OKLAHOMA CITY — “Point Guard of the Future” has been the unofficial title bestowed upon 21-year old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Ever since the Paul George trade went down in early July, the Thunder’s fanbase has been married to the hope that Gilgeous-Alexander would be their next star point guard.
After one game — a 100-95 loss to the Utah Jazz — Gilgeous-Alexander played exclusively off-ball. He also never registered a second of play on the floor without either Chris Paul or Dennis Schroder on the floor.
It’s difficult to be the future when you have yet to begin.
But this is all according to plan from the Thunder. Gilgeous-Alexander was able to play spectacular basketball last night. He scored a career high 26-points — two shy of an Oklahoma City debut record held by George in 2017. Gilgeous-Alexander even received an unprompted shout-out from Donovan Mitchell following the game.
To suggest that Gilgeous-Alexander’s low assist numbers in the preseason mean his ability to play point is lacking in unwise. Billy Donovan’s desire to not play him without one of the other two point guards is for a purpose. While OKC still has Paul and Schroder, it gives Gilgeous-Alexander an environment to develop his game in other ways.
“If you said to me ‘what’s his position?’ I would say he’s a point guard,” Donovan said at practice Thursday. “I would say he’s a point guard but if they’re off the ball sometimes, what that does is when you’re off the ball is it gives you a better understanding of what those guys are dealing with when you are actually at the point. How to get other people involved, what’s going on in the game.”
The luxury the Thunder find themselves in with a young point guard playing with a future Hall of Fame point guard in Paul has been discussed enough by this point. Donovan sees only benefit in Gilgeous-Alexander watching and learning at this stage.
“Chris Paul who’s got obviously an incredible resume, he can really learn from watching that or seeing that. What is he doing? What is he running? How is he managing the game,” Donovan said. “And then he can also know ‘ok, I know what I feel like off the ball’ now I’m at the point I know what it feels like for somebody off the ball and how I’m managing the game and how I’m doing.”
The Thunder are aware of what they have in Gilgeous-Alexander.
“I think that Shai is more than capable of running the point,” Donovan added. “I think he’s more than capable of running a team I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
In the meantime, Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to score and create off the dribble will be on display. He brings a different element to the floor than what Thunder fans are accustomed to. The intricate skills Gilgeous-Alexander possesses give Donovan hope for his future.
“The thing that is going to make him a special player is all the things that nobody can see,” Donovan said. “It’s his disposition, his makeup, it’s how he internalizes areas he’s got to get better at, his competitiveness.”
“He’s got a lot of – I would say he has the ‘it’ factor. He’s just got ‘it’ in a lot of things.”
There will be a time when Gilgeous-Alexander is leading the team on the floor. Until then, he can develop comfortably and absorb the wisdom from his veteran teammates.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12. For Sooner fans, you can also listen to the “Inside OU” podcast with John Hoover, Rufus Alexander and Brady. Brady is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma class of 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports