The best teams in the NBA have superstar duos, if not trios. The way the modern game is played, it’s all about having depth in the regular season to overcome adversity while also having elite talent at the top to make a deep playoff push.
Despite being the youngest team in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder seemingly have found their star duo of the future. Especially since the All-Star break, veteran Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and rookie Jalen Williams have been one of the most effective pairs in the league.
These two will ultimately be part of a trio at some point down the road, alongside Chet Holmgren or another future acquisition via draft or trade, at which point this Oklahoma City team will likely be competing for a championship.
Not only have Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams put up great numbers since the break, but they’ve also impacted winning at a high level. The Thunder are 8-3 over this span when both of them play.
While these two have been the headliners of the team of late, it’s really been a group effort overall. Mark Daigneault truly deserves NBA Coach of the Year recognition, as he’s taken a team projected to finish in the bottom three of the NBA to a top ten net rating on the season. The Thunder are still legitimately in play for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with just a few weeks left in the season.
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Not only is OKC overachieving under the direction of Daigneault, but he’s getting the most out of every single player. All three rookies on the team are making contributions and he’s even found ways to integrate multiple veterans into the lineup throughout the year to perform at a high level.
The Thunder don’t have a starter over 24 years old, yet they’re .500 on the season and within two games of the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. The team is fully bought in, which will is a credit to Daigneault and his staff.
While every player on the roster has made an impact this season, it’s truly been Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams that have moved the needle of late.
Since the break, Gilgeous-Alexander has inserted himself into at least being a part of the MVP conversation while averaging 35.0 points, 7.2 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game. When looking at an MVP resume, his ability to carry such a young team to the postseason given expectations is extremely impressive. Regardless of who Oklahoma City is playing, Gilgeous-Alexander is nearly always the best player on the floor.
Alongside him, we’ve seen the surprising ascension of Williams, who was the No. 12 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. While he impressed early in the season, he’s turned it up over the past month as he makes his case for NBA Rookie of the Year.
Since participating in the Rising Stars Challenge during the break, he’s averaged 19.2 points, 6.2 boards and 4.3 assists per contest while shooting 40% from beyond the arc. He’s one of 57 players across the league averaging at least 19 points over this span. Williams also ranks top ten in points, rebounds and assists among rookies while being top ten in field goal, free throw and 3-point efficiency.
It goes beyond the box score when it comes to Williams’ impact as a first year star. Not only is he wildly efficienct, but he’s also one of the more versatile young players in the league. During different points of his rookie campaign, the 21-year-old has played all five positions on both ends of the court.
While the Thunder will continue to bring in more high upside talent in the coming years through the draft and trades, it appears the cornerstone duo is intact with Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams. As soon as next season with the debut of Holmgren, Oklahoma City could truly declare itself to the league, if that doesn’t already happen the 2022-23 campaign.