On July 30, 2020, the NBA returned from a long hiatus. The bubble at Walt Disney World has proved effective so far. For now, the league can only try its best to complete the season. This means we can speculate about NBA players going forward, which brings us to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The exciting young player looks like he’s facing a breakout time in his career.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s early years
Gilgeous-Alexander came up as an underdog. His high school accolades were limited, according to ESPN. He earned his stripes by quickly working his way up the Kentucky Wildcats’ system. His coach, John Calipari, regards encouraging the young guard’s development as a crowning achievement.
Unable to hold back his immense talent, the Wildcats coaching system encouraged Gilgeous-Alexander to weigh his professional options. Sad as they were to see him go, they were right on the money. After just one explosive year in Kentucky, he was a lock for the first round of the 2018 NBA draft.
The Clippers had the honors. Gilgeous-Alexander found himself in the midst of a team with real playoff prospects for his rookie season. He put up a career-high 25 points against the Golden State Warriors in a playoff loss, according to ESPN. It proved his worth during high-pressure situations.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s breakout with the Thunder
The Clippers decided to move forward without Gilgeous-Alexander, despite his obvious ability. As part of their bid to build a star-driven core, they had to give their valuable rookie to the Thunder. Paul George joined Kawhi Leonard in LA, while Gilgeous-Alexander made his way to Oklahoma.
The Oklahoman contemporaneously recorded the local fan reaction as shock. There was little attention paid to the young players gained, and the team’s future was written off as a pending rebuild. Then the 2019-2020 season actually started.
Notably, when the Thunder matched up with the Clippers, Gilgeous-Alexander made himself known with a new career-high as ESPN reports. He put up 32 points, five assists, three rebounds, and two steals. The Thunder rolled past the Clippers, 118-112.
Will Gilgeous-Alexander be the future cornerstone of the Thunder?
The big OKC/Clippers trade wasn’t exactly criticized. It was seen as a necessary punting of a season, part of the sometimes ugly process of rebuilding. Yet the Thunder came up big against the Clippers. They’re also fifth overall in the West, according to Fox Sports.
This puts them in strong contention in the playoffs so far. It also puts the Thunder one slot below another notable team: the Houston Rockets. Ex-Thunder star Russell Westbrook landed there as James Harden’s new sideman. Chris Paul, now with the Thunder, appears to be making more of his new team than expected.
How could this be? Sports Illustrated calls it “the three-headed monster in the backcourt.” The trio of guards is putting up 26.6 points per 100 possessions. This was not where a season after such major trades should’ve left OKC. Instead, Paul’s veteran gaze guides two athletic young guards. The Thunder’s 44-28 record speaks for itself. Paul is the current face of the franchise, but the other points of this point guard triangle are the future.