After trading away franchise star Russell Westbrook and 2019 MVP candidate Paul George, the Oklahoma City Thunder are entering the stages of a full rebuild. Although they still boast some talent on their roster, it is very likely that it is not enough to contend with the several loaded teams in the Western Conference. It’s time for the Thunder to turn to a youth movement, which means the spotlight will be on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The 21-year-old guard is coming off an excellent season where he averaged 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. The Clippers were reportedly heartbroken when the Thunder insisted they include Gilgeous-Alexander in the Paul George trade, but they decided it was a worthy price to pay for George.
Now, the Thunder have a quality young point guard with a sky-high ceiling. Who better to work with Gilgeous-Alexander than one of the top point guards of the prior generation?
The Thunder also acquired Chris Paul this offseason. While he might grind the gears of some of his teammates, there is no denying that Paul is an excellent floor general. He is a pick and roll maestro and can still knock down the three-ball consistently. Both of these are areas where Gilgeous-Alexander can learn from him.
Additionally, Paul is known for his injury problems. It seems like in every playoff run, the veteran guard deals with some sort of disability. Just two years ago, he pulled his hamstring and was forced to miss the last two games of the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors. The Rockets went from up 3-2 to losing the series. Additionally, Paul has only played in 116 out of a possible 164 regular-season games for the Rockets.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He played in all of Kentucky’s games his freshman season, and in all 82 games last year for the Clippers. If Paul needs rest or suffers another injury, Gilgeous-Alexander will be there to answer the call.
Another factor that works in Gilgeous-Alexander’s favor is the fact that the Thunder have not entered total rebuild mode yet. When a team rebuilds, they usually strip the roster down to just young, inexperienced players, to see who will earn the shot to potentially stay with the team long term.
The Thunder still have some quality players for Gilgeous-Alexander to play around. Danilo Gallinari is another piece Oklahoma City picked up in the Clippers trade, and he is one of the best shooting forwards in the league. Steven Adams will be a great lob threat for Gilgeous-Alexander and is known for his back-breaking picks.
So the sophomore will get plenty of playing time and the chance to learn from one of the greats in his field, while being surrounded with a roster that might not be brimming with talent, but contains some solid players. Add all this up, and the former lottery pick is poised to show the NBA that he is the next young point guard to make waves in the league.