Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took the NBA by storm last season. Improving on an already impressive rookie year in Los Angeles, Shai actually led the 6th seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in scoring. While that was impressive in its own right, Shai was far from the best Thunder player and many didn’t even consider him second best. Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder provided the Thunder with a dynamic at the guard position that was almost impossible to contain. CP3, named the “Point God” for this playmaking abilities, led the team fearlessly on and off the court, while smoothly taking over games to the tune of a swish from one clutch mid range jumper to another. Schroder, a fiery and energetic guard relied on a lightning quick first step, improving 3-point marksmanship, and the willingness to pick up his defensive assignment for 94 feet. Last year these players made a formidable three-headed monster that many teams just could not handle.
This year, only one remains.
Taking the keys to the Thunder
Yes, in Greek mythology (or Marvel mythology, if that’s more your speed) if you cut off one head of a hydra (three-headed dragon) two more will grow back in its place. But this isn’t Mount Olympus, and Captain America isn’t walking through the door. Shai finds himself the lone survivor of that devastating lineup. Alone, and yet again in a new role.
In Los Angeles, he was more of a luxury. The Clippers already had defensive stalwart Patrick Beverly, and known bucket getter Lou Williams; Shai just had to fit in the best he could. Last year in OKC, he found plenty off scoring opportunities, but much of what he did was off of the ball. This year, there is no Pat Bev, Lou Will, CP3, or Schredder in sight; Shai has to create not only for himself, but for his teammates as well.
I don’t think anyone expected him to excel in the fashion that he has.
Those look like All-Star numbers to me, folks.
In All-Star voting, each team will have two backcourt members in the starting lineup. From there the coach of the best team from each conference will select the remaining players; two backcourt, three frontcourt, and two wildcards.
One thing working against him is he isn’t the biggest name (although he does have the longest) when it comes to guards in the West. You have to pencil in three of those names right away: Steph Curry, Luka Doncic, and Damian Lillard. Their play this year, and their notoriety over the course of their careers makes them locks.
That leaves you with at least two guard spots.
So that means Shai’s competition at the moment looks like Devin Booker, De’Aaron Fox, DeMar DeRozan, Donovan Mitchell, CJ McCollum, and Ja Morant.
CJ and Ja have looked impressive when they are out on the court, but have played only 13 and 14 games, respectively.
DeRozan, Fox, Booker, and Mitchell all have similar box score stats (points, rebounds, assists) as SGA, but they don’t matchup to Shai in terms of efficiency.
Here is how each guard stacks up in each statistical category at the time of this writing:
- Mitchell (24)
- Booker (23.5)
- Fox (23.4)
- Shai (22.6)
- DeRozan (20.2)
- Shai (5.5)
- DeRozan (5.1)
- Mitchell (4.3)
- Booker (3.6)
- Fox (3.4)
- Fox (6.7)
- DeRozan (6.7)
- Shai (6.5)
- Mitchell (5.1)
- Booker (4.3)
- Shai (50.1%)
- DeRozan (48.6%)
- Booker (47.8%)
- Fox (47.7%)
- Mitchell (43.7%)
- Mitchell (41.9%)
- Shai (38.2%)
- Booker (35.9%)
- Fox (35.7%)
- DeRozan (33.3%)
- Shai (61.1)
- DeRozan (60%)
- Booker (58.4%)
- Mitchell (57.2%)
- Fox (56.5%)
Here’s how these players rank on average in these categories:
- Shai (2)
- DeRozan (2.8)
- Mitchell (3)
- Booker (3.3)
- Fox (3.7)
These players have all excelled in different areas, but when judging a body of work, the standout is clear. Shai deserves that final All-Star spot.
Put me in, Coach
It’s going to be really difficult for Shai to make it into the All-Star game. It was hard enough to get people to pay attention to what was going on with the Thunder when we had the likes of Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook, James Harden, Paul George and… the list goes on. It makes it even more difficult that in addition to being in the midst of a rebuild (or transition season, if that’s your preferred terminology), we have literally ZERO nationally televised games.
Shai has been wowing us all year with crafty dribble moves, layups at impossible angles, Harden-esque step back 3s, laser passes from the drive and kick, poise, and passion; but many don’t get to experience that. They don’t get to witness the growth of this superstar because of the small market that he represents.
Our only hope is that the coach representing the Western Conference (at the time of this writing it would be Quin Snyder) has been paying attention to the birth and growth of our young star, and decides to give him the recognition that we know he deserves.
Perhaps the thing that makes his candidacy most bittersweet is the fact that if he wanted to, Shai could be blowing his completion out of the water.
Of the listed players, only DeRozan takes less shot attempts per game than Shai. Shai is seventh in the league for potential assists (a pass that leads to a shot, foul, or turnover), which means in terms of creating good shots for his teammates, Shai is amongst the league’s elite.
Any other budding star player, on any other rebuilding (err, transitioning) team could go out and shoot the ball 20+ times a game, accumulating bloated stats that could potentially lock him into the All-Star game, and get national recognition. But that’s not Shai. Shai has taken every step he could take to include his teammates, to help them catch a rhythm game after game–no matter if it sacrifices his own rhythm, no matter if it sacrifices his own numbers–because Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an incredible teammate and a leader.
At the beginning of this season many people (myself included) didn’t think Shai had any shot at the All-Star game this early into his career. But as Shai has done time and time again, he has defied expectations in taking a giant leap in his development, and is starting to turn heads on the national level.
So until the rosters are announced on February 23rd, I will continue to yell into the void to anyone that will listen.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a freaking All-Star.