Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dribbled the ball in his left hand on the left wing as Golden State’s Josh Magette shaded the Clippers rookie to the right while Warriors teammate Jordan Bell feigned help defense on the baseline.
Gilgeous-Alexander hesitated his dribble for a brief moment as he scanned across the court at his teammates, forcing Bell to retreat back to his man and leaving Magette on his right hip. His path along the baseline now clear, Gilgeous-Alexander burst toward the basket for a two-handed dunk.
The deliberate manner in which Gilgeous-Alexander executed that play in his first professional game with the Clippers on Friday night in the NBA Summer League was a display of how the 6-foot-6 point guard is skilled at playing at his pace.
“He’s really methodical, like just cerebral. You know what I mean?” said Jerome Robinson, Gilgeous-Alexander’s rookie teammate and fellow first-round pick. “He’s got like a slow and a fast pace. He’s great at changing pace and the way he plays, being able to create and being able to guard multiple positions. It’s something that you look for in a very versatile guy.”
Coach Casey Hill said the team noticed how Gilgeous-Alexander, who turns 20 this week, showed so much “poise” as the Clippers prepared for summer league at their practice facility in Playa Vista last week.
Casey, the coach of the Clippers’ NBA developmental team, the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario, said the practice sessions left the team impressed by Gilgeous-Alexander, the 11th pick in June’s draft out of Kentucky.
“Just from an instinctual standpoint, he’s kind of ahead of his time,” Casey said. “He’s kind of a wise guy out there. That’s the best way I can describe it. He’s savvy.”
The game against the Warriors was just a small taste for Gilgeous-Alexander, who had 13 points, four assists, two rebounds, two blocked shots, one steal and just one turnover in almost 28 minutes. Whether his all-around skills will lead to Gilgeous-Alexander being a rotation player or, perhaps, a starter is yet to be determined. The Clippers have a crowded backcourt, with eight guards under contract.
“I haven’t thought about it much,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “As of right now, I see myself just playing basketball, doing the thing that I love. Whatever coach needs me to do, I’ll be able to do.”
When he shifted from low to high gear and darted in for a layup late in the third quarter, forcing the Warriors to call a timeout, Gilgeous-Alexander raised his arms above his head and started breathing heavily.
Fatigue had set in. He had not played in a game this fast-paced since Kentucky lost in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 on March 22.
“It’s just the pace, the up and down. It’s a lot faster,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I will figure it out. It’ll come in time. You can’t take breaks with guys that are as talented as they are on the floor. So you just got to play through it.”
Gilgeous-Alexander displayed solid defense for most of the game and showed he could defend point guards, shooting guards and small forwards.
Magette managed to make the back-breaking three-pointer over Gilgeous-Alexander, who played tight defense and contested with his hand high, during the final seconds of the Warriors’ 77-71 win.
“I played OK defensively,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I gave up a big one at the end. That one is going to sting a little bit, but I’ve got to move on.”
As the summer moves into fall and the Clippers prepare to head to training camp in Hawaii at the end of September, Gilgeous-Alexander will look to add muscle to his 180-pound frame after noticing how much more physical the NBA is compared to college.