Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Rolling Thunder

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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is without a real nickname on his Basketball Reference page.

Yes, the initials serve as a natural nickname. But he deserves more.

The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is the perfect storm of ability, confidence and comfort. He’s consistent, stylish and of high value.

The Oklahoma City Eel? He’s slick but not like that.

Slim? Too close to Kevin Durant’s nickname.

Shay-Shay is Shannon Sharpe.

Maybe this is it. “Shai” means “gift” in Hebrew, and that feels about perfect.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been nothing short of a gift in OKC since being acquired in 2019. He’s accelerated a rebuild that has the Thunder among the scariest teams in the Western Conference. And not just this year, but for seasons to come.

In other words, The Gift, as he’ll now be known, is ready to lay a curse on the rest of the NBA.

Scoring All Ways

Sometimes SGA feels like a cheat code.

At 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, he’s too big for most lead guards. Lightning fast with his reac- tion and ball-handling skills, he’s too athletic for traditional wings.

It’s a problem to the tune of more than 30 points to go with nearly six assists and five rebounds per game.

Gilgeous-Alexander is new age and old fashioned. In a 3-point league, he knocks down a respectable 37 percent from deep.

But that’s not the only way he can get three points.

SGA is among the Association’s leaders in three-point plays. It requires a high basketball I.Q. to draw fouls strategically and free throw efficiency (just under 90 percent).

On Jan. 13, 2024, SGA recorded six three-point-plays, which tied a single game NBA record (Anthony Davis, Brook Lopez and Amar’e Stoudemire).

“When you see him every day and every year you don’t really notice it,” OKC Coach Mark Daigneault said. “But when you look back to when he was a rookie and in his second year and third year, he’s definitely invested (in his body) and has done it consistently.”

All In

Youth is often a losing sentence in the NBA.

The Thunder entered a rebuild, officially, in 2020-21. They won 22 games. After that, OKC won 24 games (2021-22) and 40 games (2022-23) before their 50-win season in 2023-24, in which they were consistently at or near the top of the Western Conference despite being one of the youngest units.

The genius of the Thunder squad rests in the buy-in. Oklahoma City is not a desired market, historically. So, any success needs to consist of players OK with being in OK.

A Canadian who played college ball at Kentucky and was traded from the Clippers, SGA wholeheartedly leading the Plains Prairie Pack is as much of a gift as his athleticism.

“We are a young and energetic team,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, per Dazed. “Our chemistry is good off the court and thus it makes it easier for us to win on the court.”

“It’s like a family – every summer, we’re around each other. We hoop together. We’re all in the NBA, all dealing with the same things, helping where we can,” he added. “A lot of us grew up together, playing against each other, so it’s cool to see the journeys and how far we’ve come.”

Look Good, Play Good

SGA was not acquired to be a direct descendent of Russell Westbrook. But the comparisons are undeniable.

They are both super athletic point guards. Both alphas on the court and ultra-competitive. And both have a flair for fashion.

Just as Westbrook before him, Gilgeous-Alexander turns heads just as much walking into the arena as when he patrols the hard- wood.

“I pay attention to fashion culture,” Gilgeous-Alexander said to GQ. “I try to always be evolving.”

SGA was even chosen by Kim Kardashian to be one of the models and spokespersons for her new men’s underwear line, Skims.

“I’ve always been comfortable in my own skim,” he posted on Instagram, purposely playing off the name of the product. It shows.

Trading for Keeps

Gilgeous-Alexander is no Babe Ruth, but he was involved in a trade that might haunt a franchise for years (decades) to come.

In the summer of 2019, the Los Angeles Clippers were more desperate than last call at 2 a.m. to land superstar Kawhi Leonard in free agency. Leonard had no interest in rebuilding, so second-year point SGA was of little use to him.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti orchestrated a coup. In exchange for Paul George – a prerequisite for signing Leonard – the Clippers gave up Danilo Gallinari, five first-round draft picks, and the rights to swap two other first-round picks. Most importantly, Presti made SGA a centerpiece to the deal.

Since the trade, George has been to three All-Star teams and was All-NBA Third Team in 2020-21 – a season in which the Clippers made the Western Conference Finals. So it’s not as though Los Angeles has seen zero benefits.

That being said, Oklahoma City is glad to take all the first round picks and Gilgeous-Alexander, who at 25 is already a perennial All-NBA selection and MVP candidate. The Thunder reached 50 wins in a season before the Clippers did in the five years since the trade.

With SGA racking up awards and ending the Thunder’s rebuild, there’s been some revisionist history thrown around.

“I even brought it up to Kawhi (Leonard): ‘Are you sure?’” former Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, via ESPN. “’I think Shai’s going to be an amazing player. It may take a year or two, but I think you’re underestimating how good Shai’s going to be.’ I didn’t argue the decision or anything, but I brought it up. I just thought, is there any way we can do this deal without putting Shai in it?

“If you did everything whatever amount of years later, you would never do that deal. You just wouldn’t. But who had a crystal ball?”

Give George his flowers for his perspective on the matter. Despite living in egotistical NBA culture, PG13 chooses to look at the trade with humility.

“We knew Shai was going to be really, really good, but he’s special,” George told ESPN. “And so I guess in a way, Oklahoma won that trade with picks and a future MVP.”


Speaking of those three legendary letters, SGA is also unapologetically seeking the MVP Award.

Considering the League as a whole and certainly the guard position has never been deeper, it’s a tall order to put yourself in that category. But it’s warranted after a top-five finish in 2022-23 and another 30-plus points per game showing in 2023-24.

“It would be a dream come true,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, via Complex. “It’s something that you dream about as a kid. You shoot hoops in your backyard and imagine that you’re MVP to the crowds, chanting your name. It’s surreal to even just be in the conversation. I would obviously be ecstatic and love to win the award. It’s something that I definitely want.”

For being such a young franchise, Oklahoma City’s legacy is rich with MVP winners. Three future Maurice Podoloff Trophy holders (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden) led the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012.

On one hand, SGA is trying to match those future Hall of Famers. On the other hand, he is trying to pass them.

“We know Oklahoma City has never won one before,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “So to do that for the organization and for the city would be special, and we leave our blueprint there forever for sure.”

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