Which Potential Top 5 Pick Best Suits Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?
With the NBA Draft rapidly approaching, every scout and GM is chomping at the bit to gather intel, evaluate their drafting situation, and hit on the next big star.
For Sam Presti, his options are nearly unlimited — but they all start on Lottery Night. The Oklahoma City Thunder hold a 76.2 percent shot at nabbing a top 5 selection in the draft, in addition to a 24.6 percent cut at snagging two top 5 selections. With these odds laid out, paired with a draft class seen as team-changing — Sam Presti has the potential to form the foundation of the franchise.
In achieving this goal, Presti will first need to accommodate Bricktown’s golden boy in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai can do-it-all: handling, distributing, defending and even playing off the ball. If they land any star-studded draft picks, finding a compatible match for SGA would almost be a necessity moving forward.
Here’s who is expected to land in the top 5, and how each prospect projects next to Shai:
Cade Cunningham has been regarded as the next do-it-all point guard since he began playing with the Pokes, and that doesn’t change paired next to SGA.
At 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, Cade Cunningham fits perfectly alongside Shai in a guard tandem, while even checking the boxes as a forward in certain lineups.
Working with the basketball, Cunningham operates the point to perfection. Running downhill, Cunningham would wait until the final second for potential passes to open before deciding to shoot or kick out.
Coming off a pick-and-roll, Cade’s very similar to SGA when driving and dishing. Cade can finish through contact, draw fouls, hit the roll-man, or pass out at high levels. One of Cade’s biggest surprises for Oklahoma State comes off of screens too as he’s become a lethal face-up shooter if his man elects to go under a screen. Even in space, Cade has developed both a pull-up and step-back jumper which lack elite speed — but yield open shots on a consistent basis. This flurry of passing and work in the pick-and-roll models Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to a tee, just add two inches.
Defensively, Cade’s height at 6-foot-8 opens the floodgates to experimentation from Mark Daigneault. Cade did just about everything defensively, averaging 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. His maturity defensively combined with playing 1-5 in high school and 1-4 under Mike Boynton, under strict weight training — the thought of him defending forwards for an extended time isn’t farfetched in the slightest.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the Batman to Jalen Green’s Robin offensively, and sometimes Green will be the superhero.
Clocking in at 6-foot-6, 178 pounds, Green mirrors Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from a measurable standpoint.
Looking at Green solely as a scorer, it’s difficult finding a better pairing with Shai than him. On the ball, Green has every tool necessary to be a nightmare from all three levels transitioning over to the NBA. When attacking the basket, Green’s lightning speed makes him a top transition finisher in the class, and with hops that can take his head to rim level — he’s drawing just comparisons to Zach LaVine. Green utilizes his unparalleled bounce to fly in from any small crevice in the defense, and when pressured, he can adjust his shots mid-air for up-and-under layups, reverses and more.
When creating his shot, Green ranks far above his draft class based on set-up and speediness. Green’s isolation game is by all accounts, electric. On the occasion Green calls for an isolation, his wide array of dribbles help create an opening, and his speed lets him turn the corner. Once Green hits the mid-range, stopping him is a multifaceted issue. As a mid-range shooter, Green has a quick trigger pull-up and release that punished backpedaling opponents throughout the G-League season. When working from mid-range or the three, Green’s Harden-esque step-back creates separation and a wide-open jump shot close to every time. If you are looking for an All-Star caliber scorer, Jalen Green is your guy. In a seven-second offense, Jalen Green’s options are plentiful — he can slash, pull-up, step-back, and even distribute as both his transition and pick-and-roll passing were astute.
Green’s only real clash with SGA comes on the defensive end. Green showed extreme upside as a defender, particularly in getting into passing lanes for easy transition points (1.5 SPG) while even holding his old one-on-one — his major issue however is a big one. As screens have become more and more prominent in the NBA (see: SGA), backcourt defenders have needed to improve their screen defense, Green has some room to grow. Off of screens, Green usually hesitates up top, giving an extra step or two for his man forcing switches up top and even help from the corners.
If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ever needed some time away from the ball, Jalen Suggs is a prime candidate to control an offense.
