Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Thunder Notes: Holmgren, Pokusevski, SGA, Sefolosha

The presence of 7’1″ rookie Chet Holmgren has added a lob threat to the Thunder‘s offense, writes Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman. By December, the team had already thrown more lobs than it did all of last season, when Holmgren was sidelined with a foot injury. The ability to target Holmgren around the rim gives opposing defenses one more weapon to worry about.

“It’s something we’ve definitely tried to highlight, especially against switches,” coach Mark Daigneault said. “If they’re gonna put a smaller guy on him and switch him, we have to throw the ball up to him.” 

Holmgren had to learn how to establish position in the post before the lob game became effective, Lorenzi adds. He’s grown more comfortable as the season has worn on, and his teammates have figured out the best ways to get the ball to him.

“Just trusting the process of things,” Holmgren said. “Knowing that not everything is gonna be perfect from Day 1. … We have a lot to work on outside of being better at throwing lobs, catching lobs, playing out of actions that lead to lobs. We just got to continue to work at everything.”

There’s more from Oklahoma City:

  • Even though the Thunder decided to waive Aleksej Pokusevski this week, Daigneault is proud of how the forward developed his skills during his time with the organization, Lorenzi tweets. “(When he was drafted) I didn’t think he really had a great understanding of his own game as a professional player,” Daigneault said. “… Three and a half years later, I think he’s improved in all those things. And that’s what we want to be about.” 
  • Tim MacMahon of ESPN looks back at the 2019 trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers in exchange for a package that included Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. McMahon states that general manager Sam Presti‘s insistence that SGA be included may have set up the next NBA dynasty. “I didn’t see it coming,” Gilgeous-Alexander recalled. “I’m not like, ‘Why would you do that?’ It made sense. I think Paul just came off like an MVP-caliber year. … I used it a little bit as motivation just to get better and really turn myself into that caliber of player.”
  • Thabo Sefolosha, who was part of the greatest seasons in Thunder history, sees similarities between his teams and the current roster, per Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. “I see a lot of what we had, people not expecting them to be this good,” said Sefolosha, who was a guest at Friday’s game as part of Thunder Legacy Weekend. “Super-competitive team. Extremely talented. Credit to Sam. He finds a way. You cannot doubt the man.” 

Northwest Notes: Henderson, Reath, OKC’s Big Three, Johnson

Trail Blazers guard Scoot Henderson has earned another opportunity to be a starter, according to Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Henderson was reinserted into the starting five on Thursday, contributing 15 points and four assists against Minnesota.

“He’s made so many advancements, he’s just doing so good,” coach Chauncey Billups said. “And also, I just felt like as a young player, I want him to learn everything he gets. And he’s played so well on both sides of the floor.”

Henderson feels that having a former star point guard like Billups to coach him has aided his development, he told Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports.

“I take hard coaching very well,” said Henderson, who participated in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend. “When I was growing up, my dad was really hard on me. He taught me lessons, and I’m glad I went through things when I was younger, rather than learning them now. I had Coach [Jason] Hart last year, and he’s not easy to be coached by. Chauncey is coaching me hard, but it’s more information rather than just pounding on me.”

We have more from Northwest Division:

  • Trail Blazers big man Duop Reath‘s new three-year contract is guaranteed for two seasons and non-guaranteed for the third, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, who tweets that Portland used $1.95MM of its non-tax mid level exception to sign him. The Blazers are now $1.3MM below the luxury tax, adds Marks, noting that Reath’s first-year salary is five times more than the minimum for a first-year player.
  • The Thunder now have a new Big Three in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. While that trio might not reach the levels of OKC’s former Big Three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, it’s amazing how quickly the franchise has assembled three top-level talents in the early stages of their careers, Mussatto observes.
  • Thunder second-round pick Keyontae Johnson participated in the NBA G League Next Up game on Sunday. It’s another achievement for a player who faced a major health crisis. Sports Illustrated’s Rylan Stiles details Johnson’s journey to the pros after he collapsed on the court while playing for the University of Florida due to a heart condition. Johnson was initially told by doctors he would never play competitive basketball again.

And-Ones: MVP Race, 2024 Draft, Korkmaz, Okafor, More

With Joel Embiid no longer eligible for this season’s MVP award due to the number of games he has missed, the race appears wide open, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN, who conducted another version of his straw poll ahead of the All-Star break.

