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Thunder Journal: Without Shai

Thunder Journal: Without Shai

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander suffered a right ankle sprain on Friday night against the Indiana Pacers that is going to keep the rising star out until at least the All-Star Break.

First thing’s first: we all hope for a speedy recovery with no setbacks for SGA. You never want to see any lengthy injuries, especially to your favorite team’s 23-year-old cornerstone player and biggest building block.

But the show must go on, and the youngest team in the league just lost far and away their best player for at minimum the next 10 games. Here are the five big takeaways for the Thunder in light of SGA’s injury.

5. Will SGA be back this year?

If everything goes well and Shai is fully healed and ready to go after his All-Star Break evaluation, there will be 24 games remaining in the Thunder season. Many people are comparing this situation to last year when SGA was shut down for good because of plantar fasciitis and assuming he’ll be rested down the stretch regardless of health. I’m not so sure, though. Those 24 games are a big chunk of the season and SGA probably won’t want to miss the second half of back-to-back seasons. As far as tanking goes, OKC is in a much better and less dire spot than they were last year. At the moment, the Thunder are in the #4 lottery odds spot and are just 2.5 games back of the #2 position. That’s a far cry from last year, when Mark Daigneault had to give heavy minutes to Poku, Moses Brown, Charlie Brown and Snoopy just for a crack at the bottom 5.

4. Shai won’t be a 2021-2022 All-Star

SGA’s first selection wasn’t likely to happen this season anyway, but his injury puts the nail in the All-Star coffin. Shai’s efficiency took a hit this season, as the most double teams and the least amount of spacing in the league finally took their toll on the gifted scorer. He’s still put up an impressive set of raw numbers: 22.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.8 blocks a game. Shai’s first All-Star appearance will just have to wait until next season when Jaden Ivey and Chet Holmgren give him some extra space to operate.

3. More Tre, Mann

Shai’s absence leaves a big 35 minute a night hole in OKC’s rotation. It also removes the only true three-point threat from the starting lineup and one of the only players on the squad who can go out and get their own bucket. Enter Tre Mann. Like, literally, enter Mann into the lineup. He needs more minutes, he’s shooting 36.5% from three on the season, and he can create for himself. And it just so happens that Shai’s last start for a while coincidentally was Tre’s first ever start. Let’s give Mann about 10 more of those, please.

2. The Josh Giddey Show

What happened Shai missed the first game of 2022? The Thunder’s #6 overall pick etched his name in the NBA history books by becoming the youngest player to ever record a triple double. With Shai on the shelf, Giddey will be the unquestioned lead ball handler and playmaker. There’s no doubt the Wizard of Aus will set up his teammates for plenty of good looks, attack more himself to help fill the Shai scoring void, and continue rebounding the ball like a 6’9” Russell Westbrook. If, and it’s unfortunately a fairly jumbo sized if, his Thunder bros knock down their shots, he could notch a few more triple doubles before the season comes to a close. Look, Evan Mobley is probably winning Rookie of the Year and Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes and Franz Wagner are all neck and neck with Giddey for the runner-up spot. But if Giddey shines in his time as the OKC alpha… *insert Jim Carrey Dumb and Dumber gif*.

1. Good for lottery odds

As much fun as it’ll be to watch OKC’s ROTY candidate run the show, the Thunder without SGA are one of the worst teams in the league. Just look at the Pacers game. Before the Shai injury, the Thunder were a +10 in his 17 minutes on the floor. In the 36 minutes without SGA, OKC was a -13. SGA is a special offensive player who makes all his teammates around him better. His gravity opens up shots for others, proven by how defenses swarm him every time he has the ball. And of course, if there’s any close games over the next month, OKC won’t have one of the league’s most clutch players to carry them in crunch time. That was all just a long winded way of saying that Shai’s injury makes the Thunder much worse in the short term, but could end up being the difference in landing a Jabari, Paolo or Chet and becoming much better in the long term.

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The NBA will announce All-Star reserves on Thursday night during the TNT broadcast. Don’t expect to see any Thunder names there, or in the dunk contest or three-point contest (LOL). But Josh Giddey was named to the Rising Stars roster, and I am absolutely obsessing about the possible teammate pairings under the new format. Current G-League Ignite players will be placed in the competition alongside current NBA players, meaning we could glimpses of OKC’s hypothetical future.

The 2022 draft class is shaping up to be a little underwhelming when compared to recent years. I’m not quite as amped when watching Paolo and Chet highlights as I was when armchair scouting Mobley and Green. But if the Rising Stars draft (how the teams will be assembled) shakes out the way I want, my brain might explode with premature hype. I want need to see a touchdown fastbreak pass from Giddey to MarJon Beauchamp. Gimme a couple Giddey-to-Scoot Henderson (a very tantalizing 2023 prospect) lobs. And if any replacements have to be made, I’ll dream of a Jaden Hardy-to-JRE kickout. Heck, I’d watch a Dyson Daniels bounce pass to Tre Mann on loop from now until the draft if I’m being honest.

Cray Allred

Wednesday Bolts:

In OKC’s first game without Shai, Josh Giddey led Oklahoma City over Portland. Next up: @ Dallas – 7:30pm tonight

Josh Giddey is in some historic company with other box score stuffing teenagers.

Some housekeeping: the Thunder have signed Mamadi Diakite to another 10-day contract, and recalled Isaiah Roby, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aleksej Pokusevski from the Blue to the big club.

The Down to Dunk crew looks at some exciting (Giddey) and harrowing (Poku) stats.

At the end of his latest podcast episode, Zach Lowe says the Thunder would have hit a home run if they fetched a first rounder for Kenrich Williams this trade deadline, and that their trade partner would feel nauseous. Heh.

ICYMI: Brandon Rahbar’s thoughts on what Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s ankle injury means for the team, and my thoughts on how promising SGA’s finishing repertoire looked against Cleveland last week.

A throwback toast: Daily Thunder is now 13, as our most recent birthday occurred on January 20.

Through 15 weeks of the season, our readers have performed really well with their Western Conference predictions.