What’s popping on Air-Ball
- 2021 NBA ALL-STARS
- BUY OR SELL: BUYING THE SUNS AND BULLS ALL-STAR GUARD PLAY AND THE LAKERS AND KINGS ARE DISAPPOINTING
- I’M WORRIED ABOUT LEBRON
- NBA ROOKIE REPORT: NESMITH AND AVDIJA SHOW FIGHT WHILE THE RAPTORS SABOTAGE FLYNN
- SUNDAY NEEDS TO BE THE BLUEPRINT FOR ZION, INGRAM AND THE PELICANS FUTURE
- WHY DOESN’T DAMIAN LILLARD GET THE RESPECT HE DESERVES???
The first time I watched Shai Gilgeous-Alexander play basketball was early on in his season at Kentucky. Being the Canadian basketball loyalist I am, I was guaranteed to be a fan of his regardless but in watching Shai, I fell in love with his game far beyond just because he’s from the Great White North.
Every great player in the game has something about them that stands out. On the extreme end, you have a guy like LeBron with his athleticism or Stephen Curry with his shooting. Even for role players like Steven Adams, his size stands out instantly.
For Shai, that trademark thing about him is the pace he plays the game. Scouts often throw around the “he plays at his own pace” comment and if they were looking for a definition of what that looks like, Shai would be the picture in Webster’s.
Early on this pace served him well in the NBA. Right away he started on a fun Clippers team that made the playoffs. Then in year two in Oklahoma City, when he studied at the Chris Paul graduate school of point guard play, his calmness continued to be his defining trait.
In the playoffs in the bubble though, Shai struggled. He looked excruciatingly uncomfortable when he had the ball. Frankly, if OKC got anything out of him at all they probably win that series.
So when CP3 left in the offseason, I thought OKC was going to be abysmal. I thought the Shai I saw in the playoffs was the predictor of his future. A good player who needs others around him because he just isn’t quite good enough to be one of those guys. A third or fourth option as NBA Twitter aficionados would likely define it.
Boy oh boy was I ever wrong.
On a team whose second and third-leading scorers are Al Horford and Luguentz Dort, Shai has taken a leap. He’s averaging over 23 points per game to go with six assists on a better true shooting percentage than All-Stars Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell.
More than just the raw numbers though, when you watch him he’s just carrying himself differently. In his first two seasons, Shai sort of deferred to those around him, always playing off of the other offensive weapons on the court.
With no CP3 or even Lou Williams on this team though, Shai has been forced to be the guy and he’s answered the call. Clearly, his degree at The Point God Academy is helping him in 2021.
His free throw attempts are up to six a game, good for a top 20 spot in the league. He’s also taking five threes a game, knocking down over 41 per cent and showing a variety of off-the-dribble moves his mentor from last season has to watch and fill his heart.
The perfect example of Shai’s growth this season came last week against San Antonio. He poured in a career-high 42 points on just 20 shots, going six of 11 from deep. It was a masterful performance that fully showcased who Shai is now.
Back when I watched him at Kentucky, he was a raw point guard who felt the game at a high-level but still had a long way to go. Now just three years later, he’s playing at an All-Star level on a horrifically bad offensive team.
When Shai isn’t on the court, OKC’s offence has a 98.7 offensive rating which would’ve been last in 1997 by over two points. Simply, this team is bereft of talent on offence save for Shai. The fact this team is 14-20 and ahead of the likes of Atlanta, Washington and right behind New Orleans is insane.
What Shai’s doing this season deserves more acknowledgment. On a team that’s trying to lose he’s been so good they can’t. Watching his rise from Kentucky to now is a thing of basketball development beauty and something I look forward to watching for the rest of his career.