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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s first impression for All Star voters this season was a game winning 20 foot jumper against the Hornets one day after Christmas.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s last impression for All Star voters this season was a 31 point master class of efficiency against the Cavs one week after Valentine’s Day.
The 22 games in between were uncanny impressions of both impressions.
The clutch gene Shai showed on opening night has been a season-long trend. Chris Paul’s crunch time disciple has the 14th most points in the clutch this season, while playing fewer minutes in the crunch than every player above him.
The ease at which Shai put up points against Cleveland’s brownie soft defense has defined his season.
The Thunder’s should-be All Star is averaging 22.6 points, 6.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds on exactly 50% shooting from the field and precisely 40% from 3 on 4.8 attempts per game. Scoring at that volume on that efficiency puts SGA in All Star company. Averaging 22/5/6 while scoring at that volume on that efficiency puts SGA in MVP company.
Here is the entire list of players averaging 22 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds this season: SGA, LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden, Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic.
Players averaging 22/6/5 + 50%FG: SGA, LeBron, Jokic.
Players averaging 22/6/5 + 40%3P: SGA, Curry, Jokic.
Players averaging 22/6/5 + 50%FG + 40%3P: SGA, Jokic.
If Shai had better teammates, he wouldn’t be in the All Star conversation, he’d be in the MVP conversation.
Does that seem homeriffic hyperbolic? Donovan Mitchell is currently #6 in NBA.com’s MVP Ladder. Mitchell’s numbers on the season: 24.6 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.4 rebounds on 42.8% shooting from the field and 38.9% from 3. By all metrics besides 2 more points per game, SGA has had a better season than Mitchell, a lock to be the fourth Western Conference guard selected to the All Star game.
The difference between Gilgeous-Alexander and Mitchell is that Shai doesn’t have a Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Derrick Favors or Paul George’s kryptonite aka Joe Ingles to help boost his team’s record, an understandably big factor in All Star selections. But a bad team win/loss does not disqualify deserving players from being selected. Looking at you, Bradley Beal, Trae Young, Luka Doncic and very possibly Zion Williamson.
Shai isn’t talented enough on his own to lift this endearing, overachieving, loveable group of high effort youngsters, uncovered gems, journeymen and past their prime vets out of the lottery. Nobody is. Looking at you, first year Laker LeBron.
But when the Thunder plays a fellow rebuilding lottery team like the Cavs, the difference between the two teams is obvious. It’s the guy wearing #2 in the NASCAR jersey. If OKC doesn’t end up with a bottom three record in a season in which Sam Presti tried his best to deplete the team of past talent to secure future talent, Shai’s present talent will be the reason why.
Coaches are due to turn in their votes for the NBA All Star reserves today. The announcement of which seven players from both the East and West made the team will be televised live tomorrow on TNT at 6pm. Will Ernie, Chuck, Kenny and Shaq read (and butcher) SGA’s name? Probably not.
Ultimately, despite the impressive and more than worthy resume, popularity, past reputation, team success and national exposure play as big a part of the selection process as statistics, numbers and metrics.
Famous Oklahoman and airport namesake Will Rogers once said, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Well, Will, we’ll have to hope that the voters remember Shai’s first impression, his last impression and all the ones in between. And if not, they’ll get their second chance to make a good first… team selection next season.
- I asked Mark Daigneault, Mike Muscala and Hamidou Diallo their thoughts on SGA’s All Star argument in the postgame media call. Here are their thoughts:
- Daigneault: “I’m not counting roster spots or anything and I don’t pay attention to teams other than us but on most nights I feel like Shai’s the best player on the court. That’s what an All Star feels like.”
- Muscala: “I think he’s an All Star. He’s so skilled. He makes his teammates better. He’s a great young player. I think he’s an All Star for sure.”
- Diallo (after asking me what I thought and my saying Shai deserved to make the All Star game): “I agree with you. I just feel like a night in and night out basis, I think it speaks for itself. It’s not much to think about.”
- Here what SGA had to say: “It’s tough, there’s so many good players in the league and the Western Conference. I don’t even worry about it. I try to get better and win games.”
- Up next: a win-win game at home vs the Miami Heat at 8pm. If OKC loses, their draft pick improves. If OKC wins, their draft pick improves.