Gil­geous-Alexander emerg­ing with OKC

Hamil­ton-raised guard looks like he is in mid­sea­son form to start the NBA campaign with the Thun­der

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - CURTIS WITHERS

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.”

Promis­ing start

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.

Which Wig­gins?

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.

CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

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.

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