The story of the 2019-20 Oklahoma City Thunder is an impressive one, to say the least.
A transformative 2019 offseason led many to believe that this would be a season of rebuilding. Sure, there were reasons to be excited about the future, but this year? Most expected OKC to take a step - or two - back, as evidenced by the now infamous 0.2% chance the team was given to qualify for the postseason by ESPN's BPI.
THEY said🤦🏾♂️....... #CantGiveUpNow pic.twitter.com/hSBhzGw37K- Chris Paul (@CP3) August 18, 2020
Does Chris Paul have anything left in the tank? Is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander fit to be a franchise player? Would a backcourt of the two even work?
Fast forward a year, and the answer to each of the above three questions has been a resounding yes - a direct product of the instant chemistry the two developed playing alongside one another.
While we knew Paul would serve as a wonderful teacher to Gilgeous-Alexander, who would have thought that would work both ways?
Back in late December, CP3 spoke on his dynamic with Shai, telling reporters "It's so cool because I think everybody's always wondering what I'm teaching him but he's teaching me things. Like, I'm trying to learn how to do the Eurostep, too."
A few months later, I asked Paul to elaborate on what he's learned in his time as Shai's teammate, to which he responded "It's been really cool playing with Shai, 'cause one of the biggest things from the younger generation as they come through the NBA is you can't tell what hand they are - like if they're right-handed or left-handed. Like, the way Shai uses his off-hand is crazy."
Paul continued, adding that "it's a lot of plays...like we'll be in a timeout and I'll be like 'look Shai, when I used to go by people, this is the play that I would run, so now we're gonna run it for you.'"
Having followed Chris since his days at Wake Forest and watching him up close on a nightly basis during my time a ballboy for the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets from 2005-11, his choice to draw that parallel really stuck with me.
First off, CP should give himself more credit, as it was his blow-by that set up a clutch triple from Shai towards the end of Game 3. The same burst of quickness we've become accustomed to seeing from Paul throughout his 15-year career.
❄️❄️❄️ The shot. ❄️❄️❄️@shaiglalex | #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/87y86vTaq7- OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) August 23, 2020
Second, and more importantly, it brought the parallels between their careers to my attention; something I feel has had a hand in facilitating the bond they've formed in such a short period of time.
Gilgeous-Alexander spent his rookie season with the LA Clippers under the tutelage of Doc Rivers, who enjoyed a 13-year career as a point guard for four different franchises. Paul, of course, spent four seasons of his prime under Rivers with the Clippers.
It may seem obvious but by playing under the same coaching staff - even at different times - there's terminology and basketball philosophies that resonate differently with Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander. Paul alluded to this, saying that "It's crazy cause I think about a lot of coaches that I played for like Doc… People always say me and Doc didn't get along and all this but it's a lot of stuff that Doc said to me that I still use all the time."
With that in mind, there's less lost in translation with Shai and the two are able to effectively connect through their communication.
Paul continued, adding that "some of the stuff I say to Shai all the time, sometimes he don't want to hear it but he's starting to see… Shai is going to be so good."
As for being so good, so early, Gilgeous-Alexander has hit the ground running in his career, emerging as a full-time starter during an All-Rookie campaign with the Clippers, making him the big piece for the future that the Thunder acquired during their roster upheaval last offseason.
Suddenly, SGA found himself in Oklahoma City as the face of a franchise at just 21 years old.
In many ways, things have come full circle for Paul, who at 20, was immediately thrust into becoming the face of a Hornets franchise that relocated from New Orleans to Oklahoma City for two seasons after Hurricane Katrina.
Now, at 35, he's back in OKC, where he has developed a special bond - both on and off the court - with a rising star in the 22-year-old Gilgeous-Alexander, who has been handed the keys for Oklahoma City's professional franchise for years to come.
Just look at the growth made from Year 1 to Year 2:
While Paul's ascension to superstardom was a bit more rapid, as evidenced by his second-place MVP finish at 22, Gilgeous-Alexander has gotten a taste of postseason action in each of the first two seasons of his career, something Paul didn't do until his third campaign.
In having an all-time great to learn from, we're sure to see a rapid ascension to superstardom from Gilgeous-Alexander as well. And to reiterate what Paul said, "Shai is going to be so good."
The scary part: He already is.
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