Before this season began, several people within the Clippers organization believed their rookie point guard carried All-Star potential.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t there yet but the 6-foot-6 Canadian will take part in All-Star weekend next month in Charlotte nonetheless, playing in the Rising Stars game as part of the World roster.
“I guess I get to check off one of the things on my bucket list, list of accomplishments my rookie season,” he said. “It'll be fun playing with some of the guys from my draft class and also learning some of the guys from draft class before me.”
So far, Gilgeous-Alexander is the lone Clippers participant in All-Star weekend. The Clippers will learn Thursday whether either coaches selected either Tobias Harris or Danilo Gallinari as Western Conference All-Star reserves. Both are in consideration to join the three-point shooting competition, as well.
Among the 28 rookies averaging at least 15 minutes a game, Gilgeous-Alexander ranks seventh in offensive rating and 11th in net rating, a measure of the difference between how many points a team scores and allows when a player is on the court. He’s also produced the fifth-lowest turnover ratio.
Coach Doc Rivers said he would have been "shocked" had Gilgeous-Alexander not made the cut for the game that features 10 rookies and second-year players from the U.S. against 10 international-born players.
While Gilgeous-Alexander burst onto the scene and was a starter by his 10th game, it took months for fellow rookie Jerome Robinson to find the consistent role he now occupies.
Robinson is averaging nearly 12 minutes and shooting 40% on three-pointers in his last seven games since returning from a foot injury that, starting in mid-November, kept him from appearing in an NBA game for two months.
Robinson called the foot injury a “strained muscle … some weird muscle” that had lingered since training camp. Rivers said the shooting guard hurt himself again while playing with the team’s G League affiliate in Ontario. Robinson was ordered to stay off the court for two weeks at one point.
He called himself fully healthy now, but his foot wasn’t the only thing standing in his way between the bench and Rivers’ rotation.
“Honestly, I didn’t think he had an NBA mindset to start the season,” Rivers said. “I thought Jerome wanted to be a passer -- a college player. A college player, often when they’re wide open, they still pass because the coach said, ‘You have to move it three times back and forth.’ In the NBA,when you’re a scorer and you have an open shot, you take it ... and I think now Jerome understands that much better.”
Robinson matched his career high of eight points in consecutive games against Miami and Chicago last week and flashed the shooting that made him so appealing in the draft out of Boston College. But it is his defensive improvement that has stood out most to coaches.
Robinson considered himself a good defender in college, but had to nearly start over in the NBA because of the stark differences in schemes. Used to help-intensive defenses in college, whether in man-to-man or zone, Robinson has found himself alone more often while covering NBA shooting guards.
“I'm happy for him, he's playing well, he's contributing, that's what I expect of him,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I expect him to miss no shots, to go 100% for the rest of the season.”