Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s Unified Chaos Theory

Abe Beame attempts the crack the code of the Oklahoma City Thunder's prodigy shooting guard's game.
By    August 4, 2020

We’re clutch at the top of the key. Please support Passion of the Weiss by subscribing to our Patreon.

Abe Beame‘s jumper is wetter than a snowball in August.

It’s said if you want to witness the chaos of our universe, you can simply dab your flattened knuckle with a drop of water twice, and watch the droplet assume different pathways. This seemingly repetitive and replicable act should produce the same result, but it doesn’t. The tiny variations in any number of infinite variables produce different results over and over again. I am submitting this thesis for doctoral approval, because I believe I discovered another meaningful way to explain universal unpredictability in complex systems: Give young, Canadian Oklahoma City Thunder combo guard Shai Gilgious-Alexander a basketball.

(This is what he actually moves like:)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is 22 years old. He played a season at Kentucky. He was drafted 11th by the Charlotte Hornets and traded to the Clippers, played an outstanding rookie season, then was unceremoniously traded in the infamous Paul George Heist of 2019. He’s slight and wiry, 6’5 and *checks notes* 118 pounds. And these are all his tangibles. But no one thinks about, writes about, or talks about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for his tangibles. That’s like watching a Transformers film for plot, reading Raymond Chandler for narrative coherence, or doing acid to gain clarity. We, the devout few, the early disciples, are here for the abject chaos of watching an escape artist make deranged and implausible decisions that miraculously, but constantly, bare fruit.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander demands you to hold two things in your head at the same time, a study of contrasts that are a perfect blend, an impossible oxymoron that makes total sense. He moves with the graceful rigidity of an aughts video game avatar. He’s like princess Penelope at the end of Wreck it Ralph, who has learned how to harness her glitch as a weaponized cheat code rather than a defect. He moves like Project Pat raps. Everything appears a step slow, but he uses hesitation and his manic unpredictability to constantly be in a place his defender is not. It’s been said James Harden’s elite skill is “stopping”. That no one can go from a dead sprint to a stand still faster than Harden. That factoid existed before SGA was in the league.

The latest iteration of the OKC logo has a break running across its center, the top of the three letters are slightly offset from the bottom, and this is an obvious and direct homage to their young star, and his bizarre, unorthodox style. He employs an infinite bag of diversionary tactics and sleights of hand. He doesn’t throw passes so much as he glides them, skips them on the court like it’s a body of water, shuffles them to his teammates like weighted disks. I once saw him reach behind Carmelo Anthony’s head, pluck a ball out of his ear, and pass it to a rolling Steven Adams in stride for an uncontested dunk.

There’s a piece of basic basketball wisdom I’ll paraphrase as: never leave your feet without an idea of what you’re doing. Well, my friend, let me tell you how SGA habitually, gleefully flouts this convention. The young man spends more time thinking in the air than he does on his feet. You can watch him leap, then eventually, casually, begin considering his options, checking down and reading his progressions like a qb with a robust offensive line, under no pressure at all. He makes the right decision every single time. He has no respect for gravity. He has contempt for gravity. His brain is processing at super computer-like speeds, playing out every percentage and scenario before choosing the right one, while all his pale, inarticulate, fallible human defenders fumble around blindly in the dark, merely guessing at his inevitable, perfect outcome.

You’ll never believe this, but as an offensive threat? Equally strange and effective. His shot comes up from the hip and out from the chest with a slight hitch (of course), it’s equal parts Rube Goldberg device and clarified butter. Or a Rube Goldberg device oiled with clarified butter, unclear. His whole body moves in concert with what can only be described as clunky grace, undulating as the shot develops slowly from his heels to the tips of his extended fingers, like a wave rolling up his body. Around the rim, he has an array of scoops, and pinches, and pulls, and reverses, and any number of physical motions you’d sooner use to describe a person mounting your salad bowl at Sweet Green as opposed to destroying would be rim protectors at the cup.

He’s crafty, he’s shifty, he’s a diabolical genius creating new ways to perform basketball’s oldest and most basic activities.

The Thunder occasionally employ the new lineup of death, three guards with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and 6th man of the year candidate Dennis Schroeder. Here’s a brief highlight reel of the offense on the floor against the Jazz in their first game in the bubble, the spacing leaves something to be desired but you can see the impact it might have on a rival defense.

Shai Gilgeous Alexander was always going to be a star, but crashing him in the swamp of Oklahoma City, with Chris Paul to teach him how to levitate an X Wing out of the muck using his mind, has only accelerated that process. The second year glow up is very, very real. We will spend the next few weeks, and potentially, the next few months, seeing how real it is.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!