The 100 media members polled over the weekend by MacMahon selected Nuggets center Nikola Jokic as the current MVP favorite, with Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the runner-up. Jokic earned 69 first-place votes and was the only player selected by all 100 voters on their five-player ballots, while Gilgeous-Alexander was listed on 99 ballots and was the top choice on 24 of them.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, and Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard rounded out the top five in Bontemps’ latest poll, with Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, and Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell also appearing on double-digit ballots. Notably, while just four of 100 media members had Anthony Edwards in their top five, one made the Timberwolves guard their MVP choice.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Although Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo of ESPN (Insider link) still feel as if the 2024 draft class is short on high-end talent, they believe it could end up being a relatively deep draft. Givony and Woo suggest that some teams will be able to find rotation players later in the first round or in the second round, even if there are no sure-fire stars at the top of the class.
  • After being traded from Philadelphia to Indiana and then waived by the Pacers, veteran swingman Furkan Korkmaz has turned down interest from Turkish club Besiktas for now and is hoping to remain in the NBA, according to a report from Eurohoops. Korkmaz didn’t play much for the Sixers the past two seasons, but is still just 26 years old and is a 36.1% three-point shooter over the past five years.
  • Former lottery pick Jahlil Okafor is on the move again, having recently signed with Puerto Rican team Capitanes de Arecibo, as Dario Skerletic of Sportando relays. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Okafor played in Spain and China earlier this season. He last played in the NBA with Detroit in 2020/21.
  • Grizzlies guard Vince Williams has been chosen to replace injured Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels in this Friday’s Rising Stars game at All-Star weekend, while Indiana Mad Ants guard Kyle Mangas will replace Sixers two-way player Kenneth Lofton Jr. in the G League Next Up game, according to a pair of announcements from the NBA and NBAGL.

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Sharpe, SGA, Agbaji

Fans welcomed Bucks guard Damian Lillard back to Portland Wednesday night with a minute-long standing ovation, writes Jamal Collier of ESPN. The long-time franchise icon remains a popular figure in the city, even after a trade request that led to a summer of rumors and a standoff with management. Lillard expressed his love for Trail Blazers fans and suggested that he would like to return to the organization before his career is over.

“Because of how I feel about Portland,” he said. “How I feel about the organization here and my time that I spent here, in my mind I’ve always felt like that’s how my career would end. Right now, I’m just in a space of like, this is where I am now. I’m in Milwaukee. I wanted the opportunity to contend, and our team has an opportunity to contend for this year and years to come, and I’m just living in that. But I definitely, when I was traded, I see a day where I’ll be in a Trail Blazer uniform again before I’m done.”

Lillard asked to leave because he wants the chance to compete for a championship and he believed the Blazers’ front office was more focused on rebuilding. He admits that his relationship with the team became contentious and says he hasn’t talked to general manager Joe Cronin since the deal with Milwaukee was completed. He added that he still follows the team, particularly Anfernee Simons, whom he helped to mentor.

“You just feel the appreciation and the love,” Lillard said after the game. “I just kind of stood in it. It was like, man, this is a big deal. Just take that moment and to have everybody in the building just show me that type of love, acknowledgement of a lot of things during my time here. So, I appreciated it.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Trail Blazers guard Shaedon Sharpe is making progress in his recovery from a lower abdominal strain and will begin “light on-court activities,” the team announced on Twitter. Sharpe has been sidelined since suffering the injury in a January 11 game.
  • Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was surprised to be named an All-Star starter ahead of Stephen Curry, but his teammates recognize that the honor is well deserved, notes Marc J. Spears of Andscape. “Everybody has bought in, but it starts with him,” Chet Holmgren said. “Leadership has to start with the guy we’re looking at from the time we walk into the gym until we leave. He is one of those dudes and he stepped into that role extremely well.”
  • Ochai Agbaji is battling a shooting slump, but his contributions on defense have kept him in the Jazz lineup, per Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. “It is kind of tough,” he said. “Trying to stay ready and having in my mind that I need to get a make, and trying to make the right moves and knowing I don’t have the luxury of a lot of shots is hard. But you still have to stay ready and keep your mind right and just be ready to shoot.”

Anthony Edwards Rips Officiating After Win Over Thunder

The Timberwolves picked up a big victory on Monday in a battle between two of the top teams in the Western Conference, defeating the Thunder in Oklahoma City by a score of 107-101. According to Wolves star Anthony Edwards, Minnesota got the win despite a “terrible” performance from the game’s referees.

“I’m going to take the fine, because the refs did not give us no calls tonight,” Edwards said on the Timberwolves’ television broadcast after the game, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Edwards continued to criticize the officiating after heading to the locker room, bringing it up without prompting during a conversation with MacMahon.

