This season will be a unique test for Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Though he didn’t see a ton of action last year due to an injury, the former Kentucky guard took giant steps forward in his game, and the Thunder rewarded him handsomely this offseason.
With a new five-year, $172 million contract in hand, Gilgeous-Alexander has cemented himself as not only the future in Oklahoma City, but one of the premier players in the NBA.
As is such, Gilgeous-Alexander is going to be handled a lot differently by opposing teams, as their entire defensive game plans will be geared toward slowing down the Thunder star.
“The better you are in the NBA, the more you’re going to see the kitchen sink from other teams,” OKC head coach Mark Daigneault said after the Thunder’s first preseason game on Monday night. “The really good players learn those lessons and they calibrate it and they just get better and better.”
Last season, Gilgeous-Alexander got his first taste of what it takes to the focal point of an offense every single night in the NBA.
When Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder were traded away, Oklahoma City handed over the keys to the franchise to Gilgeous-Alexander, even if general manager Sam Presti said he didn’t know 100 percent what to expect from the young guard.
And though Gilgeous-Alexander improved in seemingly every area last year, he only took the floor 35 times, meaning opposing teams had fewer chances to try and run different defensive game plans at Gilgeous-Alexander in an attempt to slow him down.
This season, Gilgeous-Alexander’s next step will be to absorb all of the different defensive coverages he sees, and figure out how he can best exploit it to help his team.
Recommended for You
“Chris Paul was a good example of that,” Daigneault said. “There’s nothing you could throw at him in the year that he was here that he didn’t know how to counteract, and that’s gonna be a process for Shai.”
In the preseason opener, the Charlotte Hornets took their first pass at trying to slow down Gilgeous-Alexander.
The Hornets were all too happy to send double teams early in an attempt to slow Gilgeous-Alexander and force a turnover.
For the night, Gilgeous-Alexander struggled, scoring 11 points on just 3-of-8 shooting and turning the ball over four times.
While it wasn’t the return to the court Gilgeous-Alexander would have wanted, Daigneault also said it’s hard to ignore the outside factors playing into the first preseason game.
The preseason debut is always difficult because players aren’t 100 percent game-ready from a physical standpoint, Daigneault said, and throwing in the fact that it was the teams’ first game in front of home fans, the first game of the season and Gilgeous-Alexander’s return from injury, it’s easy to see why things may not have been perfect.
But either way, Daigneault is confident his guard will learn from the experience and be ready to go for the regular season.
“With those teams you just have to move it quickly and then play off the advantage,” Daigneault said. “We can definitely learn that lesson, but overall it was great to have him back out there.”
Want to join the discussion? Click here to become a member of the message board community today!