'Dunking wasn’t in it for me today': Shai Gilgeous-Alexander enjoys Rising Stars game a night after Thunder win
CHICAGO — Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dribbled behind his back and then threaded the ball through his legs. The crowd let out an “Oh.”
That reaction had been reserved for dunks so far in the Rising Stars game, but that kind of flashiness wasn’t Gilgeous-Alexander’s style. Gilgeous-Alexander recorded 16 points, three rebounds and three assists for Team World, representing both OKC and Canada. But Team USA staged a second-half comeback to win 151-131.
It was Gilgeous-Alexander’s second Rising Stars appearance in as many seasons in the NBA. He started in the showcase Friday, a sign that, well, his star was rising.
Last season, Gilgeous-Alexander was the World’s sixth man. He played more minutes than any other reserve on his team. But still, he was coming off the bench.
At that point, Gilgeous-Alexander, a Clippers rookie at the time, had started in 50 of his 59 appearances. He was shooting 33 percent from 3-point range – he would make a staggering 43.8 percent of his 3-point shots after the break – and averaging 10.1 points per game.
This year, Gilgeous-Alexander’s average minutes have increased by almost 10. He’s the Thunder’s leading scorer (19.5 points per game). He’s the only Thunder player who has started every game.
During player introductions Friday, the crowd reserved its biggest ovations for rookie of the year frontrunner Ja Morant, and household names like Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson. But Gilgeous Alexander’s welcome was respectable.
It would get louder when he showed off his ball handling.
The hoops took such a beating from the players around Gilgeous-Alexander that halftime also became basket-fixing time. Soon after Wlliamson threw down a particularly vicious dunk, a level had to be brought out to straighten the basket.
Was Gilgeous-Alexander tempted to throw one down too?
“Absolutely not,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I played last night, and dunking wasn’t in it for me today.”
Thunder guard Chris Paul, who will play in the All-Star game Sunday, sat courtside.
“He was heckling me a little bit, trying to bribe to go for MVP,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “It was cool. It was fun.”
Gilgoeus-Alexander still didn't bite. Even after he shook two defenders with that behind-the-back and through-the-legs move, Gilgeous-Alexander scored with a smooth scoop shot. Very on brand. By halftime, Gilgeous-Alexander had a quiet nine points on 6-of-7 shooting. His one miss was from behind the arc.
Also different this year? Gilgeous-Alexander played alongside his cousin, Pelicans rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker. They were teammates back in high school, and that chemistry apparently hadn’t died. They got to share the court in the second half.
Early in the third quarter, Gilgeous-Alexander bounced a pass to Alexander-Walker as they ran the court. Alexander-Walker threw a pass inside to Brandon Clarke for a layup.
“I left him a drop off in transition and he didn’t shoot it,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, smiling. “I’m going to have to talk to him about that. But other than that, that was fun.”