You could hear them chanting as he jogged off the floor, the visiting fans showering Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with praise after a 42-point epic punctuated by a game-winning triple: “M-V-P! M-V-P!”
It’s rare for fans of the opposing team to do what we saw from the Wizards faithful on Wednesday. It’s rarer yet to see a player like Gilgeous-Alexander on the receiving end while playing for a team that, in all likelihood, is destined for the lottery for the third straight season.
No matter. The chorus is growing louder – not just in the rafters of Capital One Arena, but across the league. Could Gilgeous-Alexander actually win the NBA’s most coveted award?
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2022-23 NBA MVP betting odds (via BetMGM)
Could Gilgeous-Alexander win 2022-23 NBA MVP?
The idea of Gilgeous-Alexander winning MVP would have sounded preposterous just a month ago, when the Thunder guard was priced as high as 500/1 at some shops before the season. Even earlier this week, he was still dealing as a 150/1 long shot at most books despite his sensational start.
Fast forward to Thursday, after he polished off a career performance with yet another clutch shot, and he’s down to 50/1 at BetMGM – a near-consensus price across the market. And the stats tell the story of one of the league’s most valuable players through the first month of the season.
Entering Thursday’s action, SGA ranks third in scoring (32.3 PPG) while shooting 54.8% from the floor, 40% from deep, and 90.6% from the free-throw line. The only player to ever average 30 points with 50/40/90 splits across an entire season was Stephen Curry in 2015-16, when he became the first and only player in NBA history to earn unanimous MVP honors.
Gilgeous-Alexander also boasts the highest field-goal percentage by a guard averaging 30 or more points in NBA history, as it stands on Thursday. Right behind him? Michael Jordan, who averaged 30 PPG on 53.5% shooting on three separate occasions and won MVP in two of those seasons.
That’s how ridiculous Gilgeous-Alexander has been as a scorer, and he shows no signs of stopping. He’s dropped at least 37 points in four of his last five games and has scored at least 32 points in nine of 13 games to this point – shooting 50% or better in each one.
Somehow, that’s only half the story. Oklahoma City’s do-it-all star is also averaging 5.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds while ranking fourth in steals (1.9) and 12th in blocks (1.4). The only player to average those marks in a season? You guessed it: Jordan in 1987-88, when he won MVP.
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The biggest factor working against Gilgeous-Alexander is the one that most obscured his candidacy in the first place: his supporting cast. With apologies to Josh Giddey (and Luguentz Dort on a good night), the relative lack of talent on this roster led oddsmakers to price the Thunder at just 26.5 wins before the season.
Sure enough, even with SGA’s brilliance, Oklahoma City is only on pace to win 38 games as of Thursday. Since the NBA merger in 1976, only three MVP winners have ever hailed from a team that won fewer than 50 games – a list that includes former hometown star Russell Westbrook (2016-17), who led the Thunder to 47 wins in 2016-17.
That list also includes reigning two-time MVP winner Nikola Jokic, whose Nuggets won 48 games last year behind his otherworldly efforts. Perhaps Gilgeous-Alexander can will his team to a similar threshold, or maybe voters will recognize his true “value” to the Thunder, who are 11.05 points worse per 100 possessions when he’s not on the floor.
Either way, there’s a palpable buzz fueling the “SGA for MVP” campaign, and there’s still value at this price even after Wednesday’s electric game-winner. It’s only a matter of time before he hits another.