Thunder's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander remains one of the NBA's best-kept secrets
CHICAGO — Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie saw the perfect opportunity to get one last jab in.
One solitary reporter was interviewing Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a young player who Dinwiddie shared a trainer with in the offseason, as Dinwiddie left the mixed zone after the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday night.
“Ain’t nobody trying to talk to you,” Dinwiddie said, laughing.
Gilgeous-Alexander was ready with a retort.
“I’m not mad though,” he said, shrugging. “At all.”
As much as Oklahoma City has embraced Gilgeous-Alexander as the future of the Thunder franchise, he remains a best-kept secret on the national scale. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has delayed, if not eliminated, his chance to capture the nation’s attention in the playoffs this year.
That may sound ridiculous to anyone who has followed Gilgeous-Alexander’s sophomore NBA season. He went from averaging 26.5 minutes per game for the Clippers during his rookie season to playing more than 35 minutes per game for the Thunder this season. Gilgeous-Alexander exploded onto the scene, setting career-scoring highs in each of his first two games with OKC. Since then, the 21-year-old has consistently led the Thunder in scoring.
But midway through the season, some visiting writers were still mispronouncing Gilgeous-Alexander’s first name (as SHY, rather than SHAY).
All-Star weekend best illustrated the gap between Gilgeous-Alexander and the NBA's celebrities. But it also illuminated established veterans’ respect for the young Thunder guard.
The media demand for Gilgeous-Alexander shifted as the week progressed. He competed in two events. The Ontario native made his second appearance with the World team in the Rising Stars game, and he was an injury replacement in the skills challenge.
Several of the Rising Stars were already household names. Take Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson, for example. But Gilgeous-Alexander received second-tier applause when announced with the World team.
After the game, Canadian media members, KOKH, The Oklahoman and the Thunder’s in-house digital team huddled around Gilgeous-Alexander’s podium.
But by the next night, after the skills competition, Gilgeous-Alexander’s media crowd had thinned to two one-on-one interviews.
“You’re the only one with less media than me,” Dinwiddie joked on his way to his interview station.
The interview stations, which consisted of a seat and small table in front of a backdrop, were no longer filled with young talent. Instead, Gilgeous-Alexander was surrounded by All-Stars like Jayson Tatum and Kris Middleton. Toronto’s Pascal Siakam drew the Canadian media across the room.
But even with just one reporter’s iPhone trained on Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder guard turned on the charisma that could make him a media darling some day.
“I thought my little … heave was going to go in,” he said, shaking his head with exaggerated disappointment. “It didn’t go in, of course.”
Patrick Beverley, Gilgeous-Alexander’s former Clippers teammate, also competed in the skills challenge, but he didn’t sit at his station until the other contestants had finished their interviews. The hoard of L.A. media wasn’t going anywhere, no matter the eight-year veteran’s tardiness.
“That’s like a little brother to me,” Beverley said when asked what it was like having Gilgeous-Alexander in the skills challenge. “I love him to death.
“For me, having him as a rookie backcourt mate (last season), I would just tell him the things to get ready for after All-Star: better preparation, better rest, the scouting reports — I told him he has to add another move when it comes to the playoffs because he’s going to be scouted a lot. So, just to keep feeding him that information because he’s going to be a star in this league, for sure.”
Outside of Oklahoma, he isn’t quite there yet.