The narratives surrounding NBA stars like the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic and the San Antonio Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama have been easy reads, like first grade choose-your-adventure books filled with lots of pictures.
Both players are built, physically and mentally, different from most NBA players. Each has been on a global basketball stage for years prior to coming into the NBA. They are attention magnets, attracting millions through social media likes and reposts, whenever they’re involved in some of the most fundamental basketball happenings like when Memphis’ Ja Marant dunked on Wembanyama.
Just say the word, “Luka” or “Wemby” and even the most casual of basketball fan has an idea of who you are talking about.
But for the more discerning basketball palate, you appreciate the talent and potential growth, but you’re also looking for something that goes above and beyond the padding of stats, too.
Getting the job done. Leading a team to be in position to be a champion. And do so in an entertaining and engaging fashion.
That is the future of the NBA.
That is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
He is the Oklahoma City star point guard who is doing more than just delivering highlight-worthy plays on a nightly basis.
Gilgeous-Alexander is paving the way for one of the youngest teams in the NBA to steamroll its way into top-tier status in the NBA, leaving behind a carnage of basketball casuals who learn the hard way that this team may be young, but they are more than ready to be a title contender… right now.
Boston. Denver. Minnesota.
All are among the NBA’s top teams, and all have fallen to the Thunder at some point this season.
But that in itself doesn’t make Gilgeous-Alexander the future of the NBA.
He has this unusual mix of height, length and quickness that you just don’t see everyday at the point guard position. And what separates him from most of his basketball brethren?
The dude is dropping 30-plus points a night, making it easy.
Not only is he delivering big scoring games, but he’s also doing it against some of the premier defenders in the NBA.
The Boston Celtics starting backcourt of Derrick White and Jrue Holiday features not one but two members of the NBA’s all-Defensive team.
By a survey of NBA players conducted by The Athletic, Holiday was named the league’s best defender at the end of last season.
But in Oklahoma City’s 127-123 win over the Celtics earlier this month, Gilgeous-Alexander had 36 points, six rebounds and seven assists. And he did this while being uber-efficient despite facing what many view as the best defensive backcourt in the NBA.
When he was defended by Holiday, SGA had 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting. While guarded by White, SGA was still in jacuzzi-hot mode offensively, scoring 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting.
And he’s not just a bucket-getter, either.
His 6-foot-6 frame and near 7-foot wingspan, allows him to defend wing players at an elite level, night-in and night-out. Not only does his length allow him to contest guards better than most, but it also allows him to get his hands on a lot of balls. His 3.7 deflections per game is tops in the NBA along with leading the NBA in steals with 2.5 per game.
More than Luka and Wemby, the physical attributes that set SGA apart from many others, can be seen on a day-in, day-out basis in his individual stats as well as the one category that matters most - winning. Including games played up to January 3, the Thunders (24-10) have the second-best record in the Western Conference, trailing the Minnesota Timberwolves by just one game.
For those who believe that SGA gets too much credit for being a great player because he’s on a team that’s built strongly upon the draft, consider this:
The Thunder have eight players on their roster taken in the first round, which equals the number of first-round picks on the current Spurs roster, and is one less than the nine, first-rounders who play for Luka’s Dallas Mavericks.
No one will dispute the impact that Luka and Wemby are having on the NBA in large part because they are talented superstars in the celestial NBA world.
But the impact, talent and winning ways that SGA has brought to the forefront now, has the Thunder riding high among the NBA’s elite because their leader, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, has managed to walk the incredibly thin line of being a difference-maker in the present with an even brighter future.
A. Sherrod Blakely has covered the NBA for 20-plus years, and is a full-time lecturer at Boston University flapping' his gums about - what else? - sports journalism.
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