OKC Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finally gets chance to 'run the team' as primary point guard
The season was only a month old, but there were already questions as to why Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder’s point guard of the future, wasn’t playing point guard.
“I would tell those folks to just chill,” Doc Rivers said before a Thunder-Clippers game in mid-November at Staples Center.
Rivers coached Gilgeous-Alexander in his rookie season with the Clippers, and Rivers was set to face his former player for the first time.
“I like him better now, personally,” Rivers said. “Because when you watch Shai in the games, he still has the ball in his hands a lot. The responsibility of bringing the ball up the floor every time is hard, and he has a lot of time for that. He’ll have that at some point.”
That time has arrived, at least temporarily.
With Dennis Schröder gone from the bubble for the birth of his second child, Gilgeous-Alexander will get a chance to run the Thunder offense by himself.
Chris Paul will still start at point guard, with Gilgeous-Alexander playing off the ball, but Thunder coach Billy Donovan will have to stagger the minutes of Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander without a third point guard available.
“We’re going to at times only have one of them out there,” Donovan said. “Shai’s gonna have to run the team. I feel like Shai’s prepared for that, can handle it and he’ll do a great job.”
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Gilgeous-Alexander was the only Thunder point guard on the floor for 13 minutes Monday in an overtime loss to the Nuggets. That number might go up Wednesday against the Lakers, as Gilgeous-Alexander dealt with foul trouble against Denver.
Including Monday, Gilgeous-Alexander has only played point guard for 91 minutes this season, according to Basketball Reference’s estimate. That accounts for 4% of his playing time. He played shooting guard or small forward 96% of the time.
Gilgeous-Alexander regularly shared the floor with either Paul or Schröder, or often both to close games. The Paul/Gilgeous-Alexander/Schröder lineup was the most lethal three-man combination in the NBA by net rating, outscoring opponents by 28.6 points per 100 possessions.
That lineup will be shelved until Schröder returns.
Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander will likely share the court to start and end halves, but in between it will be one or the other running the offense on his own.
“That’s not something that’s super foreign to me,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s averaging a team-high 19.4 points per game. “I’ve been a lead guard my whole life. I’ll just be getting back to what I’m used to.”
The 22-year-old has the size at 6-foot-6 to play on the wing, but point guard was always his position until this season. It’s what he primarily played in his rookie year with the Clippers, in college at Kentucky and as a heralded high school prospect.
But Gilgeous-Alexander was forced to adapt when he joined a Thunder roster that included two established veteran point guards in Paul and Schröder.
“It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but I can honestly say it’s made me better,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “And it’ll make me into the player I want to be. If you look at all the great teams, and the great players, in order for them to win they had to be able to play multiple positions and not only stick to one. And that’s the player that I ultimately want to be when I’m done with this game.”
Thunder vs. Lakers
When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: HP Field House in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
TV: ESPN (Cox 29), Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37)
Radio: WWLS-AM 640 / 98.1 FM