The Oklahoma City Thunder travel to Phoenix to face the short-handed Phoenix Suns in a game that features the reunion of Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Paul and SGA will share the same basketball court for the first time since The Bubble.
Tip off is at 8 p.m. CST with the game streaming on Fox Sports Oklahoma. Here are three notes for tonight’s matchup:
Shorthanded Suns & Thunder
The Suns will be without Devin Booker and Dario Saric tonight, 2 of their top 7 leaders in minutes per game.
The Thunder will be without Al Horford and potentially George Hill, who is listed as questionable with an injured thumb. Hill sat out the game against Portland with a thumb sprain.
For Phoenix, I expect players like Paul, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges to pick up the offensive load that will be missing with Booker’s absence. Booker missed Phoenix’s last game against the Nuggets and that game saw Paul have 20 field goal attempts, a season high, while accumulating 13 assists. I expect a similar type of game from CP; Paul’s USG% will likely be higher than usual due to Booker being out.
For the Thunder, I expect Isaiah Roby to continue to start with Theo Maledon inserted into the starting lineup if Hill is ruled out of tonight’s game. In seven starts, Roby is averaging 12.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG. Monday’s game against the Blazers saw Maledon get his first career starting nod and he finished with 6 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 22 minutes.
After starting the season 5-1, the hot Suns have cooled down and have gone 3-6 in their last 9 games for an overall record of 8-7. The recent losses could be explained by the fact that the Suns were off for a week due to three consecutive games being postponed.
The sudden stoppage of play could have thrown Phoenix out of their rhythm. The Suns are currently trying to find a groove and build some forward momentum. The stoppages in play will be something that teams will have to deal with this season if games continue to be postponed at the rate they are.
Many view the Suns as a potential top 4 seed in the West after their 8-0 Bubble experience left everybody high on Phoenix’s potential. The addition of Paul only led to more praise from fans and media. It is still early in the season but after 15 games, the Suns sit as the 7th seed in another tight playoff race. Only one game separates the 8th seed from the 4th seed in the West.
Mentor vs Mentee
The biggest storyline heading into this game will be the duel between the 35-year-old Paul against the 22-year-old SGA. Paul took Shai under his wing last season in Oklahoma City and the two built a close relationship. This will be a fun matchup between the teacher and the student.
SGA has been having a career season thus far, averaging career highs in PPG and APG on increased volume while his efficiency has impressively been great. SGA has been killing it this entire road trip. In his last 4 games, he is averaging 22.8 PPG, 7.0 APG, 5.8 RPG on 54.2/ 43.8/71.4 shooting splits.
Sure, three of those games were losses, but that should not take away from the individual brilliance SGA has shown against tough competition in the form of the Nuggets, Clippers and Blazers.
If SGA continues to play the way he has, I think he should definitely be considered to play in his first ever All-Star Game (if the NBA has one).
For perspective, here is a list of players who are averaging 21+ PPG, 6+ APG and 5+ RPG this season:
Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, LeBron James, James Harden and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Four of those five players are Top 10 players who are yearly All-Star and All-NBA regulars. That is very elite company to share for SGA in just his first season as the clear No.1 Option.