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There's nothing to be excited about when it comes to the knee injury suffered by Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. It sucks. He's a transcendent player who was in the middle of arguably the best offensive season in NBA history. And while we don't yet know exactly how long Embiid will be out, he will almost certainly fail to reach the league's 65-game minimum for awards consideration.

That takes out this season's MVP front-runner, leaving room for someone else to fill the void. While Nikola Jokic is the obvious candidate, you'd be making a mistake if you overlook what's going on in Oklahoma City.

He may not get the headlines given the franchise he plays for and his lack of postseason exposure, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is absolutely putting up an MVP-caliber season while leading the upstart Thunder to one of the best records in the NBA. Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will also throw their hat in the ring before the season is through, but let's take a look at why Gilgeous-Alexander deserves legitimate MVP consideration.


First off, the sixth-year guard is one of the best and most unique bucket-getters you'll ever see. He's averaging over 31 points for the second consecutive year, and he's largely done it without the aid of the ubiquitous 3-point shot. No guard has averaged over 30 points while making fewer than two 3-pointers per game since Dwyane Wade 15 years ago. Gilgeous-Alexander is doing it for the second straight season. His mastery of the mid-range and finishing ability around the basket continue to baffle defenses.

He gets wherever he wants, whenever he wants -- and when he gets there, he shoots 50% on midrange jumpers, tied with Embiid for the most accurate of any player averaging at least four midrange shots per game, per NBA.com.

If you defend against the jumper, Gilgeous-Alexander uses his lithe 6-foot-6 frame to slither into the tightest of gaps and finish creatively with either hand.

He averages 1.354 points per possession around the rim, per Synergy Sports, putting him in the company of massive human beings like LeBron James, Domantas Sabonis and Zion Williamson. The only guard remotely in SGA's league when it comes to efficiency at the basket is Donovan Mitchell, and there's a large drop-off.

But don't be mistaken -- Gilgeous-Alexander is far more than just a scorer.


It's one thing to put up massive numbers -- if you want to be in the mix with guys like Jokic and Embiid, your team needs to perform when you're on the floor. That's not a problem for Gilgeous-Alexander, who does the heavy lifting for the Thunder's top-five offense. When he's on the bench, OKC scores 111 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the court, that balloons to 121.4 points per 100 possessions -- better than the league's top offense.

Gilgeous-Alexander averages over six assists per game, a career-high, but his impact goes well beyond those numbers. As head coach Mark Daigneault readily professes, the entire OKC offense is built around SGA and the defensive attention he commands on every possession.

"We had players on the team that they weren't guarding. They were just loading up on Shai," Daigneault said. "And it's like, OK, where do we space them? We learned different spacing from that. We learned the cutting triggers and how to activate that from that experience."

Here's an example of the kind of cutting Daigneault is talking about. Watch how Gilgeous-Alexander draws a second defender -- not once, but twice in the same possession -- and it leads to successive hard cuts resulting in an easy and-one layup for Josh Giddey. No assist for SGA, but he's chiefly responsible for the bucket.

On this play, the Heat are so concerned with Gilgeous-Alexander on a simple back-screen that they leave two defenders with him and completely ignore a wide-open Isaiah Joe under the basket. Sure, it's a horrendous defensive breakdown from a normally disciplined team, but that's what a talent like SGA does to you.

Gilgeous-Alexander isn't a one-way player, either. Nobody will ever confuse him for a lockdown defensive stopper, but he uses his length, quick hands and anticipation so well that he leads the NBA in steals per game by a considerable margin. Watch as he moves his feet to stay with offensive dynamo Jamal Murray, avoiding fouling before he eventually picks his pocket.

When it comes down to it, Gilgeous-Alexander is a stout enough defender that other teams can't effectively hunt him possession after possession -- and that's what's going to matter as the Thunder attempt to make a deep playoff run. Speaking of which ...


The Thunder were a cute story last season, winning 40 games and making the play-in after landing in the 20s the previous two years. But this season's team has a legitimate chance to not only earn the top seed in the Western Conference, but also potentially win the NBA title. They're in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, a traditional marker of a true championship contender. The Thunder are perhaps the premier feel-good story of the NBA season -- and what is the MVP about, if not a feel-good story?

Clutch moments like this step-back 3-pointer to seal the win over the West-leading Minnesota Timberwolves only strengthen Gilgeous-Alexander's narrative.

OKC's only meaningful addition this season was rookie Chet Holmgren, and he's been phenomenal. But ultimately this team's success comes down to their superstar, and Gilgeous-Alexander has been the conductor of the NBA's Little Engine That Could. Jokic, Doncic and Antetokounmpo are certainly worthy candidates, but there's a strong argument to be made that Gilgeous-Alexander should be the front-runner when it comes to the MVP race.