The rise of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues.
After a breakout NBA season in which he earned his first All-Star nod and a First Team All-NBA selection, it was clear that Gilgeous-Alexander would be Canada's best player at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Early returns suggest that the 25-year-old might be much more than Canada's leader — he could be the best player in the entire tournament.
In Canada's World Cup opener against France, Gilgeous-Alexander was held scoreless through the first 14 minutes of game time. By the game's end, SGA had racked up 27 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, leading Team Canada to a resounding 30-point win in just 27 minutes of action.
To quickly break that down, all of Gilgeous-Alexander's 27 points came in 13 minutes of game time. Imagine if he had gotten going in the opening frame.
Gilgeous-Alexander's performance against France is a reminder that, in basketball, the team that has the best player in the gym almost always has a chance to win. If he can live up to the billing of the tournament's best player, then there is no limit to Canada's success.
Is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the best player at the FIBA World Cup?
The answer may be a matter of opinion but Gilgeous-Alexander is already making quite the case. And in a tournament with over 50 NBA players, that's saying something.
Coming into the World Cup, Gilgeous-Alexander was one of just two All-NBA First Team members that would be competing, the other being Luka Doncic. Ahead of the tournament, members of The Sporting News' Global NBA staff voted Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander first and second, respectively, in a ranking of the top 15 players that would be taking the floor.
Doncic's body of work as the lead man for Slovenia speaks for itself. Gilgeous-Alexander is looking to make a name for himself on the international stage in his first World Cup with Canada.
In the win over France, Gilgeous-Alexander's numbers were great, but it was his presence that meant even more. Even when he was struggling to get going offensively, there was an air of confidence in his demeanor which suggested that it was only a matter of time before he got going. Everyone knew he would bounce back after going 2-of-9 in the first half.
And that he did.
After scoring just eight points in the first 20 minutes of action, SGA added 13 points to his tally within the first seven minutes of the second half.
Gilgeous-Alexander's offensive outburst in the third frame was the driving force behind Canada's second-half takeover, and it was evident that his teammates fed off of the calmness and confidence with which he played. Even when things were tight in the first half, Canada never panicked — it helps when you know that you have the best player in the gym.
With each passing game, the stakes will get a little bit higher for Canada. Having a player of Gilgeous-Alexander's caliber will allow others to settle in and star in their respective roles, from RJ Barrett and Dillon Brooks on the wing to Kelly Olynyk and Dwight Powell on the interior.
How Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can lead Canada on deep run at FIBA World Cup
As alluded to above, the road will only get tougher as the stakes increase throughout the tournament. The simple answer is to say Gilgeous-Alexander needs to do more of what he did against France, but there is more to it than that.
Canada is at its absolute best when SGA is the player who provides a calming presence and is the go-to guy in big moments. The swagger that comes with being the best player on the floor is infectious and instills confidence within the team while placing fear into its opponent.
The road to Olympic qualification — and medaling — won't be an easy one, but it's doable. A dominant win over France was a statement that set the tone for Canada in this tournament, but it can ill-afford a letdown in group play with tests against Lebanon and Latvia looming.
If Canada advances, the top two teams from a group that includes Spain, Brazil, Iran and Cote d'Ivoire would be next up. Scan the rosters of each of those squads and there's no player that comes close to having the impact of Gilgeous-Alexander.
In any given game the stats may look different — at times scoring will take precedence and at others, it may be playmaking — but this Canada roster is specifically equipped to fall behind its leader, one that very well could be the best player in the gym each time he takes the floor in this tournament.
With the best player in the gym, anything is possible.