When the OKC Thunder selected Josh Giddey with the sixth pick of the 2021 NBA draft, it was met with mixed emotions. The Australian…
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 potential.
He was often labeled as a “reach” of a selection by the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder, who picked him at sixth overall in a stacked draft class. Coming off a season in Australia’s National Basketball League, the expectations were low for the Aussie, even for the attestedly loud and passionate Thunder Nation, to the point that dismay rang on murmurs among fans.
“I did hear it all,” Giddey told Fox Sports a few days before his first All-Star weekend where he participated in the Rising Stars showcase and the Skills Challenge.
“You know, being an international player, [it] doesn’t get the same media coverage that being an American does, just with all the media and stuff they have over here. It’s completely different.”
Yet through premature judgments and needless presumptions, the Thunder’s lottery pluck has paid dividends right off the bat.
He has averaged 12.5 points (seventh among rookies), 7.8 rebounds (second in the entire rookie pool), and a class-leading 6.4 assists in 54 games played this season. His efficiency wasn’t eye-popping, posting shooting clips of 41 per cent from the field and 26 per cent from three, however, the numbers were mere glance to the type of ceiling he boasts through the eye test.
At 6-foot-8, he is a wing-sized guard disguised as a funky, spasmodic orchestrator. He towers over his counterparts, offsetting a lack of athleticism and quick first step to deliver his elite playmaking, a knack for the ball, and superb basketball IQ.
His poise and ambidextrous touch around the rim were unlike any rookie this year too as he counterbalanced his lean frame with brilliance off the bounce prowess and unorthodox instincts.
For the Thunder, he has been the kind of player who turns dishes into delicacies.
He functions on the gist of punishing defences through pick-and-roll expertise, threading needles on cuts and backdoors of his teammates, and exploitation of opposing defences. Giddey has been more than just a willing passer and a striking facilitator on a Thunder team that has lacked offensive firepower as it has surplus of future picks.
Among the firsts of those treasure troves of draft capital, the 19-year-old Giddey has already established himself as one of the lynchpins of Oklahoma City’s future.
“(We all knew) getting drafted here, there’s going to be opportunities from day one,” Giddey touched on in his end-of-season interview. “We understood the position we’re in as a group. All the rookies were confident in themselves coming in and knew they had the ability to make an impact.”
That confidence has brought the youthful Giddey’s game to heights that OKC had foreseen him in the draft. He bagged four straight Rookie of the Month honors, including a scintillating February showcase where he dropped averages of 16.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 7.7 assists across 12 games.
In that month, he recorded three of his four triple-doubles this season, including a breakout performance versus the New York Knicks inside Madison Square Garden where the young Thunder squad, sans superstar and centerpiece Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, escaped with the win in an overtime thriller in which Giddey tallied 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists alongside fellow rookie Tre Mann’s 30-point barrage — a testament of how much trust the Thunder coaching staff have on their prized young pieces.
The lone triple-double the Australian got in a non-February month came in their January 3 loss against the Dallas Mavericks wherein he racked up 17 markers, 13 boards, and 14 assists to earn the distinction as the youngest player to record a triple-double in the history of the NBA.
He had since become not just the youngest, but the second youngest, third youngest, and fourth youngest to ever do the trip-dub feat.
That stretch drew much attention to the rather inconspicuous game of Giddey and the rebuilding blueprint of the Thunder from personalities around the league — most notably LeBron James.
The three-time champion and decorated superstar of the Los Angeles Lakers left hefty praises on Giddey: “He is really, really, really good. He has a great pace about the game.
“Josh is one of those kids who can definitely see the game a lot quicker than a lot of guys out on the floor, and he has shown it. I think he has three straight triple-doubles and playing beautiful basketball.”
His game, anyway, has been more than just the eye-popping double-digit figures he put up — his teammates attest to his contagious effort, unselfishness on the floor, and youthful ethos adored by the team as a whole.
“His creativity is off the charts. Fun to watch and really fun to play with him. When he has the ball I’m always trying to run into open spots,” guard Ty Jerome, best friend of Gilgeous-Alexander who shares most of the backcourt duties with Giddey, told CBS Sports about the Australian phenom.
“I love [playing with Giddey]. Any time I check into the game and see him next to me I know I’m gonna get a shot up so it makes me happy.”
Certainly, the confidence Giddey got from the coaching staff has radiated through the roster and it was telling of what kind of player he has turned out to be for Oklahoma City.
The Thunder is the youngest team in the NBA with an average age of 22.7, creating an environment that thrives on spry energy and development. While there’s still a lot to be desired from the Aussie’s game, Giddey, the youngest in the team, has checked more boxes than he leaves empty for an OKC squad that seeks sustained success in the future.
Just like his journey so far, Giddey has been a scintillating plug that sparks the Thunder’s youth-driven core. For a young gem that has carried pressure seamlessly in his first season, Josh Giddey is for sure shining.