“The refs was bad tonight. Yeah, they was terrible. We was playing 8-on-5,” said Edwards, who felt he deserved far more than the four free throws he received. “The cat got their tongue tonight, so it’s all good. It’s not fair, but it’s all good.”

Following a January 20 home loss to Oklahoma City, Edwards griped about the whistle that All-Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was getting, telling reporters at the time that “you can’t touch him any time of the game” and adding that it was difficult to beat the Thunder “when they’re getting calls like that.”

As MacMahon notes, Gilgeous-Alexander went to the foul line 16 times on Monday, shooting one more free throw than the 15 Minnesota attempted as a team. Edwards referred to the Thunder star as “super good,” but suggested that he was benefiting from fouls that weren’t being called both ways.

“I haven’t earned (referees’ respect) yet, so it’s OK,” Edwards said. “But I think tonight was bad from the refs. It was terrible. We didn’t get no calls as a team. I got fouled multiple times, and I’m walking up to the ref telling him, ‘Hey, can you watch this?’ They just shaking their head. Yeah. And then soon somebody come down from their team and get bumped, it’s a foul. So I just feel like it wasn’t a fair game tonight from the jump. And so that’s why I’m super happy we won the game.”

While Edwards was willing to risk a fine from the NBA league office by expressing his frustration after the game, he didn’t let that frustration affect his performance on the court. The Wolves guard scored a team-high 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting in his 40 minutes of action.

“He was poised,” teammate Rudy Gobert said, per MacMahon. “He didn’t get the calls but kept his poise, trusted his teammates and made the right play I think 95% of the time, which is amazing.”

2024 All-Star Starters Revealed; LeBron Sets Selection Record

The NBA revealed the 2024 All-Star Game starters on Thursday night, with Lakers forward LeBron James leading the pack with his record-breaking 20th straight selection. James has been a starter since 2005, his second season in the league, and broke his tie with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most selections in league history (Twitter link via NBA PR).

James and Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will serve as captains. Joining James as Western Conference starters are Suns forward Kevin Durant, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. James is a captain for a seventh straight year.

Joining Antetokounmpo as Eastern Conference All-Star starters are Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, Bucks guard Damian Lillard, Sixers center Joel Embiid and Celtics forward Jayson Tatum.

Thursday’s selections represent milestones for several players. Antetokounmpo is making his eighth career start and was the top vote-getter. Lillard is making his first career All-Star start. Haliburton is the fourth player in Pacers history to be named an All-Star starter, joining Paul George, Reggie Miller and Jermaine O’Neal (Twitter link). Embiid is a starter after not being named one in his MVP season a year ago. Tatum is making his fifth All-Star Game.

In the West, Doncic set the Mavs’ franchise record with four All-Star Game starts. Jokic was first in player and media voting en route to his sixth straight selection. Gilgeous-Alexander is making his first start. Durant is making his 14th All-Star appearance.

The starters are selected by a weighted voting process with the fan vote accounting for half of the final outcome. The player and media portions of the vote each counted for 25 percent. Three frontcourt players and two guards were selected from each conference.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps writes there was little drama in the selections for the starting positions. The voting totals from fans didn’t vary much from week to week, with Embiid, Haliburton, Tatum, Antetokounmpo, James, Jokic and Durant well ahead in their respective positions. The second guard spot in the East was more competitive, with Lillard and Hawks guard Trae Young going back and forth in fan voting. The guard spots in the West were also tight, with Doncic, Gilgeous-Alexander and Warriors guard Stephen Curry close in voting. Bontemps points out Lillard finished well ahead of Knicks guard Jalen Brunson in fan voting to earn the starting nod.

Full voting results can be found here.

The coaches for each All-Star team will be determined via the standings on Feb. 4, with the top-seeded coach taking the reins for each conference. However, Boston’s Joe Mazzulla and Denver’s Michael Malone are ineligible by virtue of the fact that they coached the two teams last season. Entering Thursday, the Thunder and Timberwolves are tied atop the West while the Bucks are next up behind the Celtics in the East, with the Sixers one game behind Milwaukee.

This year, the league is returning to the East vs. West format, so these players are suiting up for their respective conferences in the 73rd NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 18.

The reserves, who are picked by the league’s coaches, will be announced Feb. 1.

Minimum Game Requirement For Awards Looms Large For Super-Max Candidates

As we detailed back in September, there are several players around the NBA who would benefit financially from making an All-NBA team or winning a Most Valuable Player of Defensive Player of the Year award in 2023/24.

