Shai: The Early Days
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As often as I've mused on how "abstract" the Thunder have been since Sam Presti started replenishing the future OKC draft stash by sending away almost every living, breathing professional basketball player in Oklahoma City circa 2018-2020, the concrete hope of the franchise was actually right before our eyes from the start: Shaivonte Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA. Shai.
After rubbing our eyes--blurry from trying to count up all the draft considerations shoved in our crying faces by Woj bombs razing the Russell Westbrook era for good--we were surprised to discover that the late-lottery pick received from Los Angeles was much more than an obligatory "young player" throw-in for the "picks and salary matching" bounty headlining the Paul George trade. Aidan Elrod dug in prior to Shai's first season in Oklahoma City, noting that the atypical point guard had done some promising things as a rookie for the Clippers.
“He’s not shabby in isolation, either, ranking in the 87th percentile among all NBA players who appeared in at least 50 games. Despite my concerns about his weight, SGA uses his strength effectively on offense with deceptive push-offs to create space for himself. Shai is already one of the better finishing guards in the league, and he uses his length to his advantage in these situations with crafty finishes at the basket, where he shot 63 percent last season.”
"Second or third best" player for a Thunder contender on the distant horizon seemed a pretty optimistic view of Gilgeous-Alexander at the time, but just a few months later Elrod noticed the OKC plot point that has held the rest of the story together ever since: Shai playing off the charts.
The reality is that Shai is one of the best up-and-coming young scorers and offensive players in the league... Combining an above-average ability in getting to the line, a 7’0 wingspan, crafty and creative finishes around the basket, and a growing arsenal of perimeter moves, Shai might reach levels--at least offensively--that nobody could have seen coming.
But one person did see all of this coming: Shai himself. In an early show of his yet-to-be-trademarked quiet confidence, Gilgeous-Alexander answered Daily Thunder's Brandon Rahbar when asked about becoming the next star in Oklahoma City: