Thunder roundtable: How many All-Star games are in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's future?
The first half of the NBA season is in the books, and it’s time for everyone to take a breath before another 36-game sprint begins.
“It’s a good time to take a mental and physical reprieve,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “Everybody can kind of detach.
“The season has just been unrelenting up until this point. The schedule comes really fast, the games are emotional, you wanna do well … Just the emotions of the first half with the condensed schedule, we certainly need this.”
With the All-Star game on Sunday, we thought it was a good time to look back on the Thunder’s first half and answer a few questions about what’s next.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was left out of the All-Star game. Looking ahead, over/under 3.5 All-Star appearances for SGA?
Jenni Carlson, columnist: I'll take the under, but I'll probably be wrong. Gilgeous-Alexander is a superb young player. Only 22, he's got a big window to be an All-Star multiple times. The reason I say under is this: the Western Conference is so stacked with great players that he may play at an All-Star level many years and not make the game. He'll be an All-Star, but playing in the West is going to work against him for the foreseeable future.
Berry Tramel, columnist: I’ll go under, but I probably would have gone over at 2.5. I love SGA and think he will be a star. But the Western Conference is crowded, and you never know what the future could hold. If the Thunder emerges in the next couple of years as a playoff contender again, Gilgeous-Alexander's All-Star hopes go way up.
Joe Mussatto, Thunder beat writer: I’ll take the over. Gilgeous-Alexander probably would’ve been an All-Star this season if the Thunder was better. That certainly matters to coaches who pick the reserves. For example, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 23.2 points, 6.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds on 51% shooting. Donovan Mitchell, playing for the league-leading Jazz, was just named to his second All-Star team while averaging 24.7 points, 5.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds on 42% shooting. Still just 22, Gilgeous-Alexander has made significant leaps in each of his first three seasons. I’ll be surprised if he’s not an All-Star in 2022, regardless of where the Thunder sits in the standings.
Which Thunder player has most surprised you — good or bad — in the first half?
Carlson: Hamidou Diallo. Though Lu Dort, Kenrich Williams and Isaiah Roby have made me sit up and take notice in a good way, too. But Diallo's improvement has been bigger and better than I could've ever imagined. He has talked about his surging numbers being a product of increased opportunity, and while his minutes are up, the increase doesn't account for the jump he's made in points, rebounds, assists and everything else.
Tramel: Luguentz Dort is a WAY better offensive player than I ever thought he could be. Not that Dort is above average or anything. His 3-point shot remains a work in progress. But Dort is aggressive and unafraid. He’s got more offensive daring than any of the other Thunder defensive specialists over the years. Terrance Ferguson averaged 0.7 foul shots per 36 minutes as a Thunder. Andre Roberson 1.4. Thabo Sefolosha 1.45. Dort is averaging 3.0.
Mussatto: Darius Bazley. I put too much stock into his breakout bubble performance and expected him to make a big jump in Year 2. Instead, his per-36 numbers look about the same as last season. He’s shooting 39% (same as last year) from the field and 29% from 3-point range — down from 35%. But it’s far too early to give up on Bazley. He’s 20 years old and is still trying to find a feel for the NBA game. He’s also averaged 31 minutes per game in 36 starts after being eased in as a rookie, when he averaged 19 minutes off the bench. Bazley did end the first half on a high note. Maybe he can establish some game-to-game consistency in the second half.
Which player are you most intrigued to watch in the second half?
Carlson: I'll go with Dort. He's intriguing any time he plays because of what he does defensively. But I'm curious to see how he plays in what is really his first FULL season in the NBA. He only played 36 regular-season games last season. He's already played 35 this season. How will he hold up, especially with how hard he plays? And will Dort find consistency on offense? He can swing high, but he can also go low. Settling into something more stable offensively would be a good step forward.
Tramel: Theo Maledon. As a 19-year-old rookie, he’s playing solid minutes, on and off the ball. There’s no telling who or what he could become. The low side seems to be Eric Maynor. The high seems to be his mentor, Tony Parker.
Mussatto: Aleksej Pokusevski. You don’t know what you’re going to get, but you know it’s going to be entertaining. Pokusevski’s highlights in the G League bubble ranged from slick behind-the-back passes to inadvertently calling for the ball from the bench. It’s easy to see the upside — a 7-footer shooting threes and passing like a point guard. But there’s a long, long ways to go for the 19-year-old rookie, and no one knows if Pokusevski will stick as an NBA player.
Will the Thunder make a trade by the March 25 trade deadline? If so, who will be on their way out?
Carlson: It's hard to think OKC won't do something. That's the Thunder Way right now. I'm assuming Al Horford is the most attractive trade option right now. He's playing really good basketball on a really inexperienced team, no easy task. And since the Thunder has rested him for one half of every back-to-back, Horford's tires haven't been run off. A veteran who's playing well and has fresh legs will entice some team trying to add a little more for the playoffs.
Tramel: I will say yes, but it won’t be easy. The market is funny in this COVID season. A source told me the Thunder likely couldn’t have made the Steven Adams trade had it waited until the season started. But I’ll say the Thunder manages to get a deal done for George Hill. His contract is not problematic, ala Horford.
Mussatto: Yes, and I think Hill and Trevor Ariza are the most likely to be moved. Hill is recovering from right thumb surgery, but he should be healthy by the trade deadline. His 3-point shooting, combo-guard skills and playoff experience could help any contender. And don’t forget about Ariza. He never reported to the Thunder, which was fine by the team, but Ariza has been working out on his own and he has a tradeable $12.8 million contract. Ariza shot 37% from 3-point range last season.
The Thunder is 15-21 at the halfway point. What will its final record be and why?
Carlson: First, an admission: I predicted the Thunder would go 17-55 before the season started. I was way, WAY off. I had no idea how hard this team would play. They have serious limitations, but intensity and energy are not among them. I'll go with the same second-half record as the first and a final 30-42 record, and they'll do it the same way they won 15 games so far. With energy.
Tramel: Don’t ask me. I picked OKC to win 15 games all season. The Thunder is on pace to win 30 and won’t get that, but I assume something along the lines of 25-47 is probably likely. Still too good to go into the lottery with a lot of hope.
Mussatto: I too was way off, picking the Thunder to go 19-53. My new prediction is 28-44. Trading Hill might bump that down a win or two. Trading Horford would do the same, though that’ll be difficult. But Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as a star and the Thunder plays hard every night. That alone pushes the win total higher than expected. The Thunder has played itself into an uncomfortable middle ground. Not good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to like its lottery odds. The Rockets pick swap is still hovering out there, but the Thunder needs Houston to fall outside the top four on lottery night.
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›
Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball. He previously covered University of Kentucky football and basketball for SEC Country. Mussatto is from Oklahoma City and lives in Norman. Read more ›