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What we've seen from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander this season

The Thunder's high-scoring Kia MVP candidate is not a secret anymore. How great has he been this season?

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a force at both ends of the floor. We review the film, numbers and impact.

This article is part of a five-part series called “What We’ve Seen,” which examines the top candidates on the Kia Rookie Ladder and Kia MVP Ladder

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a terrific offensive player who controls the game at his own pace and can make the best defenders in the league look silly. He’s also an incredibly disruptive and often stout defender.

He’s the leader of one of the two teams that rank in the top five on both ends of the floor. And with the Oklahoma City Thunder going from below .500 last season to a top-four team in the league, Gilgeous-Alexander has gone from All-Star to MVP candidate.

Here are some notes, numbers and film on what we’ve seen from Gilgeous-Alexander thus far …

All stats are through Tuesday, April 2.

1. Superlatives

A few things we’ll remember from Gilgeous-Alexander’s sixth season:

Most impressive game: Gilgeous-Alexander dropped a 40-point heater on Nov. 22 at home against the Chicago Bulls, which included 12 assists, five rebounds and three blocks. It was Gilgeous-Alexander’s only 40-point double-double this season and just the second of his career. The 25-year-old managed to pull it off with 2023 All-Defensive first-teamer Alex Caruso as his primary defender.

Most impressive milestone: The NBA’s current leader in steals is on pace to become just the third player in league history behind Michael Jordan (five seasons) and Stephen Curry (2015-16) to average 30-plus points and two-plus steals while shooting 50% or better from the field.

Most impressive play: His fadeaway game-winning bucket with 1.8 seconds left to play Sunday at Madison Square Garden was nice. But the spinning, stop-and-go, herky-jerky guard possesses a lot more in his bag than this. Gilgeous-Alexander showcased as much against Memphis on March 10, hitting Santi Aldama with a step-back, into a hesitation, followed by an up-and-under bucket. Nasty work.

— Michael C. Wright

2. Stats that tell the story

Go beyond Gilgeous-Alexander’s regular season averages — 30.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists — to understand how good he’s been this season:

  • Gilgeous-Alexander would be just the seventh different player in the 51 seasons that steals have been tracked to average at least 30 points, six assists and two steals per game.
  • He leads the league in drives per game (23.6) for the fourth straight season. His field goal percentage on drives (57.6%) is his highest mark over that stretch.
  • He ranks fourth in cumulative plus-minus, with the Thunder having outscored their opponents by 538 points with him on the floor. They’ve been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (plus-10.4) than they’ve been with him off the floor (plus-0.3).
  • In addition to leading the league in steals, he ranks second in deflections per game (3.6).
  • He leads the league in total made free throws (532) for the second straight season. And he’s in position to become just the fourth player in NBA history to shoot 87% or better on at least 600 free throw attempts in multiple seasons.

3. Film room famous

The numbers are terrific, but Gilgeous-Alexander’s game is best appreciated with the eyes. All those drives come with a cadence that’s all his own. He can go fast. He can be slow and methodical. He can do both on the same trip to the paint.

His combinations of moves: Gilgeous-Alexander can absolutely blow by defenders. But the real highlights are when he puts multiple elements of his bag — hesitations, crossovers, in-and-out dribbles, spin moves, Eurosteps, wrong-foot finishes — together.

If he gets a defender on his heels in transition, it’s over. But even if the opponent stops the Thunder break, Gilgeous-Alexander can find his way to the rim against the Kia Defensive Player of the Year favorite, and he’s a creative finisher…

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander basket vs. Rudy Gobert

His ability to slam on the brakes: According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Thunder don’t make any contact on 49% of ball screens for Gilgeous-Alexander. With how difficult he is to stay in front of, he doesn’t necessarily need a full-contact screen to gain an advantage. Those “ghost” screens can get a defender off balance.

Or Gilgeous-Alexander can get them off balance by himself by stepping on the gas and then slamming on the brakes …

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander jumper vs. the Clippers

His ability to draw two and dish: Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t making spectacular, no-look or over-the-head passes like his two biggest competitors for the MVP award. But with his scoring ability, he almost always has the attention of multiple defenders, and the simple pass can be just as effective as the spectacular one.

The best way to complement the league leader in drives is with shooting. The Thunder lead the league in 3-point percentage (39.0%) and 53% of Gilgeous-Alexander’s assists have come on 3-pointers. That’s the fifth-highest rate among 106 players with at least 200 total assists. He’ll keep his own defender on his hip while keeping the second guy busy, giving his teammate plenty of space to shoot.

He can also toss a dime to a cutter with great touch …

Shae Gilgeous-Alexander assist to Kenrich Williams

His quick (and strong) hands: Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t exactly prime Kawhi Leonard in regard to his ability to take the ball from the opponent.

He has quick and strong hands, however, and he’s aggressive in getting into the ball-handler’s space, whether it’s his own man or he’s poaching from off the ball…

Shae Gilgeous-Alexander steal from Bradley Beal

His strength in the post: Gilgeous-Alexander is a big guard at 6-foot-6. The Thunder aren’t a switch-heavy team, but they’re not afraid of having their star defending a big in the post.

First, he’s great at getting around the opponent to steal the entry pass. And if the big does get the ball, he’s got to be careful with it …

Shae Gilgeous-Alexander steal from Paolo Banchero

4. Closing Kia MVP case

It would certainly help Gilgeous-Alexander’s MVP case if the Thunder earn the top seed in the Western Conference. Of course, they slipped out of first place on Tuesday because he missed their game in Philadelphia, another data point indicating his value to the team (OKC is now 1-3 without him).

The Thunder have the toughest remaining schedule of the top three teams in the West. But a tough schedule creates opportunities for quality wins and Oklahoma City already has the best record (14-7) in games played between the nine teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s scoring average is a little lower (28.4 points) in those games (he’s played in all 21), but he’s scored more efficiently (true shooting percentage of 61.7%) than he has otherwise.

The Thunder have three games remaining within the top nine in the league, with the first of those in Boston on Wednesday (7:30 ET, ESPN).

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X. 

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