Since trading away Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, the Oklahoma City Thunder began to embark on what many expected to be a lengthy rebuild process, with, perhaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the center of their efforts to return to contention in the future. However, the past two seasons, to say the least, haven’t been easy for the franchise.
The Thunder have gone 46-108 over that span, and they even indulged in a bit of resting shenanigans at the end of those seasons, holding out Gilgeous-Alexander and other key players in, perhaps, an effort to boost their lottery odds. For their troubles, the Thunder were rewarded with Josh Giddey and Chet Holmgren with picks atop the draft, but with their core being as young as it is, it’s unreasonable to expect OKC to regain their past status as one of the league’s most feared contenders overnight.
Thus, many expected the Thunder to continue their losing ways, especially when the second overall pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, Holmgren, injured his foot before he even stepped foot in an NBA court. But contrary to expectations, OKC has played well to begin the year, tallying a 7-10 record – unspectacular, but they’ve already reached almost a third of their win tally last season (24) with only a smidge over a fifth of the current campaign having concluded.
And it’s all thanks to the elite play of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. In fact, Gilgeous-Alexander has been so good that no one could be blamed for putting him in conversations for the league’s Most Valuable Player. Is it even an overreaction to think that SGA could even emerge as the best player on a title-contending team someday if he somehow proves that this level of play is the new norm rather than a mere outlier?
For now, maybe it is.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will win MVP and lead OKC to a ring within five years
When the Thunder acquired Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the centerpiece of the bombshell trade that sent MVP candidate Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers, SGA was already projected to be a future impact player at the very least, as he showed flashes during his rookie campaign, especially during the tail-end of the 2019 regular season and the playoffs, of the player he’ll eventually become.
But did anyone foresee Gilgeous-Alexander blossoming the way he’s done thus far in the 2022-23 campaign?
In 16 games played, SGA is averaging insane numbers of 31.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per night on elite shooting splits of 52.6 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from deep, and 90.8 percent from the line, coming ever so close to the exclusive 30-point, 50-40-90 club that only Stephen Curry has managed to sustain over the course of an entire season.
It’s not too much of a stretch to think that Gilgeous-Alexander could achieve the pinnacle of individual greatness in the coming years, especially once the Thunder go back to winning ways. That is, undoubtedly, the biggest roadblock to SGA’s MVP bid, as historically speaking, that award has gone to a player whose team, at the very least, made the postseason.
Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back in the 1975-76 season has done the unthinkable, winning MVP even as he saw his Los Angeles Lakers miss the postseason entirely with a 40-42 record.
This leads us to the second overreaction: could SGA actually lead the Thunder to a title in the next five years? The Boston Celtics, led by Jayson Tatum, the Milwaukee Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, and perhaps even the Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, and Denver Nuggets, among others, seem better-positioned to make deep postseason runs than the Thunder over the coming seasons.
However, five years is a lifetime in the NBA. Thunder fans are all too familiar with the uncertainty of the NBA, especially after seeing the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook-led core fail to capture a championship. But who would have thought in 2010 that the Golden State Warriors, of all teams, will end up being a dynasty?
Some of the pieces of the next great iteration of the Thunder seem to be in place, with Josh Giddey, Luguentz Dort, and Chet Holmgren (when he returns) around to flank their main man SGA. And perhaps, the Thunder could even swing a franchise-altering deal, the same way the Warriors shipped Monta Ellis off for Andrew Bogut, and maybe OKC is yet to draft their version of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
One thing’s for sure – if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander keeps up this level of play, there’s no telling just how far he can carry his team on his back.