Oklahoma City Thunder

Stat Just Happened: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's star development is well underway

"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.

Today, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander takes the spotlight.

87.2

According to NBA.com, that's the percentage of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's made field goals this season that have been unassisted.

Why is that notable? It's the highest mark in the league among qualified players (i.e., players who have appeared in at least 15 games as of this writing).

In other words, there isn't a single player who is creating offence for themselves at a higher rate than Gilgeous-Alexander right now. The player closest to him is Luka Doncic (84.9 percent), followed by Chris Paul (82.9 percent) and Trae Young (81.1 percent).

The four of them are the only players in the league who have created at least 80 percent of their made baskets to this point of the season.

Highest unassisted field goal rate (2020-21)
Player % FGM Unassisted
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 87.2
Luka Doncic 84.9
Chris Paul 82.9
Trae Young 81.1
James Harden 78.5
Russell Westbrook 76.1
De'Aaron Fox 76.1
Damian Lillard 74.1
John Wall 71.8
DeMar DeRozan 71.4
D'Angelo Russell 70.5
Cole Anthony 70.0

It's even more impressive considering Gilgeous-Alexander is a 22-year-old guard in his first season as a No. 1 option.

As a rookie, the Canadian had the luxury of playing on a deep LA Clippers team that featured Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Danilo Gallinari. As a sophomore, he shared a backcourt with one of the greatest point guards of all-time in Paul and the runner-up for Sixth Man of the Year in Dennis Schroder. Now in his third season, he's the one calling the shots on a team whose second-best player is a 34-year-old Al Horford. (That's no slight at Horford, who has proven that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank, but it's not unusual for Gilgeous-Alexander to be the only playmaker on the court at times for the Thunder).

It would be one thing if Gilgeous-Alexander was chucking, but he's been highly efficient. Through 32 games, he's averaging a career-best 23.7 points on 50.9 percent shooting from the field, 41.5 percent from 3-point range and 80.8 percent from the free throw line. His true shooting percentage - a catch-all statistic that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws - has him rubbing shoulders with the likes of Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Damian Lillard in the efficiency department.

Anytime you're being mentioned in the same sentence as perennial All-Stars and MVP candidates, you know you're doing something right.

MORE: Ranking the best players in the NBA

Like most lead guards, Gilgeous-Alexander is at his best as a scorer out of the pick-and-roll, where he's generating close to half (44.0 percent) of his offence. Pick-and-rolls have been his primary source of offence each season he's been in the NBA, but he's gone from being an average pick-and-roll scorer to an elite pick-and-roll scorer, ranking in the 94th percentile with an average of 1.14 points per possession this season.

The secret to his success? It begins with his shooting off the dribble.

According to NBA.com, Gilgeous-Alexander went a combined 58-for-182 (31.9 percent) on pull-ups 3s in the first two seasons of his career. (You probably don't need me to tell you that that's not great). This season, he's 50-for-123 (40.7 percent) on those shots, making him one of the league's better 3-point shooters off the dribble.

Gilgeous-Alexander doesn't have the quickest of releases, but he uses his handle well to create separation between him and his defender. He also has the benefit of being 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, the combination of which helps him get his shot off when defenders close out on him.

Playing a drop coverage against him is now risky business.

Being able to punish defenders for giving him space on the perimeter opens up Gilgeous-Alexander's driving game.

Here's another eye-popping stat for you: Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 25.0 drives per game this season. Not only does that lead the league - Doncic (23.0) is once again a close second to him - it's the most drives anyone has averaged since 2013-14, which is as far back as the NBA's public tracking data goes.

Gilgeous-Alexander is neither the most athletic nor the quickest player at his position, but he makes up for in other ways. He has a little Doncic in him, in that he's mastered the art of deceleration, he never seems to lose his balance and he has a deep bag of tricks.

When he gets going downhill, he's comfortable jumping off of his "wrong" foot...

...finishing with either hand...

...and using long strides to either evade collapsing defenders...

...or navigate his way around lurking defenders.

Those same skills - the improved 3-point shooting off the dribble coupled with his crafty finishing around the basket - have helped Gilgeous-Alexander become one of the league's premier one-on-one scorers as well.

According to NBA.com, Harden (32.5 percent) is the only player in the league currently scoring at a higher frequency than Gilgeous-Alexander (23.0 percent) in isolation. He's been rather efficient, ranking in the 66th percentile with an average of 0.99 points per possession.

In addition to having the size to score over smaller defenders on an island...

...his shiftiness makes him a tough cover for bigger defenders on switches.

While Gilgeous-Alexander wasn't named an All-Star, he's played like an All-Star for much of the season. His numbers speak for themselves, but equally as impressive is the impact he's had on the Thunder. With Paul, Schroder, Gallinari and Steven Adams now on different teams, Oklahoma City was expected to be one of the worst teams in the league entering the season - Vegas had the Thunder's over/under at 22.5 wins, tied for worst in the league - but it finds itself in the mix for the Play-In Tournament in the Western Conference with less than half of the season remaining.

Whether or not the Thunder actually end up making the playoffs this season is almost immaterial, because they quite clearly have their eyes set on the future, not as much on the present. They're already one of the youngest teams in the league and they're absolutely loaded with first-round picks between now and 2026. The best is yet to come for this version of the Thunder, but they've already found what every team in the league is looking for - a budding star who they can build around.

The proof is in that one key number...

87.2

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