Gilgeous-Alexander’s historic start is powering the Oklahoma City Thunder

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Oklahoma City Thunder have gotten off to a surprisingly decent start to the season, despite being viewed as tanking candidates. A lot of that success can be attributed to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s quietly emerged as a superstar.

While he was previously thought of as one of the best young players in the NBA, this season he’s leveled up in a big way, proving that he’s an elite player by averaging a staggering 31.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. If he keeps that up, he’d join a rare collection of players who have ever averaged at least 30 points and an even rarer group that has done it with similar shooting efficiency.

That efficiency has helped prop up the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offense despite not having much shooting surrounding him.

How is Gilgeous-Alexander doing it for the Oklahoma City Thunder?

Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t the most explosive player but has terrific handles, skill, and craft that are allowing him to carve up opposing defenses. He’s excellent at using screens to create space and then changing pace to throw defenders off.

He can step into a pull-ups or accelerate and use long strides to effectively get to the basket. There, he’s an impressive finisher but doesn’t rely on dunks; instead, he uses an array of clever layups, even jumping off the wrong foot to throw the opposing rim protector’s timing off.

He’s also a very good passer, and with defenses focusing solely on him, he often makes the right reads when the defense collapses. The Thunder collectively shoots just 34.7% from three, good for 22nd in the NBA in 3-point percentage, and better shooting would likely turn their 17th-ranked offense into a top-10 one with Gilgeous-Alexander’s playmaking.

Still, all things considered, they are much better than expected on both ends of the floor, despite generally being so young and inexperienced. Additionally, the Thunder are without number two overall pick Chet Holmgren, a skilled two-way big man who can score efficiently and protect the rim with his length.

He could be another piece of Oklahoma City Thunder’s puzzle, and once they figure out which of their remaining young talents fits long-term, they can work on returning to title contention. Fortunately, Gilgeous-Alexander’s superstar turn dramatically raises this franchise’s ceiling and hopefully speeds up their rebuild by at least a season or two.

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Overall, Gilbert-Alexander’s development into a superstar is a game-changer for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have been searching for their next superstar since beginning their rebuild four years ago. Factor in Holmgren and several other promising prospects, and the status of the Thunder’s rebuild appears to be in much better shape than it was before the start of the season.