Looking back on Oklahoma City’s 2020-21 season, we should have known what kind of season Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was going to have after his first game.
On the opening night of the campaign, Shai dropped 24 points, 9 assists and 7 boards in a win over the Charlotte Hornets. His 3-point shooting (1-of-6) was poor, yes, but he still scored efficiently. He still got to the free throw line 10 times and he dominated the pace of the game.
He also hit this game-winner:
Shai never looked back, eventually getting to a point where he was routinely scoring 25+ points mid-way through the season.
Most exciting development
It’s hard to pick just one aspect of Shai’s game that’s the most exciting. He improved in a number of key areas, including as a play-maker and as a volume scorer.
This was the first year he showed the ability to be a lead ball handler and create for others, which he did to the tune of 5.9 assists per game. His previous career-high was 3.3 assists per game.
Shai also demonstrated elite shooting ability for the first time, making 41.8 percent of his 3-pointers on a volume of 4.9 attempts per game. His 62.3 percent true shooting percentage was better than the likes of Damian Lillard, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Most importantly, he proved once again that he’s a winning player. Despite a lackluster-at-best supporting cast, OKC was nearly a .500 team (16-19) in games where he played.
Most concerning development
If there’s anything to be concerned about with Shai, it’s the plantar fasciitis injury he suffered mid-way through the year.
This shouldn’t turn into a long-term injury concern, but having foot issues is always something you want to avoid. It will be interesting to monitor his health and playing time — if any — for Team Canada this summer.
How will his season be remembered?
This will be known as the year when Shai showed he had true super star upside. There were some doubters after his performance in the Bubble last summer, but he did more than enough to squash those concerns.
2020-21 was also the season where Shai proved he could be a lead guard. After playing mostly at shooting guard during his first two seasons, he excelled at the point in OKC in Year 3. That’s something he’ll need to continue to develop, but his ability to drive to the basket (and find open shooters if necessary) is a massive advantage.
Shai was so good this past season that I’m hesitant to put a ceiling on him. It’s exceptionally rare to have an efficient scoring guard so early in their career, especially at his size and length. I certainly don’t think we can rule out the possibility that he’s the best player on OKC’s next contender — and I would not have said that before the start of this season.
His current trajectory implies another leap is coming in Year 4. If that’s the case, OKC could be much closer than anticipated to another era of sustained, competitive basketball.