The year was 2017. It was a steamy July day. Then, like is now common in the NBA, a major trade happened and Paul George moved from Indiana to Oklahoma City. The city got the second superstar they craved since the emotional departure of Kevin Durant.
With Russell Westbrook on the team, the Thunder were on top of the world for the first time since having four-time scoring champion Durant leading the way. This past offseason, the dedicated Thunder fans saw their championship dreams crumble.
Paul George was traded. Russell Westbrook was the next to be forced out. However, there’s a bright spot, and Thunder fans can thank the University of Kentucky for the two players that’ll be the future of their franchise.
In the trade sending George to LA, the Thunder brought back Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a high-upside point guard that has potential to be one of the league’s best. In his rookie season, Alexander averaged 10.8 points on 47.6% shooting.
While that may not sound elite, Alexander showcased far more attributes than just those on the box score. The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks expanded on why Alexander is such an intriguing prospect.
“SGA is wise beyond his years on the court. He rarely gets sped up or rattled by the defense, and he’s an excellent passer who always has a plan for what to do with the ball. He knows how to take advantage of a mismatch: He can get to his preferred spots on the floor and force the defense to send help.”
That said, OKC should be thankful for Alexander, but it’ll be the UK duo that takes them to the next level. Pairing Alexander with former teammate Hamidou Diallo could prove beneficial for OKC.
Diallo averaged just 3.7 points on 45.5% shooting. Again, with rookies, it’s more about developing their talents than forcing them to a team. With Westbrook and George on the team, volume shooting was quite uncommon.
However, Diallo made his name known in a different way. His elite jumping earned him a spot in the Slam Dunk Contest. Making the most of his opportunity, Diallo jumped over Shaq and hung on the rim with his elbow to get the crowd on their feet.
Playing in the Las Vegas Summer League for the second-consecutive season, Diallo showcased exactly what he’d been working on this summer, averaging 14.8 points per game on just 14 shots per game.
“I’m just getting better each and every day, just trying to showcase the things that I’ve been working on since the offseason and since I’ve been back,” Diallo added. “I’m just trying to go out there and be the player that I know I am, try to get my teammates involved and try to be a leader as much as possible,” Diallo told NBA’s Nick Gallo.
If Diallo can erupt this upcoming season and Gilgeous-Alexander can continue his develop, this duo may take OKC back to the promise land. Let’s also take into consideration that while they acquired Shai, the team was also able to secure two first-round picks in potentially the next five drafts.
They won’t be ready this year but be ready to see this Kentucky duo in the lime light soon enough.