Gilgeous-Alexander emerging with OKC
Hamilton-raised guard looks like he is in midseason form to start the NBA campaign with the Thunder
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said he was “tired” after his regular season debut with the Thunder, an understandable outcome considering the whirlwind summer that saw the promising guard traded to Oklahoma City as part of the series of moves that brought superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George home to Los Angeles.
“I realized how much I’m not in shape,” the former Clipper told reporters with a laugh.
His performance on the court belies his self-deprecating assessment, however, as he looks more like a backcourt star in midseason form. Through four games, the Hamilton-raised guard is averaging 23.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists and 1.3 blocks and has quickly emerged as the face of a Thunder team being rebuilt after a decade of competitiveness.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s quick success in Oklahoma City has been an early highlight in a season that has seen a record 16 Canadians make opening-day NBA rosters.
He scored a career-high 26 points on 10-of-23 shooting in his debut, a hard-fought 100-95 loss at Utah last Wednesday. That personal best lasted just two days, as he posted 28 points in a 97-85 loss to visiting Washington on Friday.
He ended his first week in Oklahoma City by putting up 19 points and nine rebounds in three quarters of work as the Thunder hammered Golden State 120-92.
Gilgeous-Alexander added another 22 points in the Thunder’s 116-112 loss at Houston on Monday, a game that was dominated by the noise around the first meeting between star Rockets guard Russell Westbrook and his former team.
The Thunder are expected to struggle this year after losing George and Westbrook in offseason trades. But they have been surprisingly competitive, with two of their three losses coming in close games on the road against Western Conference playoff contenders.
There are more reasons for encouragement for the Thunder. The team seems to be coalescing quickly despite having three primary ballhandlers who eat up minutes in Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. While Gilgeous-Alexander is likely the team’s point guard of the future, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan has said the Canadian’s competitiveness and unselfishness will allow him to excel off the ball in situations where two, or even three, of Oklahoma City’s primary point guards are deployed.
“He’s very versatile,” Donovan said at the Thunder’s media day. “He’s got good size, he’s got good length and I think he can play in a lot of different positions in a lot of different areas on the floor.”
It’s a small sample size, but rookie guard RJ Barrett has so far been as advertised in New York. The third-overall pick in this year’s draft has averaged 20.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and two steals over his first four games. That includes 21 points in his NBA debut, becoming just the second Knick to hit 20 points in his first game, and 19 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a 105-98 win over Chicago on Monday. The Mississauga native has also shown a flair for opportunistic defence with six steals in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Barrett has already earned praise from Knicks head coach David Fizdale, who told reporters: “He’s a stud, that’s the only way I can put it. He’s a stud.”
If there’s one area where Barrett is not yet a stud, it’s at the free-throw line. He has hit just 44 per cent of his shots from the stripe.
Making the minutes count
Clippers rookie Mfiondu Kabengele
might not see a ton of playing time this season, but he looked good when given the opportunity late in a 141-122 rout at Golden State on Thursday.
Kabengele, from Burlington, hit his only shot — a threepointer — and added a rebound and a block in four minutes of playing time. Clippers coach Doc Rivers took notice, and the player known in the lockerroom as “Fi” was presented with the game ball after the contest.
Boucher is MIA
If it wasn’t clear before the season that Toronto head coach Nick Nurse wasn’t sold on his bench this season, his eightplayer rotation in the Raptors’ season-opening win over New Orleans was irrefutable proof. As a result, big man Chris Boucher
might end up nailed to the end of the bench this year.
The Montreal native has shown flashes of real potential at both the NCAA and G League levels but figures to get scarce minutes so long as Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are available.
Minnesota forward Andrew Wiggins remains a hard guy to figure out. The native of Vaughan got off a troubling start this season, posting a -26 rating in a game the Timberwolves won 127-126 over Brooklyn in overtime.
Two games later, he scored 16 points in the final six minutes of the Wolves’ 116-109 win over Miami. A consistently clutch Wiggins will be key for the Timberwolves to build on their surprising 3-0 start.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 23.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 blocks in his first four games this National Basketball Association season.