All eyes on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and yes, the Thunder

  • ESPN.com NBA writer since 2010
  • Covered Cleveland Cavs for seven years
  • Author of two books

Brian Windhorst and a team of ESPN’s Insiders sort out life and the news from in and around the NBA world, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s rise in the league, Spencer Dinwiddie’s fit in Dallas, CJ McCollum’s All-Star approach and the context of inflated stats.

Last week, after his team won on the road for the first time in more than a month, Oklahoma City Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was asked about his patience with the franchise’s rebuilding project.

It was a bait question that reporters have asked stars on small-market teams for decades and probably will for decades into the future. Most of the time, answers are perfunctory, except in the rare situations they are not. In those moments, statements can be made that are profound. Which is why the media asks — just to check.

Gilgeous-Alexander gave such a profound answer Thursday night in Philadelphia.

“I think we’re going be a really good team a lot sooner than people think, so I think it’s pretty easy for me [to be patient],” he said. “I see the growth every day. I see the growth in the last five months, year, two years, and I’m super excited about it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander had 37 points that night, including a sparkling 16-for-16 at the foul line, and the Thunder smashed the recently hot Philadelphia 76ers 133-114 for a statement victory. Then they won in Chicago and Brooklyn, completing a 3-1 Eastern Conference road trip that has snatched some attention as their young talent continues to develop nicely.

It was a crystalizing comment from SGA, his initials-only moniker now pretty much locked into the NBA lexicon seeing as he is averaging 31 points per game these days, that seemed like it quashed any lingering speculation about his buy-in to the Thunder’s plan.

Having an elite player is vital — you either have one or spend every single day trying to get one — but it rarely works unless that player is fully bought in. Gilgeous-Alexander’s performance over the past season and a half has him on the cusp of being recognized as a legitimate superstar, and his first All-Star appearance is coming soon. So this is not an inconsequential position for him to take.

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