OKC Thunder player grades: SGA, second-round rookies shine in fourth win out of five games

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While some fans are probably looking for losses instead of wins to increase lottery odds and have a bottom three record by the end of the season, it is hard to stay mad at the Oklahoma City Thunder for winning games like they did on Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans. Especially considering the Pelicans’ miraculous buzzer-beater the last time these two teams met.

The Pelicans were shorthanded as they missed their top two scorers with Jonas Valanciunas ruled out before the game and Brandon Ingram exiting after nine minutes. But that should not discredit how well the young players β€” specifically the rookies β€” played. Especially when second-rounders like Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins play as well as they did.

The Thunder have spoken multiple times about learning from previous experiences and specifically how to handle late, close games. The fruits of their labor were there this game as the Thunder fought off any Pelicans comeback attempt. It helps that the Pelicans didn’t have its top two scorers and were relying on Josh Hart for scoring, but there’s no need to apologize for handling business regardless on who is on the opposition.

With all that said, let’s take a look at player grades from Sunday night:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A+

Gilgeous-Alexander was fantastic as he finished with 31 points while going 11-of-21 from the field. A lot of his points came in the paint as the 23-year-old took advantage of the Pelicans’ lack of size. This was just another good and efficient scoring game for Gilgeous-Alexander and was the best player on the court.

The only complaints from this game has to do with the fact that Gilgeous-Alexander shot 1-of-5 from three and 8-of-13 from the free throw line. Gilgeous-Alexander has struggled to shoot the ball from three all season long as he averages just 28.8% on over six attempts a game. We have reached the point of the season where that number is concerning and Gilgeous-Alexander having another rough outside shooting game does not soothe anything over just yet. With the free throws, I would just mark it up as an off night. Before tonight, Gilgeous-Alexander was shooting over 83% from the line.

Aaron Wiggins: A+

This was easily the best game of the young season for the 55th overall pick of this past draft. Wiggins scored a career-high 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting in what he says came off of mostly cuts and being in the right spots on the court.

Wiggins has been yo-yo’d between the Thunder and G League all season long and said that he is grateful for those experiences because it lets him improve in areas of his game.

β€œI knew from Day 1 that Wiggs could hoop. He’s got game,” said Gilgeous-Alexander after the game.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl: A

Another great start for the second round pick as he finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. Robinson-Earl also shot the ball 3-of-6 from three. This was just a quality performance for the 21-year-old as he has been a steady hand all season long for the most part.

Josh Giddey: A

Scoring was counted out to be Giddey’s biggest weakness coming into the draft and that has proven to be the case for the 19-year-old. In this game, he became the first player since Norm Van Lier in 1971 to have a 10 assist and 10 rebound double double without scoring a single point. If you go through Giddey’s game logs this season, there are plenty of performances similar to this where he easily racks up a high amount of assists and rebounds but the scoring and shooting numbers aren’t there just yet. The shooting and scoring will be long term developmental project for the Thunder but it appears that Giddey’s floor is one of the best passing and rebounding guards in the league, which is a great floor to have.

Theo Maledon: A+

This was a great game for the second-year-guard as he finished with 12 points and five rebounds. Maledon looked much more assertive this game with his scoring and was more confident with his shot. Maledon has struggled mightily all season long so it was nice to see a performance like this.

Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault gave Maledon credit for always staying ready despite being up and down all season long between the Thunder and Oklahoma City Blue.

β€œHim and Ty (Jerome) really good readiness, they attack the program. They’re ruthlessly consistent in their approach,” said Daigneault after the game.

Lu Dort: C+

A good outing for Dort as he scored 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting and four steals. The 22-year-old was able to extend his streak of at least one made three in a game to 44 games. The Thunder did not really need Dort to shoulder the load but he stills deserve credit for his performance.

Kenrich Williams: B-

Much like Dort, Williams’ decent performance was buried within the lead due to how his teammates performed. With that said, Williams’ 10 points and five rebounds still deserve recognition for having another quality game off the bench.

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