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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is officially one of the NBA’s best young players

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s triple-double shows the Thunder have a new star.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander over a superimposed background.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is turning into a star.

It’s time to start mentioning Shai Gilgeous-Alexander among the best young players in the NBA. The 21-year-old guard has taken the vaunted second-year leap for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season, leading the team in scoring to help fuel their surprising success in the Western Conference. On Wednesday, he put the entirety of his skill set on display in a historic performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Gilgeous-Alexander ended the night with a stat-line so obscene it had to be checked twice: 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists in another Thunder win. He is the youngest player in NBA history to ever put up those numbers, besting a mark set 64 years ago.

Oklahoma City has now won eight of its last 10 and sits comfortably as the No. 7 seed in the West. Very few people expected the Thunder to be a playoff team this year after trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook over the summer, but it’s happening in large part because Gilgeous-Alexander is making a star turn ahead of schedule.

Gilgeous-Alexander was the No. 11 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. After a solid rookie season where he started 73 games for a playoff team, the Clippers dealt him as the centerpiece of a massive deal for George. The Clippers reportedly did everything they could to hold onto him in the negotiations, and now the rest of the league is starting to see why.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s triple-double was historic in so many ways

How rare is a 20-20-10 triple-double? Consider the following:

  • Gilgeous-Alexander is only the second guard of the last 30 years to post a 20-point, 20-rebound triple-double, joining .... Westbrook.
  • Gilgeous-Alexander is now the youngest player to ever grab 20 rebounds in a triple-double, clearing the previous mark set by Shaquille O’Neal (!).
  • Gilgeous-Alexander is the fifth player in the last 20 years to hit the 20-20-10 markers. The other four are Westbrook, Kevin Garnett, DeMarcus Cousins (who did it three times), and David Lee.
  • Gilgeous-Alexander joins an exclusive list of guards throughout NBA history who have put up 20-20-10: Oscar Robertson (8x), Fat Lever (2x), Guy Rodgers, and Westbrook.

If historical context isn’t your thing, take it from Dennis Schroder:

So tough, bro.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s game is blossoming before our eyes

Gilgeous-Alexander first made a name for himself attacking the rim in off-beat rhythms with advanced footwork. His ability to hit wrong-footed layups and prepare counters on drives made him a unique problem for NBA veterans to deal with as a rookie. In his second pro season, he’s turned into something else: a smooth scorer who can flow in-and-out of dribble pull-ups while maintaining his incredible flexibility and dexterity around the basket.

The highlights from his monstrous triple-double show just far he’s come over the last year. Moves like these are a testament to the progress he’s made since arriving in Oklahoma City.

Gilgeous-Alexander has primarily played point guard in college at Kentucky and with the Clippers before moving into a more off-the-ball role this season next to Chris Paul. While his assist numbers have been down this year, SGA’s new role has allowed him more freedom offensively as a scorer. He’s responded by increasing his usage rate from 18.3 percent to 24.7 percent while maintaining his efficiency.

There has been no outlier development in his game, rather a constant fine tuning that has allowed him to unlock his special gifts. At 6’5 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan, Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the longest guards in the league. Even as a rookie, he hit 63 percent of his shots at the rim — a tremendous mark for a guard. This season, he’s become more comfortable shooting threes, raising his three-point rate from 19.8 percent to 22.4 percent. While his percentage of makes has remained similar, having a few new tricks in his bag has helped make a certified 20-point-per-game scorer.

No one would have expected this type of shot from SGA when he first entered the league:

Adding the threat of pull-up jumpers to his incredible driving ability puts the defense in an impossible bind. Just ask Dwight Howard:

In addition to becoming one of the most stylish players on the court, Gilgeous-Alexander is also one of the league’s most fashionable off it. This is a young player who exudes joy:

Gilgeous-Alexander is a star in the making in every way, a 21-year-old with ideal size, burgeoning scoring touch, and tantalizing versatility. He’s just starting to learn how good he can be. Dropping 20-20-10 in a game has a way of crystallizing it.