OKC Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander plants seeds for MIP in 2020-21

OKC Thunder cornerstone talent Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished fifth in Most Improved Player voting and should be aiming to win the award next season.

Although Shai Gilgeous-Alexander season with the OKC Thunder didn’t finish how he hoped the Canadian made strides this season. In his new role, Gilgeous-Alexander was more of the primary scorer and often played off the ball.

Former head coach, Billy Donovan instituted his creative genius by capitalizing on having three point guards all capable of playmaking, driving, or scoring from the perimeter. Of the trio, SGA had to adapt the most. Not only was he the primary scorer but he also had to adjust to not being the guy with the ball in his hands as the primary playmaker.

What happens this offseason is very much up in the air. Although Chris Paul‘s heartfelt season-ending social media message had many wondering if it signaled his departure it’s not necessarily a given. Sam Presti is under no pressure to move CP3 this offseason.

Among the team’s vying to add him to their rosters reportedly are the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, or with his former agent now in charge with the New York Knicks. Frankly, there are a ton of teams who could use CP3’s services but that’s another article (or several) for another day.

OKC Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should target MIP in 2020-21

What Paul’s exit would mean for the Thunder and SGA however is the point. In situations where Paul didn’t play this season and the main playmaking duties fell to Gilgeous-Alexander the result was mixed. It only happened twice when CP3 elected to sit out the Mavericks game while he processed the loss of Kobe Bryant and the last seeding game in the bubble.

In those two matches, SGA’s scoring was down and his turnovers escalated. Specifically:

  • Mavericks: 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three turnovers in 32:13 playing time, and had the worst plus/minus (-6) of the starters. The OKC Thunder lost the game 107-97
  • Clippers: 13 points and four rebounds. Although he only played 13:31 the fact he had no assists but turned the ball over three times was concerning. The OKC Thunder lost the game 107-103

Arguably, having the primary point guard duty removed from his role equated to him getting a little rusty. But, as Thunder Nation knows the Canadian will work hard to improve in all aspects of his game, and regaining control of the playmaking is yet another aspect of his game SGA can excel in.

Looking at his second season SGA delivered palpable growth in his overall production.

Per Game Table
SeasonTmMPFGAFG%3PA3P%2PA2P%FTAFT%TRBASTSTLPTS
2018-19LAC26.58.7.4761.7.3677.0.5032.4.8002.83.31.210.8
2019-20OKC34.714.5.4713.6.34710.9.5125.1.8075.93.31.119.0
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/26/2020.

 

Clearly, his minutes took a leap increasing by over eight minutes per game which would affect his production.  Still, playing alongside talents like Paul, Danilo Gallinari, and Dennis Schroder who all provide offensive contributions didn’t guarantee his numbers would increase.

Yet, his 3-point, field goal, and free throw attempts all doubled. With the increase in shots, his overall production also rose with again almost doubling his points and rebounds. That he maintained his assist total is important since he did this while playing alongside Paul and Schroder.

Whether Paul returns next season or not the focus will remain on the Kentucky alum. That factor could lead to him having a shot at the Most Improved Player next season if he takes the leap we expect.

Even this season with so many viable candidates in line to win MIP, Gilgeous-Alexander garnered recognition and subsequently got votes from the National media. Eleven media members included him on their ballots for the award which equated to a sixth-place finish.

The players who ranked ahead of him were winner Brandon Ingram, Bam Adebayo, Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, and Devonte’ Graham. Of these five players, it’s not usual for a player to repeat so remove Ingram from the equation. Doncic and Tatum are much more likely to be considered for MVP since their performances will be integral to their squad’s playoff hopes.

Graham isn’t likely to take another massive leap so he’s also not likely in the mix. The one player who could take another big leap and with his playoff performance will be a player pundits watch is Adebayo.

Gilgeous-Alexander will also be squarely in the spotlight as pundits watch to see how much of a leap he takes particularly if the OKC Thunder elects to trade their veterans like Paul, Steven Adams, and possibly even Denis Schroder. Couple that with the fact Danilo Gallinari is likely to move on whether in a direct free agent signing or via a sign and trade deal.

As for this season, of the eleven media members who voted for the young star, five picked him second and six media members picked him third. The full votes by all 100 members are available on the NBA official site.

Moving forward, regardless of what happens to the roster the areas of the game Gilgeous-Alexander will need to work on this offseason are his perimeter efficiency, adding strength to deal with scoring in close to the basket, and an improved handle. Defensively, he should look at how his length can be capitalized upon even more.