The NBA's pantheon of top players is ever-changing. Where once the mid to late-90's draftees Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant dominated, and LeBron, D-Wade, Carmelo and CP3 were highlight-reel young guns, that latter crew is now all retired (shouts to Vince and Dirk, by the way) and the Banana Boat is hitting their twilight (LeBron's freakish longevity and production notwithstanding).
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and Joel Embiid are ascending. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Steph and KD have established themselves in the King's neighborhood. So, it's time to start identifying who's next, to evaluate the rookies and sophomores who could one day join the ranks of the NBA's top 10 players. As the Dubs go through the season, we'll look at their opponents and pick the next class of NBA greats. We'll evaluate these Next Gen-ers so far and compare their game to past players, prognosticate how they'll fare against the Warriors, and offer projections on where they'll be in 5 years.
9.6/3.3/3.3 on 49/50/84 shooting splits
Who He Plays Like
One-Word Description of His Game
New Nickname Pitch
Multiple Time All-Star (high), Solid 10-year Rotation Player (low)
When We'll See Him
Monday, 11/12 at 7:30pm
How He's Playing Right Now
The Dubs are catching Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a pretty steady uptick. After supplanting Avery Bradley as a starter, he's had two impressive games against the Blazers and Bucks, two playoff teams with plenty of talent in the backcourt. While his stats won't blow your mind at this point, the mix of efficiency, intelligence, length and athleticism he brings as a primary ball handler should have NBA fans drooling at what he could be down the road.
Against the Blazers, he posted 19/2/3 with one block and only one turnover. His shooting was efficient and anti-volume, going 7-12 from the field with 2 made three-pointers on 2 attempts. He only made half of his free throws, but he's shooting over 80% so far, albeit on only 2.8 attempts per game in 26.9 mpg.
The big highlight was this play, where he casually crossed Evan Turner, encountered a rotating Zach Collins, gathered himself steadily (steady, calm, fluid, intelligent, heady, smooth—these are words that will describe SGA's game for years to come) and hit the 7-footer with a subtle change-of-pace move:
People are calling this a Smitty, but the way he turns back away from the defender before re-committing to the drive is so so infinitesimal, I don't know. Smitty had a little more swerve:
I'll call SGA's move a Smitty Lite, but that's no demerit. It's just one of many slithery moves by the youngster. Watch the Jamal Crawford-esque hesitation and twisting finish of this drive:
Two back-to-back plays show how advanced the rookie is at recognizing both matches and game flow. First, he goes right at Damian Lillard on the baseline, stops at the block and pops a short fadeaway jumper:
On the next offensive possession, he goes to almost the exact same spot on the floor, but this time he sets up a wide-open Danilo Gallinari for three:
At 20, SGA is skinny but wiry-strong. Bullying Lillard isn't a huge deal, but he does it knowing that after he sets the smaller defender up with the jumper, he can make the straightforward—if difficult—cross-court pass to the open shooter on the next possession. The court-sense is already there, and that innate skill vaults a player's potential from good to great. Knowing where other players will be and having the presence of mind to deliver the ball to that future place is the rarest of basketball skills. It separates the LeBrons and Stephs of the world from the Carmelos and Lillards.
Against the Bucks, SGA showed even more flashes of that special playmaking, and glimpses of what he could be on the defensive end down the road.
Let's start with playmaking. Pocket pass off the pick and roll?
Simple, whip-quick pass to the open man in the corner?
Attack the closeout, upfake while gathering, wraparound pass to avoid the shot-blocker?
Check. With sauce.
In this game, he was maybe more impressive on defense. Here, he gets beat back door but recovers calmly and uses his length.
Later in the first half, he plays great team defense and helps a teammate in transition who's giving up 8 inches:
And for the hat-trick of smothering blocked shots, with 20 seconds left in OT, he gets crossed over by Eric Bledsoe, recovers while navigating a moving screen from Giannis—again calmly (remember heady, calm, fluid, intelligent)—and somehow comes over the top for the smush-job, setting up a game-winning shot on the next possession by Lou Williams.
That's real clutch.
Now, some parts of SGA's game will level off. Currently, he's shooting at 50/40/80 splits. That won't last. He doesn't shoot much period, but when he does, it's often a good shot. He's only taken 14 three-point shots through 12 games this season, making 7. They've almost all been wide open. But, the Bucks left him open twice in this game and he made them pay, dearly. In the 4th quarter, he did his best Steph impression, driving, drawing the defense, passing to a cutter then flaring to the corner for this shot that gave them a lead:
And in overtime he gave his team the lead again. Again, calm and steady.
That's real, real clutch.
Right now, he's basically shooting a set shot from deep. The rotation is solid but the shooting-motion is definitely too slow. But that's where the intelligence kicks in—the kid doesn't really force shots, particularly from deep. He plays to his strengths, as currently constructed, and doesn't beat himself too often given his inexperience (nearly 2 turnovers per game in roughly 27 minutes isn't stellar, but it's not bad either). It may take a few years, but his mechanics are solid enough to grow into a capable shooter from 3, given practice and coaching. If he makes a steady, Kawhi-like improvement (big if, obviously, but from the way the Clippers coaching staff raves about him, hard work isn't an issue here), we could be looking at a top-15, maybe top-10 player in the 2020's.
How He Matches Up Against the Warriors
In theory, he matches up well. Anyone 6'6 with a 7' wingspan who can handle the point poses matchup problems. We know Steve Kerr will throw different looks at any primary ball-handler, and as much as I love Quinn Cook, SGA has all the measurables and plenty of tangibles to do what he wants against the smaller guard. Obviously, when you can throw Klay or Andre on anyone you're feeling good, but the Dubs other wing defenders have been up and down. Jordan Bell hasn't always shown the instincts to match his elite athleticism on the perimeter against quick, clever ball handlers, and for a possibly returning Shaun Livingston it's a bit of the opposite. Alfonzo McKinnie has all of the tools and all of the grit—he could be extra-motivated to show out against the young lottery pick. All in all, you can't ask for more defensive options than the Warriors have, and it looks like Draymond may play. If that's the case and Day-Day is looking to re-establish the stellar season he's had on defense so far, it could be something of a learning experience for the rising star.
Where He'll Be in 5 Years
Polishing off his first All-NBA team (3rd), and his second All-Star appearance (coaches vote).
And...Revisiting The Nickname Pitch
SGA will probably stick, 3-letter acronyms just have a tried and tested ring (you know, NBA, ODB, USA, etc.) But, I'm sticking with Slyther-In.