Back in October, the prevailing wisdom around the NBA was that the Oklahoma City Thunder would be a bad team with nothing to play for except spare ping-pong balls in the Victor Vembanayama sweepstakes.
His season was ruined during the summer when big man Chet Holmgren, the second player taken in the 2022 NBA Draft, suffered a serious foot injury during a Pro-Am game.
But the Thunder won by finishing with a 40–42 record, and they went on to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans in Tuesday’s play-in tournament game.
On Friday, hours before their second play-in contest versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Thunder learned that three of them had been nominated for awards.
declared by @nba
Shai Gilgies-Alexander Finalist for Most Improved Player.
Jalen Williams Finalist for Rookie of the Year.
Marc Degneault Finalist for Coach of the Year.
— OKC Thunder (@okcthunder) April 14, 2023
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been their franchise player for the past few years, and although he was already a decent player, this season he became a big-time player, putting up big numbers.
He averaged 31.4 points per game on 51.0 percent shooting, which was a vast improvement over the 24.5 points per game he posted last year and 45.3 percent shooting.
Gilgeous-Alexander has also improved on a unique aspect of his game – his ability to get to the free throw line and convert there.
Last season, he shot 81.0 percent on 7.2 free throw attempts, but this year he increased those numbers to 90.5 percent on 10.9 attempts.
Those numbers are remarkable when one considers that the 6-foot-6 wing weighs just 180 pounds.
Jalen Williams, a 6-foot-6 wing himself, is in the running for the Rookie of the Year award after averaging 14.1 points on 52.1 percent shooting during the regular season.
In his third year at the helm in Oklahoma City, 37-year-old head coach Marc Dagneault has a shot at the Coach of the Year award for helping his team rise above the sum of its parts.
He may be too far away to actually win the award, but there is no doubt that he has done a remarkable job.
Former NBA player lends final support to Thunder star