The Oklahoma City Thunder have seen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander transform his game each summer. The max contract point guard has shown significant improvement year-to-year, culminating in last year’s rise to Superstar.
While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished fifth in MVP voting, grabbed first-team All-NBA honors, and his first All-Star appearance, the 25-year-old can still take another leap this season. The OKC Thunder can still Gilgeous-Alexander lead the team to another massive win leap with one key skill improvement.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has another leap in him this season and has already flashed it at the FIBA World Cup.
Last season, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dominated to the tune of 31 points, nearly five rebounds, as many assists, and 2.6 stocks (steals plus blocks) per game. Gilgeous-Alexander turned in 51 percent from the floor, 34 percent from beyond the arc, and 90 percent at the charity stripe.
On top of his effective scoring and ability to attack the rim, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made massive strides as a defender a season ago. From his length allowing him to switch, play the passing lanes for deflections, and motor to recover for loose balls to spark transition, Gilgeous-Alexander was a key cog on both ends of the floor.
The next evolution of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s game is his ability to play make for the Thunder offense. After reaching 5.9 assists the previous two seasons, Gilgeous-Alexander “dipped” to 5.6 dishes per tilt.
Despite his assist total technically declining, his decision-making, as well as his passing creativity, saw a massive uptick. However, there is still room for improvement with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s playmaking. During his FIBA World Cup run, Gilgeous-Alexander gave OKC Thunder fans a glimpse of his next progression.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander did a great job as a playmaker for Team Canada. He improved on this last year and seems to take another leap. He is able to take advantage of how much attention he gets from the defense, and you can see how it sets up great looks: pic.twitter.com/DvF4s5LFQU
— Rylan Stiles (@Rylan_Stiles) September 15, 2023
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can put so much pressure on the defense; anytime he penetrates below the three-point line, all eyes are on the Superstar point guard. This leads to relaxed off-ball defense, heavy rotations leaving teammates open, and just an overall ability to bend the defense into great looks for his teammates.
During the FIBA World Cup run, it was evident his passing prowess was improved. Whipping the ball to open three-point shooters in the corner and manipulating defenses in the pick-and-roll are all repeatable things that he will be tasked with in Mark Daigneault’s offense.
The presence of 2022 2nd overall pick Chet Holmgren will generate a lot of assists for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Not only can that duo run the pick-and-roll variations to perfection, but as they make that a staple of the Thunder’s half-court offense, teams will gear up to stop it and over-pursue a pick-and-roll breakup. When that happens, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s body control and ability to pivot his passes will lead to wide-open shots for his Thunder teammates.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has shown a unique ability to handle the blitz and traps that opposing coaches will throw at him, and when he wiggles free to the basket, a player like Jalen Williams will be cutting behind the action to give Gilgeous-Alexander a safety net in the event he does not have a clean look at the rim.