Grading the OKC Thunder starters:
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, OKC Thunder: A+
It’s rare that Gilgeous-Alexander gets rest in the first or third quarter, but he got plenty of rest on Thursday.
Games like this show exactly why the Thunder are already in contention and also why SGA is not the only three-letter acronym the Thunder’s star guard should answer to.
There were no opportunities for MVP chants against Portland, but he played like one. From start to finish (the middle of the third quarter), Gilgeous-Alexander scored at will and got to his spots with ease.
While missing just four shots on his way to 31 is an example of the team’s overall efficiency, it’s also a reminder of what Gilgeous-Alexander brings to the table.
No, he isn’t a typical guard who throws up a bunch of threes and is a constant threat from 30 feet away from the basket. But he has a knack for dominating in the paint and the mid-range.
In a variety of different ways, Gilgeous-Alexander shows flashes of former Thunder stars, from Russell Westbrook to Kevin Durant to Paul George. And that is what makes him so unique, particularly on a night against one of the worst teams in the league.
Josh Giddey, G, OKC Thunder: A+
The Australian guard picked up where Jalen Williams left off.
Giddey tallied his first triple-double of the season, and he’s starting to look like the player Oklahoma City was expecting a couple of months ago. Sure, that pre-draft graphic that basically says his weakness is playing basketball holds true a bit too often. Yet, he remains an essential piece to any playoff run.
Inevitably, Giddey will have a shorter leash when the postseason rolls around. But until then, he’ll have plenty of room to make mistakes.
Frankly, that’s the correct approach and results in games like this one. Giddey legitimately dominated for some stretches.
That sort of control on the game comes when he is engaged as a playmaker. With 12 assists, Giddey was throwing dimes when he was on the floor.
Including a full-court “touchdown” pass, Giddey’s outlet passes were on point. To truly unlock his abilities in that specific area, the Thunder may be wise to use a tactic that Westbrook often used.
With Westbrook, the idea was for him to get defensive rebounds so he could take off in transition. Giddey won't grab the ball and sprint the other way, but if he can get the rebounds and throw to a streaming Jalen Williams or Gilgeous-Alexander, it may be a way for Oklahoma City to get more easy buckets.
Lu Dort, F, OKC Thunder: A+
Plus 45. The Thunder outscored the Blazers by 45 points in Dort’s minutes.
That number was second to Giddey’s 46, but it shows how Dort has been the perfect wing for this season’s team. Typically, getting thrown onto Jayson Tatum or Anthony Edwards is how Dort spends his nights defensively.
However, against Portland, there is no offensive superstar that Dort needs to match up with. That’s where his ability as a team defender comes in.
Along with any defensive abilities he brings any given night, Dort’s outside shooting is a significant key to the Thunder’s success. He nailed three shots from behind the arc against the Blazers and could win playoff games with some timely makes, as he nearly did in the biggest game of his career as a rookie.
Jalen Williams, F, OKC Thunder: A+
The Thunder will likely have one All-Star, and Chet Holmgren could sneak in as a second selection. But make no mistake, Jalen Williams is an All-Star.
Some big dunks and blocks highlighted Williams’ night against Portland. He also dropped 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting.
Getting that scoring production from him on a nightly basis has helped Oklahoma City be elite this season. Williams has been a monster in fourth quarters recently to push the team near the top of the West.
Of course, he played zero fourth-quarter minutes on Thursday. Simply put, the key is for Williams to have the ball in his hands as much as possible.
While he is not a number one option by any means, he is more than capable of being option 1B for lengthy stretches.
Chet Holmgren, C, OKC Thunder: A+
The entire starting five earned an A+ on Thursday. Basketball is a group project, after all.
Still, the rookie big man would have earned the same grade if the Thunder won by single digits. Holmgren scored 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting and had a few possessions to experiment.
One of those came in the waning seconds of the first quarter as he dribbled down the clock before working into the mid-range and throwing up a rather ugly shot. But it was a glimpse into what Holmgren can be.
Becoming a dangerous threat off the dribble as a rookie is unlikely, but a couple of possessions like that each game where Holmgren gets to do his thing and work into a mid-range jumper is a great idea.
Yes, he already does that and gets to the rim with relative consistency. However, getting reps in the mid-range where he could be forced into tough shots is something he needs for a postseason run.