It will be a Kentucky reunion when the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.
Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a first-round pick out of Kentucky in 2018 and the 11th overall selection, has improved his scoring average in all five of his NBA seasons.
The 24-year-old has become a monster this season, averaging 30.9 points, 5.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He leads the Thunder in free-throw percentage (91.1) and is shooting 34.3 percent on 3-pointers and 52.7 percent on 2-pointers. He has an impressive 24 games this season with at least 30 points.
Miami’s Tyler Herro, a first-round pick out of Kentucky in 2019 and No. 13 overall, is averaging a career-high 21.2 points. Herro, who will turn 23 on Jan. 20, also is averaging 6.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and a steal per game.
A third ex-Kentucky player who is expected to play Tuesday is Heat center Bam Adebayo, who is averaging 21.4 points and 9.9 rebounds but has been battling a thigh injury and a right-hand contusion.
“I don’t like to see my guys nicked up or hurt, that being Bam,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “I hope he’s OK. He’s been carrying a lot of the load on both sides of the ball.”
Butler, who is averaging 21.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals, missed what would have been the game-winning shot at the buzzer Sunday night in a 102-101 loss to the visiting Brooklyn Nets.
“We have to figure out how to win games like that, and I think we can,” Butler said of the loss to the hot Nets, who are 14-1 in their past 15 contests.
“This was a step in the right direction, even though we didn’t win.”
The Thunder have won three of their past four games, including 120-109 over the visiting Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night. Dallas was without star Luka Doncic.
Gilgeous-Alexander scored 33 points against the Mavericks, making 11 of 17 shots from the floor. He also hit 11 of 13 free throws.
Greatness has long been predicted for Gilgeous-Alexander. As a freshman following road games, he would sit next to an assistant coach on the plane, going over the film while his teammates slept.
While Gilgeous-Alexander is the face of the Thunder’s attempted revival, other key contributors include 6-foot-3 guard Lu Dort, an elite defender who is averaging 14.3 points; and 6-7 wing Josh Giddey, who is averaging 15.3 points, a team-high 7.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
The Thunder’s young core of Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort, 23, and Giddey, 20, also includes 7-foot rookie center Chet Holmgren, 20. But Holmgren, the second overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, is out for the season due to a foot injury.
Jalen Williams, a 6-6 wing, is another Thunder rookie first-rounder. He has played well, starting 23 of his 36 games while averaging 11.6 points.
White showing All-Star form, Gilgeous-Alexander continues to preach dirty work for the Thunder.
“We have to be first to (get) loose balls,” he said, “first to offensive rebounds.”
–Field Level Media