July 5th, 2019. It was a quiet night without much NBA news. It’s 1 AM on the east coast and midnight in Oklahoma City. A notification comes out of nowhere that not many saw coming. Paul George has been traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski. Social media goes into a frenzy, even crashing the app at one point. Who saw this coming?
At first glance, all we saw was George traded to the Clippers for a record-setting draft collection. But we knew there had to be players with salary figures involved. It later came out that OKC would receive Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari as well.
The prize was Gilgeous-Alexander, who had a good rookie year in Los Angeles. He was an All-Rookie Second Team selection and an integral part in the Clippers’ run to the playoffs. Sam Presti was after him in the deal. Although the Clippers didn’t want to give him up, they knew they had to in order to get Kawhi Leonard as a package deal with George.
SGA was slotted by many mock drafts to go at number 11 to the Charlotte Hornets. That’s exactly where he went before being traded to the Clippers for Miles Bridges. He received high marks from his draft profile and graded out nicely in many categories.
This summer, Thunder fans had gotten over the shock of George requesting a trade. They watched highlights to learn who SGA is, still mad but excited for a new era. SGA was open and welcome to a new chapter in his NBA career, saying great things about Oklahoma City upon arrival. Shai and Chris Paul, acquired in the Russell Westbrook trade, Paul and SGA are seen having fun at practices and engaging in shooting competitions. Although Paul may not be around long, his mentorship should prove beneficial as SGA grows up in the NBA.
October 8th, 2019. The Thunder played the Dallas Mavericks at the BOK Center in Tulsa, a game OKC won 119-104. SGA came out of the gate hot, droping 24 points on just 12 shots. He was 4-8 from 3-point land and made dazzling move after dazzling move, putting on quite the show for fans. SGA averaged 18.8 points per game in the preseason, shooting 50% from the field and showing electric moves like this fabulous play.
OKC opened as a 9.5 point underdog to the Jazz on opening night. SGA had other plans, and OKC easily covered. They led late in the 4th quarter, but failed down the stretch losing 100-95. SGA has himself quite the night, dropping 26 points on 10-23 shooting and 4-7 from 3-pointer. The only hiccup was in the 4th quarter, when the ball seemed to go exclusively through Dennis Schröder and Paul.
These early flashes gave fans a glimpse of what was to come from Shai.
SGA has taken more initiative down the stretch. He is mixing well with Paul and Schröder and handling the ball more late in games. This is what OKC needs to see what they have going forward in the future.
SGA’s handle has wowed fans on a nightly basis. He can create his own shot in an iso simply by making a move with the ball. We have seen in-and-out dribbles, between the leg spin moves, drives and more; he possesses a variety of different, unique handles.
When driving to the hoop, he has shown his ability to stop and pop. He can also contort his thin frame to make scoop shots and up-and-unders. Many of his plays have been on highlight reels across many platforms and he truly is a treat to watch.
The team as a whole grades out good on offense when he is on the court, and very bad without him on the court. He is seeing more offensive opportunities and thriving in those situations. His shooting splits across the board are very good.
What SGA is showing, that we’ve never seen before in the Thunder backcourt, is shooting. For many years OKC has had a Westbrook and Andre Roberson or Thabo Sefolosha guard combination. This is new: with SGA and CP3, Thunder guards can shoot unlike Thunder fans have witnessed in their 11 year history.
SGA has shown to be a great scorer, but his passing skills have been lacking. His assist numbers are very low and questions over whether he is more of a point guard or shooting guard abound.
He hasn’t shown much in terms of passing when given the opportunity. With time, he could develop in this area if/when CP3 and Schröder get traded. But he’s had opportunities and seems to be more of a scoring guy. When he does pass to scoring teammates, it seems to be more of the hockey assist variety. But at 21 years old, there is plenty of time to improve this area. He has shown a willingness to craft his game and the coaching staff, along with Paul, will be instrumental in that.
Another area that can greatly improve is his ability to get to the line. Although he isn’t in the superstar category, SGA should be getting more calls. As he continues to fill his frame out, that should come over time. His ability to take more hits and get to the line will improve his game.
Where he’s at
If you looked at the George trade apart from SGA, you’d say OKC got a good deal. But somehow Sam Presti played his deck of cards and got the Clippers to pair SGA with five first round picks, two pick swaps and Gallinari. Assuming Gallinari is dealt, OKC is looking at a final deal of SGA and up to seven first round picks.
I reached out to Twitter and asked what their opinion was on the trade: their initial and later thoughts having seen OKC play after the trade. The majority of them were upset initially but quickly gave a higher grade after what they’ve seen of SGA this year. Without much warning, Presti did great.
SGA is a superstar in the making. He has helped keep OKC in every game this season, quite a few of them against contenders. The future is very bright and he will be “the guy” here for as long as he wants to be.
You will see bumps along the way, but we have seen these before. We remember the days 10 years ago when Westbrook was 21 years old and this franchise was on the rise. We turn to SGA now in hopes that this time around, it will end in a championship and not lost hopes.