Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence as a star may feel like a recent outbreak to some, but he’s quietly been rising towards being one of the world’s best basketball players for several years now.
After being acquired by Oklahoma City following his rookie season, Gilgeous-Alexander immediately became the leading scorer on a surprise playoff team, then became the face of the franchise in his second year with the Thunder. While the team was amidst a rebuild during his emergence as a star and wasn’t getting national attention, OKC knew exactly what type of player he was which resulted in a rookie maximum extension back in 2021.
More recently in the 2022-23 NBA campaign, Gilgeous-Alexander really made himself a household name as he was a top five scorer in the league en route to earning his first All-Star nod and All-NBA First Team honors.
From there, the Canadian star would have the chance to continue his ascension in front of the entire world at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. On a talented roster comprised of several NBA players, Gilgeous-Alexander was the clear headliner. In fact, he was one of the primary headliners of the entire tournament.
Canadian basketball talent is at an all-time high, but that doesn’t guarantee success on a stage like this. When looking back at the history of Canada at the FIBA World Cup, the results have not been promising. This is especially true of late, even as the level of talent has risen.
As many had hoped and expected, Gilgeous-Alexander has driven change.
In Canada’s opening contest of the tournament, a 30-point blowout win over France really set the stage for just how dangerous of a team it could be. Gilgeous-Alexander stole the show, producing 27 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. From there, the Canadians won the next two games over Lebanon and Latvia by a combined 81 points.
Although they were then upset in a late loss to Brazil in their fourth outing, Canada got back on track and defeated the reigning champions in Spain to advance to the quarterfinals. In this matchup to advance as one of the final eight teams, Gilgeous-Alexander scored 11 points in the final two minutes of the clutch victory.
This is when things really started to get interesting. As talented as Gilgeous-Alexander is, he’s the second-best player in the 2023 FIBA World Cup. While he had been leading Canada to success, Luka Doncic also had Slovenia on a steep trajectory with an outside chance of going all the way.
In a highly anticipated semifinal game, Gilgeous-Alexander and Doncic faced off in what was the most talented individual matchup of the tournament. While Slovenia got out to a hot start, Canada was able to pull off the win late. Gilgeous-Alexander was the spark for the team early, but then again down the stretch.
Although Doncic was ejected late in the game and individual accolades don’t tell the full story, Gilgeous-Alexander was the best player on the floor in this matchup. Doncic finished with 26 points (8-of-20 shooting), five assists and four rebounds, while Gilgeous-Alexander produced 31 points (8-of-12), 10 boards and four assists.
This remarkable performance by the Thunder star catapulted Canada into the semifinals and a matchup against Serbia. While this is a club that is missing some of its key pieces — most notably Nikola Jokic, Vasilije Micic and Aleksej Pokusevski — it’s still a very talented roster.
This contest will take place at 3:45 AM CST on Friday, with the winner advancing to the final to take on either Germany or the United States.
It will take more than just Gilgeous-Alexander to be victorious over Serbia and then attempt to win the tournament on Sunday, but he has a supporting cast that is more than capable.
While Gilgeous-Alexander has already put together a historic run during this tournament, he could really put a stamp on his overall performance with a trip to the final round. He’s the best player remaining in the event, averaging 24.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and five assists per contest thus far. What has been most impressive is his two-way play and the efficiency in which he scores the ball. In his most recent two performances, Gilgeous-Alexander has scored 67 points on just 24 field goal attempts.
Oklahoma City’s star has already helped Canada clinch a spot at the 2024 Paris Olympics with their success at the 2023 FIBA World Cup, but his individual legacy representing his home country and NBA team still has even more upside. Gilgeous-Alexander has officially reached superstar status, with the best yet to come for the 25-year-old.