Let’s get this out of the way in which. This isn’t a pattern piece arguing why Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander must be taking part in in a much bigger market. SGA is simply advantageous the place he’s. Positive, he may “save” loads of franchises just like the New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, or Los Angeles Lakers.
However, fuck that. The child wants to remain in Oklahoma Metropolis as a result of Sam Presti believed in him sufficient to present into Paul George’s commerce choice to move to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers. The Thunder bought a ton of picks again in that commerce. However SGA was one of the best asset OKC obtained within the deal. All of the early indicators had been there for the 6-foot-6 lead guard to be a star, as he was averaging round 11 factors, three assists, and three rebounds, a preview of the all-around menace he would develop into.
Did you see what he did final night time? How’s this chilly step-back three, down two to beat the Wizards?
All through the previous couple of seasons, SGA has grown increasingly into a primary choice. It’s been a sluggish and regular incremental development in his factors per sport and, extra importantly, effectivity. He’s proven a willingness to take late-game pictures and be each the initiator of the offense and the first scoring menace. His present stats of 31.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, and 5.8 apg have put him within the dialog for the Most Improved Participant and Most Invaluable Participant awards. His taking pictures percentages from the sphere (54 p.c) and the free throw line (94 p.c) are each profession highs. All this led to Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault just lately calling him “among the best offensive gamers within the league.”
It began in his first yr with the Thunder. That 2019-20 workforce led by a casted-off Chris Paul over-achieved to 44 wins, making the playoffs and giving James Harden’s Rockets the enterprise in a six-game sequence. SGA slotted in-between Paul and then-Thunder guard Dennis Schröder to type a potent three-guard line-up, main a workforce of reclamation tasks in scoring in the course of the common season. No one anticipated that Thunder workforce to compete, however because it has been since SGA arrived, the Thunder had been too good to tank.
The most important impediment in his development hasn’t been any opposing participant, workforce, or teaching scheme. Nor has it been a scarcity of taking part in time, inept teaching, or a crowded roster. It’s been his personal entrance workplace, as Presti has orchestrated one of the egregious and perverse tank jobs in league historical past. In SGA’s first two seasons, he performed 82 video games in his rookie yr and 70 in his second. As soon as the Presti tank commenced, his very actual accidents had been maybe exaggerated to sit down him longer. This strategy noticed the younger guard solely play 35 video games in his third yr and 56 video games in his fourth season. That’s to not say he wasn’t damage throughout these stretches. It’s an apparent evaluation that Presti leaned on the facet of “warning,” not for any additional SGA damage, however to not damage his lottery probabilities.
It labored to an extent. The lottery is all about luck, and so they gained the final two drafts, touchdown within the sixth spot within the 2021 Draft, the place they took Josh Giddey, and third this previous summer season, the place they chose Chet Holmgren. Many across the league puzzled if SGA may deal with all of the losses, particularly when it appeared purposeful. How can a participant get higher when he’s on the bench in avenue garments, and his workforce is fielding a roster worthy of a YMCA pick-up sport?
It appeared to not matter. This season, SGA has cemented himself as a top-three guard within the NBA and a harbinger of greatness to come back. His emergence has fast-forwarded the Thunder timeline, maybe to the chagrin of Presti. They’re over .500 for the primary time because the 2019–2020 season, capping a a lot shorter “rebuild” section than anybody may have predicted after fumbling the break-up of the Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook duo. This season, he’s been the purpose of assault for a Thunder workforce with eight-to-nine above-average gamers, however no actual star expertise exterior of SGA. The workforce has scored 11.4 extra factors per 100 possessions with him on the court docket, good for the 89th percentile amongst all gamers.
In simply 13 video games, SGA’s celebrity flip this season has been magnetic. He at present holds the best FG share by a guard scoring 30-plus factors since His Airness, Michael Jordan, 32 years in the past. Want extra proof? His present common of two steals and 1.5 blocks a sport has solely been sustained as soon as all through a season. By whom? Jordan. Within the final 4 video games, SGA has scored 37 or extra factors 3 times, as they went 2-2. Moreover, he’s scored 30 or extra factors in 9 of the 13 video games he’s performed this season, a staggering feat for the 24-year-old guard taking part in in his fifth season. This season, his lowest level output was 18 towards the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 5. SGA joined franchise greats Westbrook and Durant, as the one gamers in Thunder franchise historical past with three straight video games averaging 35 factors and 5 assists.
The wildest half? SGA can get even higher. As soon as a wholesome Holmgren rejoins the line-up subsequent season, it’s not arduous to think about SGA’s help numbers going up. His help ratio is at a career-high, at 22.3%. He’s already attending to the basket at will, main the league in drives to the basket at 24 a sport, based on Second Spectrum, overtaking second placers Ja Morant and Luka Dončić, who every common 22.5. As one of the best driving guard within the league, he’s collapsed defenses, permitting him to spray it out to open shooters (another excuse the Thunder want to enhance as a workforce from three drastically) and make fast selections to search out cutters or Euro-step to the basket.
Defensively, he’s made some main strides, not that he was ever horrible on that facet of the ball. He’s at present sixth within the NBA in steals and ninth in deflections. His defensive score of 110.4 is the second-highest of his profession, whereas his PER of 28.9 is almost eight factors larger than his second-best season. There’s no motive SGA mustn’t give the Thunder one other All-Star this season, one thing they’ve lacked since Westbrook’s departure.
This season has supplied SGA with the stage wanted to exhibit the expansion of all components of his sport. Subsequent season will present how prepared this Thunder workforce is to comply with go well with. With the addition of Holmgren, the continued evolution of Giddey Lu Dort, Tre Mann, and Jalen Williams, plus the 15 future first-round picks Presti has amassed, the longer term is brilliant. The Thunder are formally too good to tank. And that’s an ideal factor for the Thunder’s aggressive tradition and SGA’s future with the workforce.