Prospect Profile: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Leading up to the 2018 NBA Draft on June 21st, we will be using our NBA Draft Models (PNSP Model, Role Probability Model, and Similarity Scores) to investigate this year’s top prospects. These Prospect Profiles look at which stats affect NBA projections, present unique data points from a player’s stats, and give relevant comparisons to current NBA players. You can find all of our Prospect Profiles here or through the header menu above (NBA –> NBA Draft –> Prospect Profiles). In today’s article, we look at yet another Kentucky freshman, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | PG/SG | Kentucky

#9 Model 284 PNSP Rank
#12 ESPN Rank
Age: 19.8
Physical Measurements:
 6’6″ | 180 lbs | Wingspan: 7’0″
Notable Player Comps: John Salmons | Wade Baldwin | Andrew Harrison | John Wall

School PTS/40 TRB/40 AST/40 STL/40 BLK/40
Kentucky  17.1  4.9  6.1 2.0  0.6
Model 284
Ratings
PNSP All-Star % Starter % Bench % Non-NBA %
81.5 36% 31% 10% 23%

 
Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander began his freshman season at Kentucky coming off the bench, but eventually emerged to lead the Wildcats in minutes played, Box Plus/Minus, and Win Shares. Down the stretch, Shai played 38 minutes per game in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, highlighted by a 27-6-6 performance on 10-of-12 shooting against Buffalo to lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16. He is projected to be drafted in the late lottery, while our PNSP model has him ranked 9th in this year’s draft class. Let’s take a closer look at what our models have to say about Shai’s NBA potential.

Draft Model Projections

Gilgeous-Alexander’s PNSP and role probabilities project him as a very good NBA prospect, indicating a high ceiling but a somewhat low floor. His PNSP rating of 81.5 ranks him 3rd among guards (9th overall) in this year’s draft class. His All-Star probability of 0.36 is also 3rd among guards (and 7th overall), while his Non-NBA probability of 0.23 is slightly less promising, and ranks 12th best among guards (28th overall). Here are a few historical prospects that have similar PNSP & Role Probability predictions to Shai:

Player Year PNSP All-Star Starter Bench Non-NBA
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 2018 81 0.36 0.31 0.10 0.23
De’Aaron Fox 2017 83 0.29 0.52 0.06 0.13
Jordan Adams 2014 76 0.40 0.39 0.08 0.13
Jrue Holiday 2009 85 0.28 0.52 0.06 0.14
Jeff Teague 2009 85 0.28 0.22 0.36 0.14
James Harden 2009 81 0.26 0.27 0.26 0.21
Henry Walker 2008 78 0.28 0.33 0.22 0.17

 
Shai’s top comps from our Similarity Score Tool provide a promising mix of NBA role/bench players and All-Stars, nearly all of which would up carving out some sort of role in the NBA. However, let’s notice that former All-Stars Derrick Rose and Brandon Roy both had injury-riddled careers, eventually hobbling their way to the Target Center to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Does this mean we will see Gilgeous-Alexander signing with the Wolves in 2025 coming off his 4th ACL tear? I hope not, but we can’t ignore the facts…. It’s worth noting that none of these players were great 3-point shooters in the NBA (especially in terms of volume) and concentrated more of their scoring on mid-range / at the rim. This certainly matches Shai’s college playing style, where he excelled at the rim, but only averaged 1.5 three-point attempts per game.

Playing Style

Shooting – Shai only attempted 57 threes in 37 games last season at Kentucky, including 8 games in which he attempted 0 threes. However, he did hit them at a 40.4% clip, including 12/33 (36.3%) on NBA threes (per Will Schreefer). Furthermore, as we have mentioned before, free throw shooting accuracy is one of the best predictors of NBA 3-point shooting, and Shai shot 82% on 175 attempts from the line. Below is of guards/wings who shot at least 80% from the line, but made fewer than 25 three-pointers in their final college season – not a promising list if we are hoping that Shai will become a great NBA 3-point shooter. Our models project him to continue as a low volume 3-point shooter in the NBA, but average for a guard in terms of 3-point accuracy.

Player College 3PM College FT% NBA 3P% NBA 3PA/G
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 23 82%
Theo Pinson 12 82%
John Salmons 22 84% 0.37 2.2
T.J. Ford 18 82% 0.29 1.0
Ramon Sessions 19 83% 0.32 1.0
Joe Alexander 11 81% 0.34 0.7
Quincy Pondexter 18 83% 0.36 1.9
Kyrie Irving 18 90% 0.39 5.2
Travis Leslie 13 80% NA NA
Quincy Miller 24 82% 0.29 1.6

 
Scoring – One of Gilgeous-Alexander’s strengths has been his play at the rim, where he utilizes his length well (6-6 with a 7-0 wingspan) and was a great finisher despite his slight frame (180 lbs). Relative to other NCAA guards, Shai had above average FG% at the rim & on short mid-range (per Will Schreefer). While it is fair to wonder if he will have the same success in the NBA against bigger, stronger competition, our models project Gilgeous-Alexander as an above average scorer at the NBA level, which should give some confidence that his finishing will carry over.

Defense – Driven by his length, Shai projects above average for a guard in both steals and blocks, a good sign for his defensive potential at the next level. He has the length to defend multiple positions and showed good defensive instincts at Kentucky. Effort is frequently cited as a factor impacting defensive abilities, and Mike Schmitz notes that Shai has been praised for his work ethic by coaches at every level. Considering these projections, Shai screams “3&D wing” – here is a list of college guards/wings that had at least 2.5 STL%, 1.5 BLK%, and 80 FT% heading into the NBA:

Player STL% BLK% FT%
Mikal Bridges 2.7 3.5 0.85
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 2.8 1.7 0.82
Josh Okogie 2.9 2.8 0.82
Donovan Mitchell 3.7 1.7 0.81
Sindarius Thornwell 3.6 3.4 0.83
Paul George 4.0 2.9 0.91
Lazar Hayward 3.6 1.7 0.84
Kyrie Irving 3.0 1.8 0.90
Klay Thompson 2.8 3.1 0.84
Charles Jenkins 2.9 1.9 0.82
Trey Burke 2.8 1.5 0.80
James Ennis 3.1 4.2 0.83
Gary Harris 3.4 1.6 0.81
Delon Wright 4.0 3.2 0.84
R.J. Hunter 3.6 3.6 0.88

Conclusion

Overall, Shai projects average or better in most areas as an NBA guard. He is well suited to contribute as a scorer, passer, and defender. His lack of size and physicality will be something to monitor as he translates to the NBA, but ultimately the models see him finding success in spite of those factors. While his high All-Star probability illustrates his upside, he may not have the skill to become a lead guard in the NBA, and profiles more as a 3&D wing with secondary ball handling ability. His positional versatility, length, and solid scoring/shooting projection make him an intriguing prospect, as he would be a great fit next to nearly any player type.