Heat big man Bam Adebayo, Kings guard De’Aaron Fox, Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram, Nuggets guard Jamal Murray are among the players who would become eligible to sign a super-max (Designated Veteran) contract during the 2024 offseason by earning one of those honors this season.

Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could ensure they become eligible to sign a super-max extension in 2025 by making this year’s All-NBA team. Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. could do the same by winning a second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award.

Additionally, Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, and Hornets guard LaMelo Ball signed maximum-salary rookie scale extensions that will be worth 30% of next season’s salary cap (instead of 25%) if they make an All-NBA team this spring. These “Rose Rule” contracts are essentially “mini” super-max deals.

Not all of those 10 players look like legitimate All-NBA, MVP, or DPOY candidates this season, but many of them will be in the mix. However, as Tim Bontemps and Bobby Marks write at, the newly implemented 65-game minimum requirement for award winners looms large for this group.

Without appearing in 65 games (including at least 63 of 20-plus minutes and two of 15-plus minutes), these players will be ineligible to earn an All-NBA spot, and without that end-of-season honor, they won’t be in position to receive a higher maximum salary.

According to Bontemps and Marks, a player who misses more than 17 of his team’s games, falling short of appearing in the required 65, can technically still qualify for award recognition, but only in very specific scenarios:

  1. If the player appeared in at least 62 games (and 85% of his team’s games to that point) and then suffers a season-ending injury.
  2. If the player files a grievance and presents “clear and convincing evidence” that his team limited his games or his minutes with the intention of depriving him of award eligibility.

While there’s also a clause for “extraordinary circumstances,” the NBA and NBPA don’t expect that clause to apply to injury absences, since it would essentially defeat the purpose of the rule, per ESPN’s duo.

Of the 10 players mentioned above, one is already ineligible for a major end-of-season award — Ball has appeared in just 19 of the Hornets’ first 39 games due to an ankle injury, so even if he doesn’t miss a game for the rest of the season, he’ll max out at 62 appearances. Given Charlotte’s spot in the standings, Ball would have been an All-NBA long shot anyway, but he has been playing at a very high level when he’s been healthy.

The 65-game mark remains within reach for the rest of this group, though some players can’t really afford any sort of extended absence. Adebayo, for instance, has missed 10 of Miami’s 42 games so far and only logged 12 minutes in an 11th, which means it won’t count toward his 65. Seven more missed games would cost him his award eligibility.

Murray is in a similar spot — he has missed 14 of Denver’s 43 games and played just 10 minutes in a 15th, so three more missed games would make him ineligible for award consideration.

Doncic has missed seven games for the Mavericks, while Fox has missed six for the Kings, so they’re on pace to play in enough games, but if either player turns an ankle or tweaks a hamstring and is forced to the sidelines for a couple weeks, he’d be in trouble.

It looked like that might happen with Haliburton, who sat out just three of the Pacers’ first 36 games, then strained his hamstring earlier this month. He was expected to be unavailable for at least a couple weeks, but returned to action on Friday night, ahead of schedule, after missing just five contests.

Haliburton is a legitimate All-NBA candidate and would be in line for a projected $41MM pay increase across his five-year extension if he earns one of those 15 spots. Were those financial considerations a factor in his early return to action? Would he still have been inactive on Friday if that 65-game minimum weren’t in play?

It’s hard to imagine the Pacers allowing their franchise player to risk potential re-injury by coming back too early, but Haliburton certainly has a ton of motivation to play in every game he can this year.

As Howard Beck of The Ringer writes, that 65-game minimum will be a fascinating subplot to follow in the second half of the season. Although we’ve focused here on players whose future earnings could be directly tied to whether or not they claim an end-of-season award, there are many other potential All-NBA candidates who may fall short of 65 games, changing the equation for voters.

Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Zion Williamson, and Lauri Markkanen are among the stars who have been out for eight or more games so far this season, Beck observes. Kevin Durant has missed seven.

The 65-game minimum isn’t necessary to earn votes for Sixth Man of the Year, Rookie of the Year, or an All-Rookie spot, but the other major awards require at least 65 appearances.

In 2023, five of the 15 players who made an All-NBA team appeared in fewer than 65 games, but that won’t be the case in 2024. The players who have the most riding on All-NBA honors from a financial perspective may be the ones most motivated to stay on the court, but as Adebayo points out, you “can’t stop injuries from happening.”

