TORONTO — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's mom might be his greatest critic. And that suits the 21-year-old from Toronto just fine.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been praised by coaches around the NBA for his combination of confidence and humility, and he credited his family for those qualities.

"I work hard, so I have confidence. And the people around me don't let my head get too big — especially my mom, she tells me I suck every day," Gilgeous-Alexander said with a laugh. "Yeah when you have people around you that keep you level-headed, things like that happen."

His mom Charmaine Gilgeous ran the 400 metres in the 1992 Olympics for Antigua and Barbuda.

The Oklahoma City Thunder guard arrived in Toronto for Sunday's game versus the Raptors with plenty of reasons to be confident. He's averaged 26.4 points over the past five games, becoming only the fourth Canadian — Andrew Wiggins, Steve Nash, and Jamaal Magloire are the other three — to average 20-plus points over five consecutive games.

"I'm not sure who has a quicker first step, blow-by move in the league right now than this guy," said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. "When he is ISO'd and he makes his little head-and-shoulder (move), boom, he's by you. And then he's got the uncanny ability to kind of slow that down at the end.

"He's been awesome, really awesome, and late in games, crunch time, overtime, all kinds of stuff. He's been really, really good."

Nurse could be coaching the six-foot-six guard this summer at Canada's last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament. Gilgeous-Alexander was among several NBA players who posted their intention to play on social media last month.

"Honestly, it was just to get the questions (from media) over with. It's not your fault," he told reporters in the locker-room before tipoff. "I knew I wanted to play."

Nurse sounded keen to coach him.

"He's a great teammate," Nurse said. "You just watch his demeanour and he's talking on D, he's helping people up off the floor. He's got a lot of class, too."

The University of Kentucky product, who received warm applause from the Scotiabank Arena crowd during the announcement of starters on Sunday, has shot 53 per cent from the field over the past five games, and 40 per cent from three-point range.

Traded by the Los Angeles Clippers to OKC in the off-season, Gilgeous-Alexander is cherishing his time playing alongside 15-year veteran guard Chris Paul

"He's taught me so much," he said. "Obviously, he's a guy that's done it at a very high level for a very long time. Hopefully I get to that level. He's taught me so much on and off the court, and it's a blessing."

Tough love from Paul?

"Chris is soft," Gilgeous-Alexander laughed. "It's always love."

He was one of four Canadians in the game, evenly split between Toronto and Montreal — Raptors Oshae Brissett is from Toronto while Chris Boucher is from Montreal. The Thunder's Luguentz Dort is a Montreal native.

Gilgeous-Alexander, who grew up watching games at Scotiabank Arena, takes pride in the example Canadian players are setting for the next generation.

"Anything is possible with hard work and determination," he said. "That's something I tell kids all the time when they ask questions. If you put your mind to it, and you're willing to work for it, you can get it. We're living proof of that."

Brissett, who hasn't seen much playing time with the Raptors, had a big night in Toronto's 113-97 win Saturday in Boston. He finished with four points, six rebounds and two assists, and his energy was a huge boost. He hauled down a couple of key offensive rebounds in the third quarter, one of which led to a Fred VanVleet three-pointers.

Gilgeous-Alexander said the Canadians keep tabs on one another.

"We notice, especially being so close, Oshae, same class and everything," he said. "You notice things like (Saturday's game), and all those moments are special."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2019.