Entering this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder seemingly had few ways of taking a large step forward. Many thought their primary method of improving year-over-year was on the shoulders of Chet Holmgren, who was selected No. 2 overalls.
However, Thunder GM Sam Presti was on the record multiple times indicating that this team would improve most through their non-rookie players making a jump, even before Holmgren went down for the season with a foot injury.
“The improvement from our team [next season] will come from the existing players,” said Presti at the close of the 2021-22 season.
He was absolutely right, as the Thunder are a much more complete team this season, headlined by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Oklahoma City is now 13-18 on the season and still firmly in the play-in race at this point.
Gilgeous-Alexander is the betting favorite to win the The George Mikan Trophy, which is awarded to the NBA’s most improved player. In fact, he’s playing so well that he’s on pace to earn several honors.
Through the first two months of the season, Gilgeous-Alexander is already entering the territory of being a lock to make the NBA All-Star Team. From there, earning a spot on the All-NBA team is a much more challenging task, as only six guards across the entire league can earn these honors. With that in mind, the numbers Gilgeous-Alexander is putting up would indicate he’s well on his way. He’s averaging more than 30 points per game this season, and has scored the third-most points of any player in the NBA.
When looking back at the past 25 years, averaging 30 points per contest almost always gets a player on an All-NBA team.
The only player to average at least 30 points for an entire season and not earn these honors was Bradley Beal in the 2020-21 campaign. Keep in mind, this was the season that was put on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes it even more of a unique outlier. Furthermore, Beal was next on the list for guards in voting to earn an All-NBA team, meaning he would have been the next player at that position to make it in.
While the NBA has changed over the past two decades as the pace of play has increased and it’s easier to score points, history still tells us that Gilgeous-Alexander is tracking to make one of these three teams.
Not only is he averaging nearly 32 points per game, but the Thunder are winning more games than expected. Gilgeous-Alexander has put together multiple statement moments, not only converting on two game winners, but also sending another pair of games to overtime on last second shots.
He’s also the league leader in total clutch points, always making huge plays down the stretch. As such, he’s in the running for the Jerry West Trophy, which will be given to the player voted as the most clutch player in the league this season.
From there, the Thunder star is also in the top 12 of MVP projections. While that award is likely out of reach, even being in the conversation speaks volumes.
There’s still over half a season to be played, but as of today Gilgeous-Alexander could have the most decorated year of his career. Between making his first All-Star team, having a run at an All-NBA team, earning most improved player honors and potentially being voted the most clutch player, the future of the franchise in Oklahoma City looks bright.
If Gilgeous-Alexander can continue this level of play for the rest of the season, he’ll without a doubt be known as one of the best players in the entire NBA at just 24 years old.