NBA Awards Rankings: New No. 1 in MVP race

Tyrese Haliburton is that dude.

Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers
Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers / Dylan Buell/GettyImages
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4. . 4. player. . Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Guard. 149. Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

The 14-7 Oklahoma City Thunder have sole possession of second place in the Western Conference. It's abundantly clear youth will not prevent OKC from making immediate noise. There isn't a more outwardly competitive bunch in the league, and it starts with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He's the rare two-way star guard in the NBA, emphasis on two-way.

SGA has a legitimate All-Defense path, with potential to steal a few Defensive Player of the Year votes from his teammate Chet Holmgren, among others. He still leads the NBA in steals per game (2.8), creating maximum chaos with his 6-foot-11 wingspan and frenetic activity. SGA can bottle up ball-handlers, glide into passing lanes, or blow up shot attempts from the weak side. He's everywhere for OKC's No. 6-ranked defense.

That, and he's one of the great offensive engines. His 32.0 percent usage rate stacks up with any offensive hub, and he's scoring with absurd efficiency despite a generally challenging and atypical shot profile. He averages 22.1 drives per game, the most in the NBA (De'Aaron Fox is second at 18.6). Gilgeous-Alexander is unrivaled as a guard finisher, using his length, flexibility, and feather-soft touch to evade traffic and score with bountiful creativity around the rim. He's also a mid-range savant, with the ability to create space on a dime using gear shifts and sudden, shocking directional changes.

The 3-point numbers aren't great, but SGA is taking and making more than last season (34.8 percent on 3.3 attempts), which creates room for him to eviscerate defenses as a slasher. The OKC offense is littered with competent ball-handlers and plus shooters, but SGA is the driving force. He's also the bail-out, go-to scorer when possessions break down. Last season won't be his only first team All-NBA selection, I'd wager.