“God forbid nobody gets hurt, but you can’t [prevent] injury,” he said, per Bontemps and Marks. “I think it’s crazy that we even have the rule. It’s one of those things where you just accept the rule. … I guess use your 17 games as wisely as possible.”

Northwest Notes: Jokic, George, Ayton, Blazers, Gobert

Sixers star Joel Embiid racked up 41 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds in a comeback victory over the Nuggets on Tuesday, but after the game he had nothing but praise for opposing center and fellow MVP Nikola Jokic, as Bennett Durando of The Denver Post writes.

Embiid joked that there’s a “war” on Twitter between Sixers and Nuggets fans about which player is better, but suggested that Jokic has earned that honor, at least for now, after leading Denver to a championship in 2023.

“He deserves (the title of best in the NBA),” Embiid said. “Until you knock him down, that’s the best in the league, and he’s the Finals MVP. So until someone else takes that away, then you can claim that.

“But then again,” Embiid continued, with a smile. “I also believe in myself. … I’ve just gotta get there.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Following a victory over Oklahoma City on Tuesday, Paul George said the 2019 trade that sent him from the Thunder to the Clippers for a package that included Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and several first-round picks has been a win for both sides — and acknowledged that it may have been a bigger win for OKC. “I just think both sides won. I did think it was quite a lot that the Clippers were willing to give up, but their commitment to me is my commitment to them,” George said (Twitter video link via Joey Linn of “… We knew Shai was gonna be really, really good, but he’s special. In a way, Oklahoma won that trade with picks and a future MVP. Great trade for both sides.”
  • After missing the Trail Blazers‘ past 11 games due to a knee issue, starting center Deandre Ayton was on track to return Wednesday vs. Brooklyn, but icy conditions in Portland prevented him from getting to the game, as Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report tweets. Ayton will presumably be available on Friday vs. Indiana.
  • Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups tried a new starting lineup on Wednesday, with Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons, Malcolm Brogdon, Duop Reath, and Jabari Walker making up the 19th starting five the team has used this season. After the game, Billups explained that he wanted to make a change due to the slow starts the Blazers had been having (Twitter link via Highkin). The original plan, Billups added, was to move Shaedon Sharpe into Scoot Henderson‘s starting spot, but Sharpe is sidelined with an abdominal injury.
  • While Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert has been lauded for a bounce-back season on defense, he lauded his teammates for making things easier on him at the end of the court, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. “We got people that can guard. We got people that can move their feet and take the challenge,” Gobert said.

Gilgeous-Alexander, Antetokounmpo Named Players Of Month

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo have been named the Western and Eastern Conference Players of the Month, respectively, for December, according to the NBA (Twitter link).

Gilgeous-Alexander led his team to a 10-3 record during the month while averaging 31.9 points, 6.6 assists and 3.1 steals per game. Antetokounmpo carried the Bucks to an 11-2 mark in December, posting averages of 32.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists per night.

Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant, Anthony Edwards, De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Kawhi Leonard were the other nominees in the West.

Bam Adebayo, Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Donovan Mitchell, Julius Randle, Coby White and Derrick White were the other nominees in the East.

Gilgeous-Alexander, Haliburton Named Players Of The Week

Two of the NBA’s best guards have earned Player of the Week honors for the week of December 25-31, with Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander winning the Western Conference award and Tyrese Haliburton of the Pacers claiming the award in the East (Twitter link).

It’s the first time that either player has been named Player of the Week this season. Gilgeous-Alexander has now earned the honor four times in his career; Haliburton won it once last season.

Gilgeous-Alexander led the streaking Thunder to a 4-0 week, averaging 33.5 points, 6.5 assists, and 5.3 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per game with a shooting line of .623/.385/.943. He had his fifth 40-point game of the season on Friday in a blowout victory in Denver.

Haliburton’s Pacers also had an undefeated week, with victories over Houston, Chicago, and New York. The star point guard had back-to-back 20-point, 20-assist performances against the Bulls and Knicks and averaged 25.3 PPG and 17.7 APG across Indiana’s three wins, with a shooting line of .509/.417/.714.

In addition to several of the usual suspects – Luka Doncic, Anthony Davis, De’Aaron Fox, and Domantas Sabonis – Trail Blazers guard Scoot Henderson was among the nominees in the Western Conference for the first time in his young career.

Over in the East, Haliburton’s teammate Myles Turner, Jarrett Allen, Cade Cunningham, Jayson Tatum, Julius Randle, and Andre Drummond were the other nominees (Twitter link).