The OKC Thunder may be expecting a lot of turnover in their upcoming offseason. Shai Gilgeous- Alexander, though, is one player who should be a constant.
SGA in abbreviation generally conjures up a rumination of some form of student government association for most. For NBA fans though, SGA spells out the abbreviated short name of the OKC Thunder‘s second-year point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, whom after taking a studious learning role under the tutelage of Hall of Fame frontman Chris Paul, is primed and ready to ascend into an administrative leadership position in the team’s bureaucracy governance next season.
Gilgeous-Alexander joined the Thunder last fall as one of several pieces (which included a bevy of first-round picks) in the blockbuster deal that sent Paul George to his hometown LA Clippers.
He came to OKC as an unmistakably highly-touted young asset for coach Billy Donovan and company for his raw skill set and basketball wherewithal alone. Gilgeous-Alexander, though, was far from the only fresh face in need of integration into Donovan’s progressive system.
Enter Paul, who, along with fellow newcomer Danilo Gallinari, was tasked with recompiling a fractured Thunder core that had been nearly burned to ashes after the departures of George and all-time OKC scoring leader Russell Westbrook.
Despite seasoned veteran presences and a 10-time All-Star amongst the group, most experts predicted a very shallow rainstorm in the forecast for the 2019-20 Thunder troupe.
Some even thought they might try to rid themselves of the aging Paul completely, and opt for supposed greener pastures with a longterm 76ers-inspired rebuild plan.
Both were wrong.
The Thunder surprised fans and doubters alike, roaring their way to a 44-28 regular season mark and the West’s fifth seed, taking James Harden and the Rockets to the titillating final play in a decisive first-round Game 7. They employed an awe-inspired style of basketball all year, driven by the headiness of Paul, ease of scoring from the likes of Gallinari and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Dennis Schroder, and massive paint prowess of center Steven Adams.
Perhaps the biggest shock, though, came from one of the youngest of the bunch – none other than SGA himself.
The sophomore Canadian, who spent his freshman season under Doc Rivers with the Clippers, fit into Donovan’s scheme like a glove. Gilgeous-Alexander was an astute decision-maker under the regency and responded with full maturation and eagerness when tasked with ball-controlling duties with Paul off of the floor.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s future is even greater than his beginning
He started all 70 games for OKC this past season at the two-spot and was more than comfortable in an off-guard role, showing a stout fervor as a non-dominant shot creator and scorer.
And he boasted a stat-line that more than showed for it: 19.0 points per game to complement 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He was also persistently efficient – a 47.1 shooting percentage and 51.2 mark from inside the 3-point line solidified Donovan’s trust in him to take and make big shots.
That he did, with far more abundance than most would expect from a second-year greenhorn in the professional ranks.
Chris Paul followed up an emphatic Game 6 playoff victory over Houston with a postgame quote for the ages in an interview with Jared Greenberg: “When it gets to clutch time, fourth quarter, some people are built for it. Some people shy away from it…some people are built for it.”
It’s more than evident that Gilgeous-Alexander is built for it. He gave his OKC Thunder 16.3 points per game, and finished with their third-best assists (16.8) and steals (1.2) percentage throughout the series.
Unfortunately for his troupe, James Harden’s fingertip block on a Luguentz Dort 3-point attempt was the only barrier in between them and a reserved date with the second round.
The loss opened up a flurry of rumors surrounding the team’s offseason plans – ones that ironically look strikingly similar to the ones that infiltrated their locker room last year.
Billy Donovan is already gone. Chris Paul is among the hottest names on the trade circuit. For the OKC Thunder, there are questions, questions, and more questions.
But one thing’s for certain: SGA has just what it takes to take over an official presidential position in the Thunder reign very soon.