The Oklahoma City Thunder changed the landscape of the NBA for years with one shocking move this offseason. The team decided to part ways with superstar Paul George, sending him to the Los Angeles Clippers to team up with Kawhi Leonard.
In exchange, they received a treasure trove of first round picks that will pay off for years to come, as well two players: Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Gallinari is a proven stretch forward who is one of the better shooters in the league.
The Thunder knew exactly what they were getting while trading for him. Gilgeous-Alexander is more of a question mark.
After a solid rookie season, what can Thunder fans truly expect out of the 20-year-old point guard?
Excellent Perimeter Defense
Gilgeous-Alexander has already proven that he has the potential to be a perennial member of the NBA All-Defensive teams. He has great length, standing 6’6 with a seven-foot wingspan.
More importantly, he plays defense with energy. Lots of NBA players today slack on the defensive end and focus on getting buckets on the other end. Not Gilgeous-Alexander.
He is a constant irritant on the perimeter and averaged over a steal a game in his rookie season.
Look for him to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league within a few years.
Another Paint Finisher
Already, the Thunder have a few guys who have a reputation for scoring at will in the key.
Center Steven Adams shot a ridiculous 63 percent from the floor last season, and nearly all of his shots came within five feet of the rim. While he might not be on the Thunder for long, Russell Westbrook is another player that is able to finish nearly impossible shots at the rim.
Gilgeous-Alexander will give Oklahoma City yet another finisher who can contort his way to lay-ups at the rim. He shot 48 percent from the field in his first season, which is very impressive for a rookie guard. Gilgeous-Alexander consistently is able to score in traffic, using body control to avoid the defense.
Look for that shooting percentage to only rise as he learns the ropes in the league.
Thunder fans are undoubtedly used to a high octane offense engineered by Westbrook. Unfortunately, Gilgeous-Alexander will not be playing anywhere close to this pace.
While he is not exactly a slow player, Gilgeous-Alexander is more of a relaxed, deliberate player who looks at all options before making his move. He usually uses dribbling moves to set up his drives instead of foot speed. In the half-court set, the Kentucky product almost always chooses to take his sweet time in making a final decision.
While most of the NBA is now choosing to run-and-gun, Gilgeous-Alexander’s game is much slower paced. This could either hurt or help the rebuilding Thunder team. Perhaps the pace will teach the young squad patience, or perhaps it will frustrate them after playing with speed for so long.
Either way, the Thunder certainly acquired a point guard that is ready to take the torch from Russell Westbrook as the face of the team.