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Guess who’s back? Back again. Shaidy’s back. Tell a friend.
After missing the last 10 games, the Thunder’s best player is returning tonight at home against the visiting #1 overall seed Phoenix Suns.
And to be clear, by best player I mean Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Despite some hot takes emerging from the SGA-less stretch, Josh Giddey has not stolen the franchise cornerstone crown. But the 19 year old Rising Star has indeed shown out in Shai’s absence.
Before he was outperforming every teammate and opponent in the All-Star Skills Challenge, Giddey was fresh off of notching an unbelievable three straight triple doubles. And while most fans and talking heads assumed OKC was DOA without SGA, Giddey led the Thunder to a surprising 4-6 mark in the midst of Shai’s recovery.
Giddey got game. His transformation from “he’s a reach” to “he’s a Rookie of the Year candidate” is an incredibly fortunate and exciting revelation. And in the long-term view of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the most important thing is that it looks like the organization has landed a no-doubt core building block. Not to overtake SGA. But to complement him.
A question that seems to have surfaced is: should Giddey handle the ball and run the offense more and let SGA just play off ball? It’s a legit question. Josh has shown a special ability as a playmaker and floor general. But let’s not forget that Shai is one of the most talented isolation scorers in the entire league. This isn’t an either/or situation. The Thunder will perform at their absolute optimum level if a balance is found between Giddey’s prodigal court vision and SGA’s remarkable scoring ability. To quote the girl in the gif: “Why not both?”
Mark Daigneault was asked about the on-court fit and future of an SGA-Giddey pairing during yesterday’s media call. Here’s what OKC’s head coach had to say:
“If you want to be a really good team, you have to have top-end talent. No one is more appreciative of that than Shai. Shai wants to win, and he wants to be a part of a great team and he is willing to roll his sleeves up and help build it.
Shai’s still growing as a player. The conversations have been pretty explicit. We’ve got some guys who are emerging right now, and we need to have a way of playing that allows everybody to emerge and allows our team to maximize itself.
While Shai’s been out… the ball has moved side to side. The quality of our threes was higher in terms of openness. But we didn’t get to the free throw line nearly as much, we didn’t get to the rim nearly as much, so the pressure on the basket wasn’t nearly as good.
We’re much better in transition and our overall shot quality is significantly better when they’re on the floor together. It’s really about trying to extract the strength of each of their games and merging it.”
Daigneault knows the Thunder’s best is a Shai/Giddey mixtape. The fans know it. And given how team-first and high IQ both Shai and Josh seem to be, they know it as well.
Finding the right balance is a good problem to have because it means that OKC has two true building blocks. Imagine if the issue was still trying to figure out if your top-5 pick was a bust or not (looking at you, Houston). Shai and Giddey have played half a season together, one that was always intended for development and to build chemistry. The Thunder are likely adding more top end young talent to the squad this summer. Next season, they’ll have to figure out how to mesh together. This rebuilding Thunder team is an evolving unit and ideally will be getting better each season as more top lottery picks make their way onto the roster. Shoot, hopefully in a couple of seasons we are all arguing whether SGA or Giddey is the third best OKC player behind Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama.
Ultimately, having a possibly elite pass-first guard and a possibly elite score-first guard should be a winning formula. The Thunder will use the final 24 games of this season to start building towards that delicious Shiddey cocktail. And with SGA back, it starts tonight.