Thunder: The unstoppable Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Isaiah Joe play no one's talking about

6x MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook remains the most unstoppable shot in NBA history to this day. While there is no modern version, the Oklahoma City Thunder feature a two-man action that completely eviscerates defenses to a similar degree as Abdul-Jabbar.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz
Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages
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With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Isaiah Joe sharing the court this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have outscored opponents by a monstrous 14.2 points per 100 possessions. That mark ranks fourth-best of the 321 duos across the NBA with at least 700 minutes together.

It tops notable pairs such as:

  • Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic
  • Paul George and Kawhi Leonard
  • Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid
  • Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo

Now, one may be asking: How are they so effective next to each other?

Simply put, their skill sets mesh perfectly together and create the ultimate pick-your-poison situation when squarring off against opposing defenses. 

It starts with MVP candidate Gilgeous-Alexander, who averages the fifth most points in the paint. The superstar ranks third across the league in "rim shot making", which adjusts efficiency with shot quality, or degree of difficulty.

In terms of placing pressure around the basket, few players succeed more than SGA. 

Meanwhile, Isaiah Joe shoots over 44.5 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers and produces 1.28 points per spot-up possession, which ranks fifth best of the 112 players with at least 150 spot-up possessions.

When these two collide, look out world.

Unstoppable Thunder play with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Isaiah Joe

The half-court play begins with Gilgeous-Alexander bringing the ball up into a screen set by Joe, typically a step inside the arc. It’s a traditional pick-and-roll setup, but the wing pops out for a catch-and-shoot attempt from beyond the arc.

The action leverages Gilgeous-Alexander’s driving ability and Joe’s outside shooting to destructively stretch the defense.

Because Joe sets the screen, there is no big defender involved in the primary action. If the defense wants to switch to wall off Gilgeous-Alexander before he penetrates the paint, then it will be a smaller guard subsequently doing so. Given the All-Star's positional size and length, the guard has little chance of accomplishing this feat alone. 

If the big rotates from the weak side in an effort to contest a rim attempt, then Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren can punish them, as he shoots north of 41 percent on catch-and-shoot triples.

The basic play wreaks havoc, but there are also variations that counter an adjusted defensive strategy. For example, it’s unlikely that Joe will be a roll threat due to his size and skill set. Therefore, his defender may play in front of him to show Gilgeous-Alexander a two-pronged line of defense and dare Joe to roll into the paint.

However, Joe ignores his screening duties in this scenario and flashes at a diagonal, while SGA attempts to get around the opposite edge.

In this video example above, LA struggles to contain the edge against the Thunder, and Joe’s relocation gets him into the correct spot for a catch-and-shoot swish.

It’s important to remember that Gilgeous-Alexander’s on-ball gravity and isolation scoring form the backbone of this unstoppable play. Because opponents cannot give him an inch of space, Joe is often lost in the scrum and, in turn, is left wide open behind the arc. 

This final clip nicely sums up their basketball relationship.

Gilgeous-Alexander initiates a post-up on the low block against former Pistons guard Killian Hayes. Detroit desperately wants to send help because SGA is producing 1.29 points per post-up possession this season, ranking in as third best of the 57 players with at least 50 of such scenarios this season. 

Ausar Thompson is at the free throw line ready to rush Gilgeous-Alexander, though all he can do is swivel his head back and forth with Isaiah Joe’s off-ball gravity keeping him tethered. Predictably, the possession leads to a made turnaround jumper.

NBA legend Bill Russell once said the following quote which resonates strongly based on the above clips:

"The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent believe that you might block every shot."

Bill Russell

The threat of their shots are enough to burden defenses and enhance each other regardless of whether they actually rack up attempts or not. Overall, look for the Thunder to prominently feature this action during their upcoming playoff run and generate elite shot quality.

It could be their bread and butter during crunch time.

*All clips via NBA.com

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