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2023 has been a fantastic year for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The rising basketball star from Hamilton, Ont., completed his breakthrough season in the NBA, led the Canadian men’s national team to an historic bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup, and last week won the Northern Star Award for Canadian athlete of the year.
But 2024 might be even bigger for SGA. Before he leads Canada into its first Olympic men’s basketball tournament in nearly a quarter century, he has a chance to become the first Canadian since Steve Nash nearly two decades ago to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.
Gilgeous-Alexander got his first taste of MVP buzz last season, when he placed fifth in the voting after scoring 31.4 points per game (the fourth-best average in the league) and leading the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder to a play-in berth. In addition to his first All-Star selection, Gilgeous-Alexander was named to the even more exclusive All-NBA First Team, beating out Steph Curry and other household names for one of the two guard spots.
This season, Gilgeous-Alexander is playing even better. About a third of the way into his sixth NBA campaign, the 25-year-old once again ranks fourth in the league in scoring (30.7 points per game), with significant increases to his field-goal percentage and his assist and rebounding numbers. Meanwhile, his turnovers are down and his steals are way up, from 1.6 to a staggering 2.8 per game — a full steal more than anybody else in the league is averaging. To put that in perspective, the gap between SGA and No. 2 steals man Donovan Mitchell is equal to the one between Mitchell and the 110th-ranked players in the league.
Thanks to his excellent work at both ends of the court, ESPN’s all-encompassing Player Efficiency Rating (PER) ranks Gilgeous-Alexander as the third-best player in the NBA, behind reigning MVP Joel Embiid and reigning Finals MVP Nikola Jokic.
Beyond the stats, anyone who watches SGA play can see that he’s blossomed into a genuine superstar. He has the skills and the smarts to create his own shot whenever he wants, as well as pass, rebound and play defence at an elite level. He’s the total package.
Team success is also crucial to winning the NBA’s highest individual honour, and SGA’s case is strong there too as he’s helped elevate the Thunder from fringe playoff team to championship contender. Their 17-8 record ranks second in the Western Conference, ahead of Jokic’s defending-champion Denver Nuggets (18-10) and just a tick behind Embiid’s Eastern-power Philadelphia 76ers (18-8) for the fifth-best record in the entire league. The underlying stats confirm OKC is for real: they rank third overall in Net Rating, which measures a team’s point differential per 100 possessions.
The betting markets are also pretty bullish on Gilgeous-Alexander’s chances for MVP. The only players with better odds to win the Michael Jordan Trophy at the moment are Jokic, Embiid, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dallas’ Luka Doncic, who Gilgeous-Alexander outplayed at the World Cup.
As SGA continues to build his MVP case, here’s a quick check-in on some of the other Canadian standouts in the NBA:
Jamal Murray: Canada’s second-best NBA player has missed half of Denver’s 28 games so far due to hamstring and ankle injuries — a big reason why the reigning champs are off to a slow start by their standards. The seventh-year guard is averaging 18.3 points per game, which would be his lowest average in four seasons, but his production should rise if and when his minutes return to normal levels.
Dillon Brooks: The mercurial forward brought the best version of himself to the World Cup, where his toughness and intensity — not to mention his national-record 39 points in the bronze-medal game — helped Canada capture its first-ever medal in the tournament. Though his four-year, $86-million US contract with Houston was roundly mocked, Brooks and the Rockets, who also signed former Raptor Fred VanVleet, are a surprisingly solid 13-11 after finishing near the bottom of the league last season.
Andrew Wiggins: Between Draymond Green’s indefinite suspension and 35-year-old Steph Curry’s showing signs of slowing down, it appears the Warriors dynasty might finally be nearing an end. Wiggins hasn’t done much to forestall the decline. He’s averaging a career-low 12.6 points and recently lost his spot in the starting lineup.
Others: Fifth-year Knicks wing RJ Barrett’s 18.7 points per game are the second-most among Canadians; Portland’s Shaedon Sharpe has made strides in his second NBA season, raising his scoring average from 9.9 to 17.4 while becoming a starter; Second-year Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin’s scoring is down a couple of points per game, to 14.2, but his assists are up for an Indiana team that leads the league in scoring and reached the final of the new In-Season Tournament.
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