OKC Thunder: Josh Giddey is already defying expectations in preseason

Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

The sixth overall in the 2021 NBA draft Josh Giddey has been a sensation in the preseason, and it looks like the critics of OKC Thunder’s selection have been quelled for the meantime.

Over the four games of the preseason, Giddey averaged 13.5 points per game, 7 rebounds per game, 5 assists per game shooting 40 percent from three — while showing off some of the best passing from a rookie guard we have seen in some time.

Josh Giddey is walking into the NBA and of the best playmakers already.

Granted, this is a tiny sample size. And he only attempted 10 3-pointers in only 116 minutes of play but shows what was done in the NBL is translating, let alone improving, going into the NBA.

Josh Giddey is already looking like a star for the OKC Thunder. So what is the sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft doing so well that is intriguing people?

It should come as no shock that Giddey is looking like a generational playmaker, he led the NBL in assists per game and ESPN’s Jonothan Givony told HoopsHabit back in July that Giddey is “absolutely one of the elite playmakers in this class.” Giddey rolled his ankle minutes into Summer League, so this has been the first debut for many NBA fans who didn’t watch him overseas.

The draft profile I wrote on Josh Giddey can be found here. But the point stands that he was drafted for his vision, and it seems as Sam Presti’s vision of Giddey is panning too.

It’s the variety and foresight of his passing that intrigues people most, he can throw skips passes with both hands and can hit a target on the money in almost any pick and roll situation (in the NBA your rollers jump higher and shoot better, Giddey’s assist numbers might even be better than they were in the NBL in his NBA rookie season).

Despite how creative and efficient he is, we saw this coming (if you had been paying attention), and that’s why I want to focus on the other stuff. The questions around Giddey were will everything else in his game translate and or improve?

His NBL season ended in May and between then and the draft Giddey had worked out with two NBL legends (Andrew Gaze and Darryl McDonald, who I interviewed for the aforementioned draft profile) and was the final cut to the Australian ‘Boomers’ national team squad for the Tokyo Olympics.

In that time period, Giddey worked on his defense and shooting (shot 29 percent on 3.5 attempts from three in the NBL), which were his two biggest issues coming into this draft; the preseason Giddey has shown a lot of growth in his shooting and some in his defense.

Giddey’s man-to-man defense was solid down under but his coach Connor Henry emphasized that when multiple players get involved in an action that is where Giddey falls flat currently.

Those issues have been exposed slightly with Giddey overreacting on doubles, getting lost after ball movement and especially getting caught on screens – nothing to panic about given he’s just turned 19 and has some muscle growth to do, but something to monitor. Overall, he showed improvement in his foot speed and reaction time, there’s no question that Giddey can become a good-to-great at team defender with the potential to guard isolations with his size and intelligence.

His shooting, in a limited sample, has looked great. His form was never textbook in the NBL and had some visible awkwardness. But now it’s clean and looks like a sustainable form for the foreseeable future.

The most interesting part of Giddey’s shooting is the mid-range, in today’s NBA only good mid-range shooters are encouraged to do so: Chris Paul, CJ McCollum, Kawhi Leonard, etc.
Giddey took a lot of threes but wasn’t hesitant to let it fly from 12-20 feet either, which should intrigue as he is a point guard by heart but has the size of a forward. If this develops further there could be some Luka Dončić-esque manipulation of the defense with his combination of size, handle, vision and threat to score.

Combine that with what looks like a serviceable three-point shot and Josh Giddey would be a very difficult player to guard. But to be difficult to guard you also have to get to the ring. Giddey has shown to be a competent rim-finisher and willing driver in the NBL, he shot 42% from the field overall against NBA level bigs like Jarell Martin, Jock Landale and Isaac Humphries.

The concern coming into the NBA is the defenders are longer, faster and stronger and that may pose a challenge to the not naturally athletically gifted Giddey. He lacked the strength needed to finish around some NBL centers, but that’s normal with his age.

His lack of lift was shown against the Bucks as he tried multiple times to score over Brook Lopez (and was gracefully swatted away).

Giddey was going against one of the NBA’s best rim protectors and showed no fear, against Nikola Jokić, Giddey was able to easily finish around him – Giddey could see reasonable success finishing around NBA bigs this season, especially if he can get to the line more.

This development is a big step as his height and vision will make a tough assignment for any defender once he gets a head of steam to the basket.

One criticism that I didn’t mention in the pre-draft process was Giddey’s lack of free-throw attempts, he only averaged 69 percent from the line on 2.4 attempts per game – that is low from both angles. In his four preseason games he only went to the line seven times, given his size and speed downhill it should be a priority for Giddey to get to the line at least 3-4 times a game and shoot over 75% this season.

There is a lot to like about Josh Giddey, the lack of Summer League due to an ankle injury delayed the hype train, but now the Giddey express is taking passengers. His vision has immediately translated and his size and complementary skills are improving each game he plays. The OKC Thunder have seemingly drafted the perfect piece next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Next. New York Knicks: 3 X-factors for the coming season. dark