(First posted at RealGM)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the rare one-and-done prospect out of Lexington who was not a five-star recruit.
The 35th-ranked prospect in the 2017 high school class started the season behind Quade Green at the point but eventually outplayed him and by year’s end became the team’s most capable dribble penetrator.
In 37 appearances last season, the six-foot-six combo guard averaged 17.1 points per 40 minutes on 57.9% true shooting and assisted on 28.8% of Kentucky’s scores in his 1,248 minutes.
Other than his one year of college basketball, the native of Toronto, Ontario also has 117 minutes in the 2016 U18 FIBA Americas and an appearance at the 2017 Nike Hoop Summit of experience under his belt.
Gilgeous-Alexander is not a particularly impressive athlete in terms of speed and explosiveness. Those limitations might lead to a coach viewing him as more of a wing and having him run point only in alternate lineups, which is how John Calipari used him earlier in the season.
But the 19-year-old showed through the conference part of the schedule that he’s a very resourceful player off the dribble, making up for his lack of burst with an advanced skill level, proving himself able to get by his man on craft more often than not and leveraging his length to finish in traffic at an above average clip, while also creating for others at a pleasing rate as well. At least over the first few years of his pro career, he should be given multiple chances as a lead guard.
He’s a natural running an offense, having shown good feel for controlling the rhythm of the game, in terms of finding the right balance between passing ahead to speed up the pace or walking the ball up to run organized half-court sets.
On the other end, Gilgeous-Alexander’s defense declined once his responsibility on offense increased. He’s a smart player, who uses his length to make plays in the passing lanes and can execute strategies that ask him to switch on the fly, but isn’t quick enough to match up with smaller point guards and not yet strong enough to deal with bigger wings.
Gilgeous-Alexander lacks a degree of physical talent at this point of development. He is not an explosive or shifty player off the dribble, unable to blow by anyone, and has a weak 182-pound frame in the context of his six-foot-six height, unable to bully his way through contact all the way to the basket on power.
But he’s able to get consistent dribble penetration against a set defense, even without the aid of a pick, thanks to his advanced skill-set.
Gilgeous-Alexander has a collection of moves in his arsenal to get by his man, get forward momentum, maneuver his way through traffic or create separation; left-to-right crossover, in-and-out dribble, behind the back, hesitation, euro-step and spin.
In middle pick-and-roll, Gilgeous-Alexander has shown he can put his man in jail and play with pace waiting for driving lanes to develop against hedges or traps.
He is not an assist man who anticipates passing lanes a split-second before they come open but has proven himself a reliable shot creator for others when he is able to suck in the defense, delivering last-second drop-offs, kick-outs and lobs. Thanks to his advantageous point of view, he can also make a pass over the top and has flashed the ability to pass on the move across to the opposite end of the floor.
Gilgeous-Alexander still has room to refine his handle, though, as he’s prone to getting the ball stripped in traffic. His average of 3.2 turnovers per 40 minutes is not good for someone with a 21.8% usage-rate who doesn’t attempt risky, thread-the-needle passes regularly.
FINISHING & SHOOTING
He is not an explosive leaper off one foot to go up strong in traffic and can’t absorb contact at the rim all that well but has shown to be a very versatile finisher.
A lot of his close range attempts were contested because Kentucky couldn’t draw opposing big men away from the interior and Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t the sort of player who can get to the basket before the rim protector gets to him.
To deal with the man between him and the goal, he’s an ambidextrous finisher flexible enough to adjust his body in the air and finish around length on reverses or making full use of his long arms on scoop and finger-roll layups – converting 61.1% of his 167 attempts at the rim last season, with just 14 of his 102 makes assisted.
Gilgeous-Alexander also has a running floater and a floater off a jump-stop to score over length from the in-between area.
But when forced to cut his drives short and pull-up, he struggled – hitting just 37.9% of his 153 mid-range shots. He hasn’t yet developed a dynamic enough release off the bounce to be able to make stop-and-pop or step-back jumpers with a hand in his face, though he showed to be a little more capable towards the end of the year.
His outside shot improved overall as the season went along. Only an open-shot spot-up shooter with a mechanical release earlier in the season, Gilgeous-Alexander showed a more fluid catch-and-shoot jumper by the end of the season and even flashed some ability to take shots jogging off pindown screens and dribble-in three-pointers off the pick-and-roll when the opponent went under the pick.
He is almost a set shooter, getting little elevation and launching the ball from a low point. His trigger still needs to be sped up some more for him to get shots off against the quicker closeouts he will face in the pros, considering he probably won’t be shooting over any contests. But his mechanics seem like a decent foundation to build upon and he certainly has touch on his shot.
Gilgeous-Alexander nailed 40.4% of his 57 three-point shots last season, though at a pace of just 1.8 such attempts per 40 minutes and with 19 of his 23 makes assisted. Under those circumstances, his 82.2% foul shooting on a 174 free-throw sample is probably what offers more encouragement for his shooting potential than his actual three-point percentage in college.
Gilgeous-Alexander was an impressive defender earlier in the year but became a lot more of a mixed bag towards the end of the season.
He bends his knees to get down in a stance, slides laterally multiple times to stay in front of similarly-sized players, gets skinny negotiating picks at the point of attack, uses his length to reach around for strips or make plays from behind in recovery, and contests pull-up jumpers effectively.
As a weak-side defender, Gilgeous-Alexander puts in the effort to try denying easy exchanges on dribble hand-offs, is attentive enough to execute the scheme when it asks him to switch on the fly and uses his seven-foot wingspan to make plays in the passing lanes, as he averaged two steals per 40 minutes last season.
Smaller guys can get by him and he is not strong enough to contain penetration by bigger wings, though. His intensity in pick-and-roll defense left something to be desired once his role on offense expanded and he wasn’t very good at running shooters off their shots on closeouts.
His length suggests he might eventually become an option to pick up bigger players on switches but he certainly doesn’t figure to be strong enough for that for a few more years and has also never really shown to be tenacious enough for one to presume he will be tough enough to get physical with such types.
His contributions on the defensive glass were somewhat disappointing for someone his size as well.
Overall, Kentucky finished the season defending better without him on the floor.
 DOB: 7/12/1998
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara