Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a bigger contender for MVP than all-star starter

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a bigger contender for MVP than all-star starter

SGA appears to have a better chance at NBA MVP than All-Star Game starter, and the Thunder superstar is fine with that.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Jan 15, 2024, 12:00pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Jan 15, 2024, 12:00pm CST

Strange season for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s got a fighting chance — maybe better than a fighting chance — to be the NBA’s most valuable player. But Gilgeous-Alexander’s chances of starting the All-Star Game seem more and more remote.

That’s a strange combination. But it’s a tradeoff most stars would make.

“MVP for sure,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with a laugh the other night, after yet another sterling performance, 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting in a 139-77 rout of Portland.

SGA’s incredible combination of production and efficiency, coupled with the Thunder’s rise to the top of the Western Conference, makes for quite the compelling MVP case.

Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 31.5 points, third in the NBA, on 55.8% shooting, which is out of this world for a guard. Going into Sunday night, the only other NBA guard shooting above 50% is Washington’s Tyus Jones (.524). SGA’s player efficiency rating is second in the league, behind only 76er center Joel Embiid.

In the five Thunder games before a Monday night date at the Lakers, Gilgeous-Alexander made 57 of 88 shots. Nov. 16, at Golden State, was the last time SGA shot less than 44% in a game.That’s two months, and star guards like Damian Lillard and Trae Young are shooting less than 44% for the entire season.

Plus, the 27-11 Thunder is in second place in the West standings.

That’s the prototype for an MVP candidate.

Embiid is having a monster season. Nikola Jokic is a marvel and has won either the MVP award or an NBA championship each of the last three seasons. Giannis Antetokounmpo remains an irresistible force.

But Embiid already has missed 10 games, and NBA rules now require players to play at least 20 minutes in 65 games, with a few exceptions, to be eligible for post-season awards.

Plus, SGA’s story, and value, is fresher than the perennial candidates Embiid, Jokic and Giannis.

Fresher, of course, doesn’t count for much in all-star voting. 

The NBA sticks with an antiquated policy of voting by position — two backcourt players, three frontcourt players — which limits the openings for Gilgeous-Alexander. In the most recent voting, SGA ranked third among Western Conference guards: Luka Doncic, 2.508 million; Steph Curry, 2.126 million; Gilgeous-Alexander, 1.763 million. Not insurmountable, but a significant gulf between Curry and SGA.

The good news is that fan voting doesn’t automatically determine all-star berths. The fan vote counts 50%, the player vote 25% and the media vote 25%. The totals are weighted; instead of total votes, the percentage is what counts. So if SGA gets dominant support from the players and media, which he likely will, he could overcome the fan discrepancy.

But either way, Gilgeous-Alexander has bigger plans than Feb. 18 in Indianapolis.

And if SGA indeed becomes MVP but isn’t selected for all-star starter, he’ll be in good company: Bob Pettitt 1956, Bill Russell 1961 and 1962, Wes Unseld 1969, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1977, 1982 Moses Malone, David Robinson 1995, Karl Malone 1999 and Steve Nash 2005.

“I think a lot of times, just speaking from experience, starting in the All-Star Game is more of a popularity contest than anything,” TrailBlazers coach Chauncey Billups said last week. “Everybody that’s in there obviously deserves it. But I would much rather have a chance to win a championship and be the MVP of the entire league, than to start an All-Star Game. I’ll say that.”

 

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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