Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as a superstar this season and as we know, superstars get superstar calls. Over the last nine games, he is averaging an absurd 13.6 free-throw attempts a game and hitting them at an equally ridiculous 95.4%. Despite his underwhelming efficiency from the floor during this stretch, he has still been able to find ways to score points for his team.
Some speculate that Shai’s praise of the referees and sympathy for their plight has helped him get to the line so often. On November 9th following a loss to the Bucks, Shai was asked about the officiating in a post-game interview and simply stated “They’re humans like us and make mistakes. They make a lot of right calls too.”
Is this actually contributing to his free-throw numbers? Who knows, but it certainly could not have hurt.
His favourite way of getting to the line has been through a mid-range pump fake that gets the defender in the air as he steps through and takes the contact. SGA has been shooting the mid-range at an elite clip this year so defenders are always nervous when he gathers the ball for a shot in that area. Shai is able to take advantage of this and use their fear to get to the line.
Another example here. Even when the defender does not leave the ground, Shai is going to get that call every time when the defender is still moving forwards. Not only is this move conducive to drawing body fouls, but the move can bait the defender into swiping down at the ball and catching him on the arm.
Naturally, players that frequently attack the rim with conviction are going to take more contact and the downhill pressure Shai puts on the defense is matched by only a few other guards in the league. SGA forces the defense to scramble to fill the lane. This can lead to a lot of reach-ins as Shai starts his upward motion toward the basket.
The Rockets had the slower-footed Garrison Matthews at the point of attack on Shai and it was easy for Canadian to burst past Matthews. Alperen Sengun, not exactly known for his fleet-footedness either, converges on the drive to play help defense. With Shai already racing past both defenders into the lane, there is bound to be contact. Defenses cannot simply just give up easy looks inside.
This is another example of the help defense being slow to converge on the drive and Shai’s fully exploiting that weakness. He again roasts the the primary defender into the lane and draws contact when Sengun collides into his back. SGA is able to finish his layup and walk to the line for a foul shot.
He also loves to gather the ball and bring it up towards the basket at very awkward angles. The defense does not expect the angles and the uncertainty baits them into performing a low percentage reach for the ball that often ends with a rake across Shai’s arm.
Now averaging 10 free-throw attempts per game on the year, Shai is third in the league trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic. He is one of only three players to average over five attempts a game whilst still hitting over 90% of them.
I think it is fair to say Shai has not quite been performing as well from the field in the last nine games as we would hope for, just 43.9% from the field and a rather putrid 17.2% from three. His mid-range has slowed down a bit and he is getting swarmed on his drives to the rim.
But his ability to draw free throws has kept his overall efficiency and output alive. Gilgeous-Alexander is still averaging 30.1 points on a very good 60.3% true-shooting. The charity stripe has been very charitable indeed for Shai and the Thunder as the newly emerged superstar is getting the superstar calls.