Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderPhoto: Getty Images
Of the eight players currently averaging more than 30 points per game, there is one who is not like the rest. From Luka Dončić, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, I think it’s easy to figure out who I’m referring to.
The Oklahoma City guard is averaging 31 points a night with splits of 54/39/94, and it’s unclear if he’ll even make the All-Star team. The West is teeming with perimeter talent, it’s constantly rebuilding Thunder, and you’ll need League Pass to see it play.
We have no idea if he’s a good stats-bad team dude because every time OKC is surprisingly competitive, GM Sam Presti edits an injury report to stay in the lottery mix. Who knows what the end goal is from the Thunder’s treasure trove of draft picks, but having that many assets doesn’t mean it’s enough to convince the Brick for Vic winner to trade down.
Yes, this season would be different if Chet Holmgren didn’t sit out through injury. However, SGA’s schedule appears to have already begun. Any other guy turning 30 in 2022 would be pissed about missing out on the playoffs and probably still upset about being relegated to the play-in.
If the Thunder earn a nine-seed, they’ll be delighted despite having the means to act responsibly and challenge more. While I’m not asking Presti to piss off the big stack when he’s chasing gut-shot flush draws, he could at least make his way into the money.
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Right now, the main OKC headlines revolve around Gilgeous-Alexander’s move. I’m not going to suggest offers for the watch because that’s what casual NBA fans do on IG in their free time. In addition, SGA is looking forward to the future.
I understand Thunderbeat writer Brandon Rahbar’s excitement, because that’s exactly what pundits have been doing to Damian Lillard for years. The difference between the two organizations is that Portland appears to have maxed out its roster around its franchise player, and OKC is actively going through promising seasons of SGA’s young career.
And that’s my concern. The Thunder’s current tanking isn’t as bad as the spike process, which is a good thing. Joel Embiid showed us that great players can overcome bad culture. The 76ers will be a top-four team in the East as long as he’s surrounded by viable talent.
The side effect of Philly’s asset-forward approach is that while the team had the capital to broker trades to improve the roster each offseason, there is little to no continuity. Very rarely is a talent pool good enough to win a championship without first failing in the playoffs together.
Wouldn’t you like to see what the Thunder looks like when Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lou Dort and Tre Mann get some real rotational power forward and down the middle? Aleksej Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl are reportedly G-League players at this point in their careers, if that’s not Poku’s ultimate goal.
I doubt Presti would even notice the lack of draft picks it would take to acquire Indiana’s Miles Turner. A veteran center could improve a defense that gives up 54 color points per game, which ranks fourth-worst in the NBA. And it would be nice to have some sort of internal infrastructure to ease the workload on Holmgren’s narrow frame when he returns next year.
Suppose they miss number 1 and end up at Scoot Henderson instead. Are they moving from Giddey in hopes of adding another guardian that can reach 30? Where does Chet fall in the pecking order when this happens?
These aren’t bad problems, but they already have a damn good problem solver, and one that goes down is appreciated because a GM counts picks of over wins.