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How Kevin Durant Spotted Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's Greatness Before Everyone Else

A ringing endorsement from one of the best players to pick up a basketball is quite the compliment for the Thunder's franchise player.

When mindlessly scrolling through the depths of basketball Twitter, there’s honestly no end to what you might find.

I’ve been doing some deep digging on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s pre-draft profile and rookie season, coming away with plenty of interesting thoughts. The general consensus on Gilgeous-Alexander was he'll never be an All-Star, but that’s what he’s developing into right in front of us. The one person who might’ve been right on the money about SGA’s future will certainly surprise you. It was actually Kevin Durant.

Durant was featured on Bill Simmons’ podcast all the way back in 2018: SGA's rookie season. His departure from Oklahoma City was still somewhat fresh, and little did he know the talented youngster he was gushing about would become the Thunder’s new franchise player. Not to say Gilgeous-Alexander will ever be on Durant’s level, but it’s a small full-circle moment to look back on.

“Shai Gilgeous,” Durant started. “We played against him early in the year and, man, he got the mid-range down. His mid-range is so good. He shoots it with the high release, so it’s hard to block at 6-foot-6 when the point guard’s guarding him.”

Gilgeous-Alexander has added quite a bit to his arsenal since his rookie season. While he’s still a midrange killer, SGA has improved his game around the rim. The Kentucky product has mastered his ability to slither into the lane and kiss the ball of the glass in ways many didn’t think were possible.

His midrange, though, was his bread and butter before coming into the league. Now, with his evolving game, going back-to-the-basics with his 15-to-20 footer could be the last piece of the puzzle in his quest for stardom.

“You gotta put the two guard on him, and he’s still shooting over two guards," Durant said. "So I’m like man, that size and at that age… once you learn how to shoot the mid-range, I feel like the three ball is going to be easier for you to shoot, because it’s hard to aim at the midrangers like that. He’s knocking them down consistently.”

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Like him or not, Durant is one of the best the game has to offer when specifically breaking down basketball. He understands the game in a way nobody else seems to. Durant has a keen eye for talent and has played with, and against, the best for his entire NBA career. He's one of the few NBA players that offers up truthful opinions and takes part in discourse with the fans. Words like that from an all-time great should be considered heavy praise for Gilgeous-Alexander.

When Durant joined Simmons’ podcast, Gilgeous-Alexander was a role player for the overachieving Clippers. He averaged 10.8 points per game, shooting 47.6% from the floor. When he was traded to Oklahoma City, Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t even the prized possession in the trade. Of course, Thunder fans were excited about SGA’s potential, but nobody excepted this type of ceiling. Maybe we should’ve listened to KD.

Since Durant’s comments during SGA’s rookie season, what he predicted has come to fruition. Last season is an interesting case study, because while Gilgeous-Alexander’s 3-point percentage dropped, it was clear the team desperately wanted to test out his long range shot. He experimented with new step backs, side steps and even deep, Steph Curry range 3-pointers. KD and the Thunder were on the same page about Gilgeous-Alexander’s development, but Durant saw the vision years in advance. If SGA developed a 3-point jumper to compliment his midrange, he’s one of the NBA’s most intriguing up-and-coming stars.

“He’s probably the guy that’s stood out to me the most because I never watched him in college,” Durant said in December of 2018. “He’s got length on him at point guard, his arms are long and he can shoot it. He’s got confidence on him.”

Last season, the picture started to become clearer. The confidence Durant suggested was on display often, confirming SGA’s potential to the Thunder brass. Gilgeous-Alexander hit big shot after big shot, recording an unusual amount of highlight plays in a season that featured a lot of losing.

After a year of reworking his long range jumper, and a summer of dominance for Team Canada nationally, Gilgeous-Alexander could be ready to unlock a new level. He could be an elite three-level scoring threat ready to help the Thunder take the next step back to national relevancy. And Kevin Durant saw it before anybody. 


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