Wizards have high praise for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on career night

Wizards have high praise for Gilgeous-Alexander originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- There was some frustration for the Wizards after their loss to the Thunder on Wednesday night, as they blew a 17-point lead and then a 16-point lead, committed 19 turnovers and allowed Oklahoma City to make 16 threes. They made some mistakes down the stretch, the types that had both Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis speaking of the game in terms of the Wizards essentially beating themselves.

But there was also one takeaway from the Wizards' side that they all seemed to agree on: Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is emerging as one of the NBA's best young players. Veterans on the Wizards offered high praise for the 24-year-old, who came into the game on a hot streak and delivered with 42 points, tying a career-high, and a game-winning three in the 4th quarter.

Gilgeous-Alexander carved up the Wizards on 14-of-22 shooting from the field. He knocked down 12-of-17 free throws and made two threes. He added seven assists and six rebounds. It was a master class.

The Wizards spoke extensively before the game about how they wanted to keep Gilgeous-Alexander out of the paint, as he leads the NBA in drives per game (25.1/g) and his 3rd in points in the paint (17.1/g). He scored 18 points in the paint on Wednesday.

"He's a dangerous player. He's a hard guy to stop," Porzingis said. "I don't know if it's his body type or what it is, but the way he can slide by guys and get to the rim, he's so talented. It was hard to stop him tonight."

The consensus from the Wizards was that they knew what Gilgeous-Alexander wanted to do, tried to key in on it yet still couldn't block his path to the rim. Porzingis' remark about Gilgeous-Alexander being deceptively good at dribble penetration was shared by others.

After Wednesday's performance, Gilgeous-Alexander is now averaging 31.5 points per game on the season, tied with Stephen Curry for 5th-most in the league. Gilgeous-Alexander is also shooting an impressive 53.9% from the field, 37.8% from three and 94% from the free throw line.

Like Gilgeous-Alexander, Bradley Beal is among the best guards in the league at driving off the bounce and he also spent time guarding the Thunder star. He also knows what it's like when the opposing defense has no answers.

"He's been kicking everybody's a--. He's very crafty," Beal explained. "He probably doesn't blow you away with his speed, but his change of pace, his ability to able to cross over, his handles are tight. And ultimately, man, when you're confident in yourself and you're playing at that level, he don't think anybody can guard him."

Beal quipped after the game how the Wizards should have maybe fouled Gilgeous-Alexander more as a deterrent for him going to the rim. But they sent him to the line plenty and that was ultimately part of the problem. Gilgeous-Alexander made four free throws in the final four minutes that helped the Thunder close out the victory.

Gilgeous-Alexander's final shot was the big one, of course. He got the ball on an inbound pass, then hit Monte Morris with a stepback move to launch a go-ahead three from 27 feet. He left only 1.1 seconds on the clock, which ultimately wasn't enough for the Wizards to answer.

The end result was perhaps a signature game for Gilgeous-Alexander so far in what could amount to a breakout season. The Thunder acquired him three years ago from the Clippers in a blockbuster deal centered around Paul George.

Now he may be turning into a star.

"He's super crafty, unbelievable pace," Kuzma said. "He's probably a top-5 guard in the NBA, to me. He's a phenomenal player."