Once again, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander enters the 2021 season with lofty expectations.
Currently, the Oklahoma City Thunder star is listed as the joint-favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award alongside New Orleans Pelican big Zion Williamson.
This isn’t a new position for Gilgeous-Alexander to be in, as he ranked near the top of the odds coming into last year as well, but it may be even harder for the former Kentucky guard to take home the honor this season.
And that’s not an indictment on Gilgeous-Alexander, it’s actually a byproduct of his success in his limited action last year.
Taking the reins of the OKC offense last year, Gilgeous-Alexander set career highs in field goal percentage (50.8 percent), 3-point percentage (41.8 percent), field goal attempts per game (16.1), assists (5.9), and points (23.7).
Already playing at fringe All-Star levels, the question would be how much higher would Gilgeous-Alexander have to raise his game to get recognized by the rest of the NBA?
For instance, last year’s MIP, Julius Randle, saw improvements of 4.6 points per game, he shot a career high 41.1 percent from deep (a nearly seven percent improvement from his previous career high), but perhaps most importantly he led the New York Knicks back to playoff relevance for the first time since the 2013 playoffs.
Recommended for You
Perhaps another improvement this season like Gilgeous-Alexander took last year would be enough for the Thunder guard to finally get some love outside of Oklahoma City, but it might also take Gilgeous-Alexander putting OKC firmly in the play-in tournament mix to win the MIP.
As unlikely as that seems right now, if Josh Giddey can immediately make an impact, as well as continued development from Lu Dort, Darius Bazley and Aleksej Pokusevski, maybe the Thunder could rise above expectations.
Twice now, once with Chris Paul at the helm and once at the beginning of last season before Gilgeous-Alexander was shut down with his foot injury, Gilgeous-Alexander has been a part of a Thunder squad that exceeded expectations.
OKC was 16-19 with their star point guard last year after all, and it would take unforeseen circumstances for the Thunder to want to shut down Giddey, Bazley, Pokusevski, Dort and other young pieces this year.
At some point Gilgeous-Alexander will have to level out, as his rate of improvement each offseason is incredible, but maybe he has one or two more tricks up his sleeve to enter the next tier of NBA stardom this upcoming season.
Want to join the discussion? Click here to become a member of the message board community today!