Extra Pass: SGA, Thunder take on Hawks

Published December 5, 2022, 12:00 PMMiguel Flores

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder face the Atlanta Hawks live at 8:30 AM on NBA League Pass.

What's up with the OKC Thunder?

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.


Canadian Kobe.

It's been wild to watch how mercilessly and gracefully the OKC star has torn up the league this season. He’s elevated his game to All-NBA levels, averaging 31.1 points on an absurd 50/41/92 shooting split with 4.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists. If you were waiting for him to cool off, it’s time to embrace the SGA superstar era.

If he isn’t on the injury report, OKC is instantly must-watch TV. There are plenty of players with bags in the league. What makes SGA's so unique is the seemingly never-ending cascade moves he can pull off at any given moment. Where other star ball handlers would chain a crossover into a between-the-legs pull-up jumper, SGA would add or even subtract moments of hesitation to give his move some extra spice. The level of improvisation has been absurd; it’s like watching Tom Holland’s Spider-Man be given his new hi-tech suit for the first time. He’s exploring the reaches of his powers and no one’s been able to stop him.

When SGA sits, the Thunder become G-League Ignite 2.0. Josh Giddey has been improving lately while rookie Jalen Williams has had his moments. Lu Dort’s shot selection has been frustrating, at times, but he’s done well on defense. Outside of them, the Thunder have been a carnival of pseudo-rotation players and Aleksej Pokusevski.

And yet, the Thunder are 10-13 with a passable defense and an offense held up by SGA. It’s a shame we don’t get to see how Chet Holmgren would fit into this mix, but it should be taken as a good sign that this ragtag group can show some signs of being a competitive team this early.

With how OKC has approached their rebuild, it’s reasonable to think that it won’t be this rosy for much longer. SGA should continue to play himself into an east spot on the All-Star game, but, after that, the Thunder are again going to be better off trying to head into the Draft Lottery. For now, we enjoy Maple Jordan.

What’s up with the Atlanta Hawks?

The Hawks are in a place OKC will inevitably reach in their rebuild – playoff contenders questioning their ceiling. The Dejounte Murray trade in the offseason was a declaration for Atlanta; they’re ready now and are all-in on this lineup making another run in the Eastern Conference.

Instead, we’ve gotten a mixed bag a fourth of the way into the season. Considering how disastrous the start of the previous seasons were for the Hawks, a 13-10 start shouldn’t seem all that bad, but Atlanta has refused to be normal this season.

Over their last four games, the Hawks scored a win against the Denver Nuggets and forced a close game against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on the road. They also let big leads slip against the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets, the second worst team in the league.

If anything, neither Murray nor his fit alongside Hawks All-Star Trae Young has been the problem. The Hawks have been clever with how they stagger minutes between their two best playmakers. When they do share the floor, there are moments where it seems impossible to contain the two-pronged Young-Murray attack.

The biggest questions lie on the pieces around the pair. Getting Bogdan Bogdanovic back should be a huge boost. But continuing to define what the role is for the recently extended John Collins in the offense. He got injured in their last game and could miss the next few weeks, but Collins has again been in limbo. He should probably be playing center and guarding opposing bigs, but the Hawks also can’t afford to be without Clint Capela’s rebounding and rim protection. 

It's going to be interesting to see how the Hawks look as they’re now forced to play with a smaller lineup. They should still be fun to watch as much as you love seeing Young chuck shot after shot. But can they win?

Storyline to watch

SGA should draw Murray's defense on most possessions. While Murray is still spectacular on that end, he's going to have his hands full with this version of SGA. Guys like Marcus Smart, RJ Barrett and OG Anunoby have had their shot recently at trying to contain SGA. None can say they’ve succeeded.

For OKC to truly challenge the Hawks, Giddey, Williams or Dort have to make some 3s to stress Atlanta’s defense enough. Dort and SGA form probably the best defensive backcourt in the league and should give Young and Murray fits.

This is going to be quite the matchup. Buckle up for some fireworks.