repeatedly declined to say which NBA teams he met with at the combine.
Looking back, that seems telling. There have been no reports of Gilgeous-Alexander working out for any team leading up to Thursday’s draft, including the Charlotte Hornets at No. 11. That would suggest, based on similar instances in the past, that a team has promised to select Gilgeous-Alexander and asked him or his agent not to audition for other teams.
Could that team be the Los Angeles Clippers, who pick 12th and 13th, right after the Hornets?
Gilgeous-Alexander, a 6-6 guard with a nearly 7-foot wingspan, has the length and defensive versatility to help the Hornets. NBA teams aren’t typically deterred from drafting a player because that player didn’t come in for a workout. But the minor mystery concerning Gilgeous-Alexander’s low profile figures to be a topic of conversation when he and other projected first-round picks arrive in New York this week for the draft.
Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t even a starter initially in his one college season at Kentucky. A Canadian from the Toronto area, he finished high school in Chattanooga, Tenn., before going to Lexington. By the end of last season, he was Kentucky’s top player. His defense is his top attribute, but his fluidity off the dribble creates good penetration into the lane, where he can feed open teammates or score on his own.
“I think I translate really well to the (NBA) level with there being so much more space on the floor” surrounded by better three-point shooting, Gilgeous-Alexander said in Chicago during the combine. “I feel it will only benefit me in my abilities to get in the lane and make plays.”
Gilgeous-Alexander comes across as cerebral and inquisitive about basketball. He was known to pepper Kentucky Coach John Calipari with questions about the game.
Calipari, who has coached in the NBA, has a strong track record of developing pro point guards, particularly in dribble-drive tactics.
“You could say John Wall and Brandon Knight, and he had Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose” at Memphis, Gilgeous-Alexander said of Calipari’s point guard successes. “He does a really good job with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time.”
At 180 pounds, Gilgeous-Alexander needs to gain weight and strength. His three-point percentage was good at Kentucky (40 percent), but he took only 1½ threes per game there. Still, what he does offer in a league stressing switching defenses is valuable.
“My ability to create off the dribble and defend multiple positions,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of his assets. “There are a lot of teams switching pick-and-roll, so my ability to guard my position and switch really helps an organization.”