Oklahoma City Thunder, The Whiteboard

The Whiteboard: No one can stay in front of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have largely been overshadowed this season. Their brief offseason was highlighted by the departure of Chris Paul and additions to their absurd war chest of future draft picks. They’ve been remarkably good considering their roster was built to bottom out this season but, at 17-22 they don’t really fit into the Western Conference playoff race. A dozen or more storylines have commanded more national attention than anything they’ve done this season but if you haven’t been watching Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, you’re missing out.

Brian Schroder already detailed the absurd uptick in Gilgeous-Alexander’s shot-making for Dime, and he has legitimately become one of the best isolation scorers in the league. In just his third season, Gilgeous-Alexander is shouldering the load for the Thunder offense, averaging 23.7 points, 6.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game on a 62.9 true shooting percentage, while leading the team in assist and usage percentages by a wide margin. He’s been the solo engine for the Thunder and his remarkable effectiveness has been driven by the fact that no one can seem to stay in front of him.

What makes this such a special season for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?

Gilgeous-Alexander is currently averaging 25.1 drives per game — plays in which he catches the ball at least 20 feet from the basket and dribbles to within 10 feet of the basket. Luka Doncic is a distant second in drives per game at 23.0, and Gilgeous-Alexander’s mark is by far the highest mark for any player in the eight seasons for which the NBA’s player tracking data is publicly available. To put his numbers in context, in 2016-17 when Russell Westbrook played without Kevin Durant for the first time, leading the league in scoring and become the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season, he averaged 20.1 drives per game.

Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t just getting wherever he wants on the floor, he’s also doing whatever he wants when he gets there. He’s shooting 55.6 percent off drives, just a tick less than Zion Williamson and the 11th-best mark among the 55 players who are averaging at least 10 drives per game this season. He’s also recording an assist on 9.7 percent of his drives, about the same as Ben Simmons and or Malcolm Brogdon, which is pretty incredible when you consider he’s passing to Al Horford, Darius Bazley and Lu Dort.

What he’s doing with the ball in his hands is borderline unprecedented and his individual, three-level scoring prowess is exactly the kind of foundation you build a playoff contender around. As those draft picks turn into actual prospects and repetition and experience drives development for players like Aleksej Pokusevski, Theo Maledon, Bazley and Dort, Gilgeous-Alexander is just going to look better and better.


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