If you haven't been paying attention to the NBA around the holidays, you might've missed the resurgence of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sitting in at 18-15, the Thunder hold the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. In the month of December, there was no team in the West that had a better record than OKC's 11-4.
They've beaten quality teams like the Utah Jazz, LA Clippers, Toronto Raptors and Dallas Mavericks - all playoff teams in their respective conferences.
And with All-Star voting open and the 2020 All-Star Game right around the corner, there is no better time for the Thunder's players to start clicking. Behind the play of veteran guard and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, as well as a budding superstar in the making in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, it's time to start considering who should make the All-Star team.
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Holding a playoff spot in your conference should almost certainly earn you one bid, but which of these two should get the nod?
The All-Star case for Chris Paul
First of all - the storyline.
34-year-old Chris Paul was traded to the "rebuilding" Thunder this offseason in order for the Houston Rockets to try and upgrade at point guard. Thinking Paul had little left in the tank and a massive contract over the next year (or two), the Rockets parted ways with the veteran.
Many expected CP3 to request a trade or sit out games with no desire to be a part of a rebuild. Paul has done the exact opposite, playing in all 33 of OKC's games so far this season acting as a true leader to this surprisingly talented roster.
He's not averaging career-highs by any means, but he is the floor general and motor of this team. He's posting a solid and efficient 16.6 points per game and also averages a team-high 6.5 assists per game.
Paul hasn't changed his play-style at all, but he has been more than willing to regress from the ball-dominant guard he's been throughout his entire career. CP3 is fourth on the team in usage rate and field goal attempts per game, but he's thrived in that role boosting his field goal percentage and 3-point percentage from last season.
According to NBA.com, he has the second-best net rating on the team at plus-3.4 and he's stepped his game up another notch over their successful last month. In December alone, Paul averaged 17.7 points, 7.6 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals a game with a number of clutch shots and moments to pick up wins for his team.
He's a nine-time All-Star already and is a popular player amongst fans, players and coaches. The narrative is intriguing and his play and team success backs up the legitimacy of his campaign. Don't be shocked to see CP3 make his 10th All-Star appearance in Chicago.
The All-Star case for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
I'm not sure how many people would have predicted it after his rookie campaign, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is turning into a prolific scorer right before our eyes in Year 2.
Spending his first season with the LA Clippers primarily as a defender and playmaker first and second, then scoring option third, this fast development of his game has been extremely impressive. The Thunder specifically wanted the 21-year-old guard in return for Paul George because they saw a player with a bright future who could become a new cornerstone of their rebuild and so far, he looks on pace for that.
The Toronto, ON native leads OKC in scoring at 19.8 points per game. His assist numbers and efficiency are down a bit, but that's because he's nearly doubling his field goal attempts per game from his rookie season. Adjusting to this new role as a team's go-to scorer may take time for him to get back to the passer he was, as well as finding his efficiency in getting to his spots on the floor consistently.
But nonetheless, he's succeeded as the Thunder's lead guy, and he's averaging a career-high 5.2 boards per game while still bringing it on the defensive end, too. Like CP3, he has also played in all 33 of OKC's contests and has provided a very sustainable source of offence every night.
Over the team's affluent month of December, he upped his level of play averaging 21.5 points per game to go with 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals. He's the younger and more exciting option for an All-Star vote compared to his teammate, as this would be SGA's first All-Star appearance in just his second season in the league.
If you're adamant about rewarding the Thunder an All-Star for their place in the standings, CP3 is definitely a good choice as the leader of the team. But if you're voting based off of the team's No. 1 option, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is undeniably your guy.
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