Grading the OKC Thunder starters:
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, OKC Thunder: A+
If there were a grade higher than A+, Gilgeous-Alexander would get it. The way the Thunder’s star has carried himself and the team through years of rebuilding has paid off with the Thunder entering contention faster than anticipated and him entering MVP conversations.
While everything can, and frankly has, been said about his scoring, Gilgeous-Alexander’s defense has become one of his strong suits. He is a legitimate contender for an All-Defensive selection, and his December numbers show that.
Turning into perhaps the league’s premier two-way player on the perimeter, the star guard averaged 3.1 steals and 0.7 blocks over the past month. And while everything has been said about his scoring, that doesn’t mean it can’t be repeated.
In December, he averaged 31.9 points on 55.3% shooting. In the month, he had several big performances that both kept Oklahoma City in games and got them wins.
He failed to reach the 30-point mark only three times and had a game-winner on the road against the defending champions in one of those three. In his second game against the Nuggets, he had one of his two 40-point games in December.
Josh Giddey, G, OKC Thunder: B
Giddey’s season has been an up-and-down affair since the season opener. Yet, he may be turning things around.
It won’t necessarily show up in the stat sheet every night, but Giddey’s impact simply needs to be a positive. As the month progressed, the third-year guard seemed to find that balance.
While he capped it off with an 20-point performance where he nailed four 3-pointers, his playmaking over the final few games of December was improved. Decision-making has been a struggle for Giddey this season, but he has taken on the role of getting his teammates involved more and has been great at starting fast breaks with his outlets.
He did have a slight injury hiccup after turning his ankle in a game with the LA Clippers. That may have contributed to the Thunder’s only loss in the final eight games of the month, when he missed one game against the Lakers.
After a stellar outside shooting performance to end the month, Giddey shot 38.1% from 3-point range for December. If he can continue to knock down those shots at a similar clip for the rest of the season, the Australian may be exactly where many expected him to be after his international play.
Lu Dort, F, OKC Thunder: A
Dort cooled down considerably after his blistering shooting start. Then, he picked it back up just in time to end 2023.
Dort’s December saw him shoot 42.9% from 3-point range on nearly five attempts per game. With the emergence of the Thunder’s big three, Dort taking on his role as a 3-and-D wing and playing it perfectly has been one of the reasons this team has seen so much success.
And while most guys in that role are above-average defenders, Dort takes it a step further by being a menace on that end. There’s a reason he gets the assignment of the opponent’s best perimeter player every night and why the opponent’s best player often has off nights.
Of course, it is a valuable tool in the regular season, but seeing how he affected players such as Anthony Edwards and Jamal Murray to end the month, these results can easily carry over to a postseason matchup.
Jalen Williams, F, OKC Thunder: A+
Whether the Thunder are getting Jalen Williams or ‘Dub’ does not matter because either is a perfect fit for the team. After finishing as runner-up for Rookie of the Year last season, Williams is showing his ability as a future All-Star.
One of the strides Williams has made recently is how he takes over games to begin the fourth quarter. In those early minutes of the final frame with Gilgeous-Alexander getting his typical rest, Williams gets into a rhythm and has often put up points in a hurry for Oklahoma City.
Sometimes, that is a continuation of an already impressive night; other times, he enters with single digits on his way to a 20-point finish.
In December, the second-year star averaged 18.8 points on 52.8% shooting from the field and nailed 50% of his looks from 3-point range. He had six games with at least 20 points in the month, including a 36-point outburst against the New York Knicks.
Although it has not come out every game, Williams has become a reliable playmaker who can get his teammates easy looks. It adds another layer to his already well-rounded offensive game. Of course, he is not on the same level, but Williams looks like a second Gilgeous-Alexander for the Thunder in stretches.
Chet Holmgren, C, OKC Thunder: A+
Yes, the entire Thunder big three gets an A+ grade. After getting Pizza Rolls 2.0 in the third game of December, it was clear this could be a special month for the trio.
The one thing that has set Holmgren apart this season has been that he does not look like a rookie. Not only that, he has looked like an All-Star.
After a couple of duds to start the month, Holmgren scored at least 14 points in every game for the rest of December on his way to averaging 17.4 points. Oh, and he has done that against some of the best big men in the NBA.
Holmgren tallied double-doubles against Nikola Jokic, Domantas Sabonis and Anthony Davis in December. In that same game against Jokic, he had the best shot-blocking game of the season with eight blocks.
He followed up those performances with a 20-point outing against Rudy Gobert and the top-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves. That was one of five 20-point games from Holmgren in December.
The way he has managed to consistently impact games is far from typical for rookies. Yet, he does so with ease. In December, his stats show just how special he has been while only having 31 games of NBA experience under his belt.
In the final month of 2023, Holmgren averaged 3.5 blocks, grabbed 7.7 rebounds and shot 38.5% from 3-point range.