The Golden State Warriors needed a few more games than initially thought to knock out the Los Angeles Clippers in round one of the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
The series went six games and featured a 31-point comeback in Game 2 from the Clippers, but was ultimately won by Golden State in six games. The Warriors noticeably lazed through these games, but still advanced because of the pure talent advantage they have. Kevin Durant was unstoppable. Steph Curry was great as well. It’s damn near impossible to stop two of the game’s three greatest players without a superstar to stop them. The Clippers no longer have that superstar.
At least not right now.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s first-round performance for the Clips showcased exactly why the franchise is so keen on keeping the former Kentucky guard for the long term future. He might just be the budding superstar they need, one they won’t have to sign to a max deal in the offseason.
Against the Warriors in round one, SGA averaged 13.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while playing nearly 29 minutes per game. He finished the six games with shooting splits of 46.7 (FG%)/50.0 (3PT)/85.0 (FT%) and also posted a career-high 25 points in Game 4. To quickly sum it up, SGA looked like anything but a rookie in his playoff debut. That it came against the best basketball team formed in recent memory makes it easy to see why everyone is jumping on the SGA bandwagon. And if you haven’t already, it’s why you should too.
The Clippers started both SGA and former Wichita State guard Landry Shamet as its backcourt duo. Two rookies in their first ever playoff appearances going up head-to-head with Curry and Klay Thompson – and they stepped up on the biggest stage as overwhelming underdogs.
Not every game from SGA was perfect. He shot a combined 3-12 from the field in games 2 and 3 for only 11 points and went for a mere six points in Game 5. Sharing defensive responsibilities guarding Curry, Thompson, and Durant resulted in more open shots than desired. But he more than held his own against the top players on the planet.
When SGA was in a rhythm, he would get to his spots with ease and pop in mid-range jumpers. Along with his career-high 25 points in Game 4, he also registered an 18-point outing in Game 1 and a 22-point effort in Game 6. Half of his 18 three-point looks found the bottom of the net and he turned the ball over only five times in over 160 minutes.
What stood out the most when watching SGA zip around the court was the confidence he did it with. He’d hesitate here and there with taking a semi-contested jumper, but more often than not, Gilgeous-Alexander looked like a comfortable five-year veteran rather than a first-year novice.
He wasn’t scared guarding any of the Warriors stars because he knew he could stay in front of them. He showcased his insane wingspan and ability to remain under complete control no matter who was handling the ball. Sometimes he’d get a bit over eager when attacking the basket on his own but was calm in the pick-and-roll and reading what the defense was giving him. Overall, he was probably the third best player for the Clippers in the series behind Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams. He did this at only 20 years old.
But now his season is over and the Clippers have a ton of questions to answer. First off, who are they going to go after in free agency? Will they gun for a Durant or Kawhi Leonard? Is Jimmy Butler on the table? If they strike out, are they going to keep the core they have now and run it back? Could they trade for Anthony Davis? That last question is particularly interesting because it could directly involve SGA. The Clippers have the potential cap space to go after two max free agents and they’ll absolutely try to at least inquire about Davis. The big debate will be whether or not the Clippers want to include SGA, which is a legit question to be asked at this point.
If L.A. has one asset they should view as “untouchable” it should be Gilgeous-Alexander. With how the Clippers have successfully tanked while also staying competitive, they have acquired plenty of assets for future deals. SGA is long down the Clippers’ list of assets they’d want to trade. Williams, Harrell, Patrick Beverley, Shamet, and draft picks all come before SGA.
It’s only a matter of time before SGA turns into an All-Star level player. Denying his potential at this point is neglectful. But will that actualized version arrive next season? Can he undergo a De’Aaron Fox-like transformation from year one to two? He doesn’t necessarily have to (and the two are on incredibly different career paths), but the Clippers could very easily fast track this rebuild (although unlikely considering how patient they’ve been thus far) if things don’t go as planned in the summer and the individual improvement isn’t noticeable early. Because at this very moment, SGA is the Clippers point guard for the long term future and they appear content with allowing him the time and room to grow.
If Gilgeous-Alexander’s first ever playoff appearance against the two-time defending champs doesn’t open your eyes to how good he can be, then perhaps his trade value this summer will make it more apparent. It won’t be crazy for the Clippers to deny potential deals for star players because they don’t want to include SGA. Instead of Gilgeous-Alexander guarding Durant, imagine them playing side-by-side next year.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shined in his first ever playoff series and the Clippers are an even more attractive free agent destination because of it. His best is still a long ways away.