Manning the point guard position, Jalen Suggs hits the floor at 6-foot-5 while weighing in at 205 pounds. Suggs’ frame puts himself in the upper crust of point guards from a height standpoint, and near the baseline for a shooting guard. With this combination of height plus a solid build at 19-years-old, Suggs hits the mark for a “combo guard.”
On the ball, Suggs places a solid bid for the best passer in the class. Suggs’ duties as a high school quarterback wore off into his play for Gonzaga as he threw full-court outlet passes on a whim while sizzling in bounce passes once he neared the timeline.
In transition, Suggs is a two-headed monster as he can hit teammates in stride or daze his man with his sneaky athleticism utilizing hop steps, euros, or sheer athleticism to flush dunks or contested layups. From an awareness perspective, Suggs knows where all other nine players sit at every given moment, and through his slow, yet meticulous handle, he’s a step ahead of defenses knowing when and where his teammates can be found.
This also pans out off of screens as he’s willing to loft passes when collapsed upon, take it himself, or kick out. Overall, Suggs’ court vision from all spectrums makes him a trusty teammate and potential leader as players like SGA, Dort, Poku, Baze, and more would receive ample open shots solely off his playmaking. The only wrinkle in Suggs’ game is a determining one with his jumper. The consensus on Suggs is that his jumper is slow, but that he can develop into a shot creator. Suggs shot 33.7-percent on 3.5 attempts this past season, which is solid, though with trends of having five spotty shooting nights for every positive input — he’s not out of the dust in my book. Suggs has the tools, and even a solid baseline jumper, but he’ll need to work on separation moves to achieve three-level scoring.
Off the ball, Suggs’ palate shows promise as well. Jalen’s keen awareness of the floor taps into off-ball play as he is prone to sneak in for backdoor scores and alley-oops. With the ability to catch and shoot, however, Jalen still needs to bridge the gap here. Playing off of SGA, any prospect from a guard position has to hit threes consistently for a full-length season. Suggs has to patch his shooting inconsistencies, though shooting at a 75.4-percent clip at the charity stripe, the seeds are in place for him to be effective.
Defensively, Suggs is already established, but there’s, even more, potential untapped. Suggs was an elite pickpocket for the Bulldogs this past season as he averaged 1.9 steals lurking passing lanes, providing help, or strictly through jarring the ball loose off an isolation. His only real struggle on this end is his aggressiveness as, given his high motor at jumping out at passes, he can overcompensate resulting in open shots. Suggs and Gilgeous-Alexander are easily reversible for defensive matchups as with Suggs’ build and skillset, he’ll be effective facing either guard position.
In finding a “perfect match” for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, looking towards potential guards fits may appear as the top priority, but after looking at Evan Mobley — that opinion should change.
Evan Mobley hits the floor with a “unicorn-like” body. At 7-foot, Mobley stacks up as a typical center, but with a weight of 225 pounds, his positional fit is up in the air.
With the ball in his hands, Evan Mobley is fairly smooth sailing. Playing at center, Mobley’s reps at controlling half-court sets were feeble, but he still surfaced a resume from scratch. Off a defensive rebound, Mobley has the quickness to go coast-to-coast with the basketball, or dish out to a teammate. If Mobley ever is entrusted in the half-court, he has a collection of push crosses and between-the-legs moves to sneak inside, and his crafty finishing did the rest. Mobley’s playmaking ability to isolate inside was far past other centers in college and with a plethora of spins, hooks, and turnarounds in his bag — he wasn’t a one-trick pony. Mobley displayed a fluid jumper and pull-up though this side of his game is far from polished.
Off the ball, Evan Mobley transforms into SGA’s perfect co-star in the frontcourt. Mobley feasted upon screen setting up top utilizing his burst of speed rolling inside, sitting below the basket for a dump-off, or waiting up top. Mobley’s blend of size, speed, and athleticism caters to SGA as with his game heavily reliant on screens, having a roller who can blaze by his defender means more drop coverages could appear. That means a lot more shots are coming his way.
The luxury comes in when you break down Mobley’s jumper. Mobley hardly shot from distance attempting just 1.2 tries a night, though he shot 30 percent on the season. If Mobley can become a consistent shooter off the catch, the pairing of Mobley and Gilgeous-Alexander off a high ball screen is close to unbeatable as either can slash inside, shoot at the perimeter, or create.
Mobley’s fit with SGA is extremely difficult to replicate elsewhere, but so is his defensive potential. Under Mobley’s frame, his natural positions rest in defending the frontcourt. The kicker is with his 225-pound build and a 7-foot-4 wingspan, he covers a lot of ground defensively — even at the perimeter. One of Mobley’s more salivating traits comes in the pick and roll defense as he can play in a drop coverage, hedge, or entirely switch onto guards.
When guards attempt to take him one-on-one, he mirrors his man with his hips, effectively cutting off driving lanes and forcing perimeter shots. If guards do try to shoot over Mobley, he can take one step up and elevate for the contest. This quality of handling guards makes him a serious contender to handle any position for brief stints, and given he averaged 1.8 fouls in college, he has the discipline to. Piggybacking onto Mobley’s discipline, he’s also very meticulous in steps and elevation. Mobley led all Power-5 players this past season with 2.9 blocks a game, these rejections ranged from fingertip blocks outside to swats flying into the stands.
Jonathan Kuminga poses numerous question marks, but if he climbs over the hump, he could emerge next to SGA.
Kuminga enters the floor with a perplexing build. At 6-foot-6, Kuminga treads the waters of a shooting guard or small forward from a height perspective, but his muscle blows that guideline out of the water. Kuminga is listed at 210 pounds, yet his upper body and overall muscle tone let off the appearance that he’s 20 pounds bigger than what he is — he plays that way as well.
Kuminga is far and away the bounciest forward in the draft class. Running in transition, Kuminga can snowball downhill getting his head at rim level on some dunk attempts. While working in the halfcourt, Kuminga is renowned for slipping into the paint and soaring up for put-back dunks while also running in for oops. Kuminga is solid when driving inside using a behind-the-back to break the first wall while being exceptional at finding angles through spins, driving layups, or posterizers.
Kuminga’s passing game is at full force going into transition, though he’s also great at finding his big man off of screens. For SGA, Kuminga playing on the ball doesn’t benefit him currently, though his wide array of slashing can provide some easy offense down low. As a shooter, Kuminga shot 16-of-65 (24.6%) from three on 5.0 attempts a night — that’s putrid. On a bright note, Kuminga’s confidence was otherworldly on the Ignite, plus both his pull-up and face-up jumper looked fluid.
Off the ball, Kuminga’s limitations could be a hindrance, though he’ll have his moments. As aforementioned, Kuminga can slip into open space for easy alley-oops, but in the halfcourt, options narrow.
Kuminga’s three-point shot, or lack thereof, will determine his ceiling and floor. If Jonathan Kuminga can consistently play off the catch, he’s a problem anywhere in space. If not, he could hinder some sets. Think of Kuminga as Darius Bazley this past season. Bazley could slash, draw fouls, but for every game where you thought his three-pointer was back, he’d shoot poorly for the next five games. That cycle repeated, and repeated, up until now — the shot is still unreliable. If the Thunder were to draft Kuminga, him going 0-of-5 is to be expected, it’s also necessary. If Kuminga is to become a certified shooter in the NBA, whoever drafts him will need to let him grow as a shooter, which means tough nights will occur. Kuminga never hesitated shooting the three, and when SGA could be freeing him up, that’s a great sign. Overall, Kuminga is a project as a shooter, and thus his match with SGA offensively is inconclusive.
As a defender, Jonathan Kuminga delved into a bit of everything. In the pick-and-roll, Kuminga showed off solid lateral quickness taking both forwards and guards off of switches. Inside, Kuminga held the rim down averaging 1.0 block a night, off of chase=downs and attacking him head on. Kuminga also had moments poking the ball loose in the lane or collecting loft passes inside. When you look at Kuminga’s full defensive profile, the ideal blueprint is to matchup 1-4. Currently, he can handle the forwards, but handling guards momentarily haven’t been an issue either.