Chris & Shai: The Master & His Apprenticevia Thunder

Chris & Shai: The Master & His Apprentice

In twelve seasons of existence, the Thunder have been blessed with superstars. At the beginning there were KD and Westbrook growing from promising young talents to MVP winners, Carmelo Anthony had a year’s stay in OKC as part of his Hall of Fame career, Paul George had two impactful seasons in OKC as a running mate for Westbrook, and now Chris Paul is having a career-reviving season in OKC. While CP3 may not be at the peak of his career now, he is still a seasoned superstar and Hall of Fame player, a true all time great. As long as he remains in OKC, a superstar presence will burn brightly.

That said, CP3 has the potential to make an even bigger impact on OKC and its future than just his play. He has the rare opportunity to help bring along the next generation’s superstar in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

New kid on the block

SGA is an immensely talented second year player, and has shown true superstar potential. There’s a reason Sam Presti insisted that Shai be included in the Paul George trade this past summer: the kid is really good!

Shai went from a solid recruit to standout at Kentucky, honing his craft and improving his game little by little, until he was the best player on the squad. Drafted in the lottery by the Clippers, Shai had already beaten the odds. Today, he is having a spectacular second year in the league.

Shai was already poised to become a good player in this league, with the potential to be great. Paul has just hit the lightspeed switch, helping Gilgeous-Alexander take a quantum leap in development, making him better in the present, and raising his potential even higher. Since the summer, CP3 has made mentoring SGA a focus of his efforts.

Match made in OKC

As reported elsewhere, Chris and Shai first met at Summer league. Right after the former was traded to the Thunder, and right before the latter was acquired by Oklahoma City. After they became teammates, they had workouts with noted trainer Olin Simplis. Since both became part of the Thunder, Chris and SGA seem inseparable; watching film together, practicing, competing in shooting drills, and spending free time together off the court. During games, CP3 has been a constant bug in Shai’s ear, giving him pointers about things he’s seeing in a particular game, prodding Shai to take over with scoring or assisting, and keeping him hungry yet humble. In post-game media sessions, Chris had given praise to Shai on things he’d done well or improved upon, while also pointing out things that need work.

It’s a delicate balance to both build someone up and keep them motivated to improve, but Chris has nailed it this year. On multiple occasions, the veteran has stated that he sees very special things in the new , and believes he is going to be awesome. The hard work, learning, and development toward superstardom are up to SGA. Chris has certainly turbocharged that development. Who better to learn from about the ins and outs of the game, the finest details of being a superstar guard, off court maturity, and everything in between than Chris Paul? CP3 is nicknamed the “Point God” for a reason; he’s a basketball tactician supreme, knows all the rules and loop holes (hello – untucked jerseys), is a pick-n-roll savant, a ruthless competitor, a natural born leader, and a true winner.

A long-term investment

Shai’s development is pivotal to OKC’s future. He has the rare opportunity to reach the playoffs in both of his first two seasons (quite uncommon for a former lottery pick), which does wonders for a player’s growth. Where better to hone your skills than a hard fought, intense playoff series against some of the very best players in the NBA? SGA showed out during his first playoffs as a member of the Clippers, where they pushed the Warriors to a Game 6. Now with the Thunder, he gets a second crack at the postseason, but this time, he has a better squad, and a true superstar mentor.

Chris Paul is a battle tested veteran of many playoff wars, having faced off against the likes of Big 3 Spurs, Grit ‘n Grind Grizzlies, KD & Russ Thunder, and the Golden State Warriors Juggernaut. Chris knows better than most the intense heat of playoff competition, the agony of a crushing defeat, the thrilling spectacle of the playoff atmosphere, and the burden of lifting a team on his shoulders to success. As the 2020 playoffs approach, you’d better believe that Chris is preparing Shai for this moment.

Chris Paul won’t be with the Thunder forever, and has been doing his very best to groom the next face of the franchise. Shai has already adopted some of CP3’s qualities, and added them to his game: the importance of getting to the free throw line, ball movement, outsmarting the opponent with intellect rather than overpowering them with strength, that pacing is paramount to the flow of offense, committing to defense (the best players affect the game on both ends), knowing when to take charge of the scoring and when to defer, and more.

Shai has the talent, physical tools, maturity, and drive to become truly great; Chris has just added rocket fuel to the process. When the time comes and Chris is gone, Shai will be the focal point of the team, and he should be way better prepared than most players who are thrust into the spotlight. This year-long (at minimum) apprenticeship under CP3 has paid off in the present, and will pay off ten-fold in the future when Shai becomes the GUY.

But for now, this Thunder team has a truly special pair; a superstar master and powerful apprentice.

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