Much attention has been given to all the picks that the Clippers sent to the Thunder in the Paul George trade but the franchise also received Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in addition to Danilo Gallinari. The Italian forward has just one season left on his deal but Gilgeous-Alexander is expected to remain with the franchise long-term and become the point guard of the future in Oklahoma City.
The 6’6″ point guard won’t yet take the reigns of the franchise, as future Hall of Famer Chris Paul remains on the roster. Whenever the Thunder decided to let SGA lead the team, he should be able to handle that role. He has believers both in the professional and collegiate levels. One former executive told Hoops Rumors that SGA was the more valuable than any player or asset among the presumed Anthony Davis contenders (Lakers, Clippers, Celtics, Knicks) earlier in the summer, topping the polished Jayson Tatum.
During the point guard’s lone season at Kentucky, coach John Calipari could see the potential in Gilgeous-Alexander, whose mother ran the 400-meter race for Canada at the 1992 Olympics. Calipari knew he was going to make it to the NBA.
“I looked at our [players] and said, ‘You guys know who’s the best in practice? Who comes every day? Who brings it? He does,’” Calipari said (via The Athletic’s Brett Dawson ). “I told them, ‘You know what? He’s making himself a lottery pick.’”
Calipari has coached several star point guards. Derrick Rose played under the coach at Memphis. John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, and De’Aaron Fox are among the point guards to play under Calipari at Kentucky.
The latest Kentucky team made it to the Sweet 16 despite a lack of outside shooting. “By the end, he had just taken over the team,” Calipari said. “We won the games we won because of him.”
The Clippers didn’t get the opportunity to draft Gilgeous-Alexander, as the Hornets took him at No. 11. Los Angeles had to put a package together to acquire his draft rights. Calipari had spoken to Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell before the event, raving about SGA. “He’s the one,” Calipari told Cassell. “He’s the one in this draft.”
Gilgeous-Alexander had a strong rookie season in Los Angeles, playing a meaningful role for a team that overachieved and made the playoffs. SGA’s success didn’t shock those who had spent time with him.
“There was no real big learning curve for him when he went to the NBA, because he’d already been approaching everything as if he was a professional,” Kentucky’s assistant coach Joel Justus said.
“He was on time, he was early for class, he paid attention, he was respectful of everyone around the university, he was engaging with fans. Everything you see in guys that are successful at being a basketball player, on and off the floor, he had a very good grasp of before he even came to us.”
The Thunder’s rebuild is just beginning. With several veterans on the roster, the team could spend the 2019/20 competing for a playoff spot and SGA’s role as the leader of the team may have to wait. Regardless, Gilgeous-Alexander will be part of the future in Oklahoma City.
“If you’re gonna do what they’re gonna do, it’s gonna be about culture,” Calipari said. “It’s gonna be about, how quickly can these young guys create an environment that is gonna help us succeed — how we’re gonna play and how we’re gonna work and all that stuff. That’s what this is. That’s what he did for us.”