Flaunting his prince-like hair and striking aura, Josh Giddey entered the 2021 NBA draft in a suit that sheathed his basketball wizardry and off-the-roof…
When the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Josh Giddey sixth overall in the 2021 NBA draft, many eyebrows were raised at the selection of the Australian 18-year-old out of the NBL.
Draft analysts predicted a late lottery selection, but Thunder GM Sam Presti saw something more in the six-foot-eight guard than the likes of other prospects such as Jonathan Kuminga and Franz Wagner.
Rival fans were quick to find damning draft reports on the rookie labelling him as “bad at basketball” but this has been all but disproven in his first year in the league.
After becoming the youngest player to record a league triple double, he recently followed this up with three triple doubles in a row, one of which came in the Garden as OKC recorded a shock overtime win against the Knicks.
Giddey has managed to insert himself into the rookie of the year conversation despite the incredible seasons of both Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley, both of whom have played a key role in their respective teams’ playoff chase.
While Giddey’s case doesn’t boast a great team record, his unique skill set is what makes him the most skilled rookie in this class.
A prominent aspect of Giddey’s skill set is his passing, which is head and shoulders above any rookie. He leads rookies in assists per game with 6.4, 1.2 more than second place and 2.9 more than third.
While on the surface this number may not justify the proclamation of an elite level passer, he ranks 16th in assists per game in the league despite OKC ranking 30th in both field goal percentage and three point percentage.
It is certainly not a farfetched reality to see Giddey leading the league in assists one day once OKC is able to surround him with adequate shooters.
His passing ability is made even more impressive by his size and frame at six foot eight. While some analysts may consider size as a prohibitor when looking to create, Giddey’s height allows him to scan the floor and thread the needle to his teammates.
Comparisons have been drawn with Nikola Jokic’s playmaking ability at his size. Jokic generally likes to create more in the post in comparison to Giddey running the floor in the half court.
To put it rather simply, the league hasn’t seen a player with elite passing at his size and age since Lebron James’ first years in Cleveland.
His size has also allowed him to be one of the best inbound passers in the league. So far this season he has found open teammates from the inbound to great effect, with two examples springing to mind.
Firstly, finding a rolling Kenrich Williams to the basket to force overtime in the Garden merely days ago and a sling pass over the top of Anthony Davis to find Darius Bazley open for three in a famous win over the Lakers.
Giddey has also established himself as the primary rebounder in Oklahoma despite his guard position. While none of the centres on OKC’s roster have been able to establish themselves, Giddey has collected 7.8 boards a game, which is the most in OKC, second only to Mobley for rookies and fourth in the league among guards.
Despite his relatively skinny build, Giddey’s ability to read the game puts him in great positions to collect both offensive and defensive rebounds like no other guard his age.
The biggest criticism of Giddey’s game at this point is his scoring and three-point shot, two areas that he has improved on throughout the season.
Earlier in the season he recorded a 0-10-10 stat line in a win over the Pelicans, which showcased his rebounding and passing skill set but magnified his early season struggles to score.
He has since followed that up with three 20-plus-point games, including 28-11-12 against the Knicks, and he sits sixth among rookies in points per game.
While he has struggled with his three ball this season, he certainly isn’t scared to let it go from behind the arc. His four attempts per game rank him third in OKC and sixth among rookies.
He also has eight games with three or more three points made, demonstrating he can hit shots in volume from behind the arc.
Only time will tell on the capability of his three-point shot, but his career doesn’t hinge on its development unlike previous high-profile prospects out of Australia.
Many lazy comparisons have been made between Giddey and former OKC superstar and triple double machine Russell Westbrook, and while they both pose a triple double threat, neither play a similar brand of basketball.
Westbrook is known for playing at full throttle with an all-or-nothing approach that has both helped and hindered his legacy. Giddey employs a much more unique and meticulous skill set that allows him to dictate the tempo of any game.
His unusual upright dribbling style has seen comparisons with the great Jerry West, but the most apt comparison is Rajon Rondo.
Giddey and Rondo share many strengths and weaknesses in their game but unlike Rondo, Giddey is just 19 and has more than a decade of NBA basketball ahead of him.
If Giddey were to elevate his shooting and shot creation, there is potential comparisons between him and generational talent Luka Doncic.
Do I think Giddey will win rookie of the year? In short, no. Mobley and Barnes have provided impact on winning teams and ultimately that will separate them from Giddey.
But that won’t discount the fact that Giddey is the most skilled rookie in the league and has an amazing NBA future ahead of him.
Giddey has the potential to become the greatest Australian NBA player, hopefully filling the shoes Ben Simmons never could.