Shai Gilgeous-Alexander met the media Thursday for the first time as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he made one thing clear right away.
“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said (via the Oklahoman ). “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.”
Of course, there’s only one Westbrook, the 2017 NBA MVP who averaged triple-doubles his final three seasons in Oklahoma City. But Westbrook is playing in Houston now. Gilgeous-Alexander, a 6-6 point guard acquired from the Clippers this offseason in the blockbuster Paul George trade, knows some fans will expect him to help offset the loss of the eight-time All-Star.
But he’s not Westbrook.
“I’m just a basketball player,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”
Gilgeous-Alexander played well as a rookie with the Clippers, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 36.7 percent on 3-pointers. He made the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
Now in OKC, the 21-year-old Gilgeous-Alexander is expected to share playmaking responsibilities with Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. He admitted Thursday he needs to improve in some areas.
“I feel like I need to get stronger, and I guess shooting the ball deep, off the dribble as well as catch-and-shoot,” he said.
But he brings strengths too — just not as many as Westbrook. It’s worth noting that Westbrook wasn’t Westbrook at age 21, either, shooting a terrible 22.1 percent from 3-point range.
So give Gilgeous-Alexander time to grow into his new role.
“He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander admitted.