Thunder: Chris Paul has changed the way Shai Gilgeous-Alexander thinks about defense
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Chris Paul was sick of answering questions about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s offensive production three weeks into the season.
“Everybody’s always talking about offense, offense, offense,” Paul said last month, “but the biggest thing I’m talking to him about is defense. Sometimes people forget that’s a part of the game, too. Every question has been about his offensive efficiency, but when you really get competitive in this league, you play defense, too. So, that’s one of the things I try to talk to him about the most.”
Even before Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander stepped on a court together, people inside and outside of the Thunder organization predicted that Paul, 34, would be a good influence on Gilgeous-Alexander, 21.
“Chris is a craftsman,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in September. “What I would say about Chris is he's a technician, actually, if I were to use that word. The guy really understands every aspect of the game and the profession, and he's really got it locked in. Pretty impressive."
Clippers coach Doc Rivers also praised Paul, ahead of Gilgeous-Alexander’s return to Los Angeles with the Thunder last month.
“Him being with Chris is really good for him, too,” Rivers said, “because Chris is so competitive and so smart.”
Paul has wielded that influence to emphasize defense.
As the Thunder headed into its game at Sacramento late Wednesday night, Gilgeous-Alexander hadn't made sweeping changes to the way he played defense his rookie year. By the playoffs last season, the Clippers were asking him to guard Warriors sharp-shooters Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. But Paul has shifted the way Gilgeous-Alexander thinks about defense.
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“It’s just something I’ve never really had a conversation about, honestly,” Gileous-Alexander told The Oklahoman. “No one’s really sat me down and shown me how to read (an opposing team’s) offense the same way you read a defense on the opposite end.”
When the Clippers traded Gilgeous-Alexander to the Thunder, as part of the package for Paul George, it wasn’t immediately apparent that Paul would be in OKC to influence the second-year point guard.
With George gone, Russell Westbrook was likely close behind. But where would he go, and who would replace him?
Paul said at Summer League he told Gilgeous-Alexander he was excited for him, without knowing that a week later Houston would agree to trade Paul to the Thunder. There, the seven-time All-Defensive First Team selection joined the promising young guard.
The Thunder has used a by-committee approach to guarding opposing teams’ best scorers, so Gilgeous-Alexander has already matched up on the likes of Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum. He’s fared well, other than biting on a few pump fakes.
But Paul isn’t focusing on any particular skill when it comes to Gilgeous-Alexander’s defensive development.
“It’s just about being competitive, and he’s shown the ability to do that,” Paul said. “I think all of us as a whole are just making sure that teams know that we’re there.”