The front doors of Chesapeake Energy Arena, excuse me, Paycom Center, opened back up to the Thunder faithful last night for the first time since that infamous day on March 11th, 2020. The stands weren’t exactly packed, but the 6th overall rookie Josh Giddey still put on a show that inspired hope in the minds of Thunder fans everywhere.
Giddey saw the floor for 28 minutes last night due to missing all but 5 minutes of his Summer League campaign to an ankle sprain. Posting a stat-line of 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists, he looked as good as anyone could’ve hoped for.
The primary strength of Giddey’s is his playmaking ability and that was on full display this game. He may have only recorded three assists, but that doesn’t tell the full story. He had several incredible passes where the player on the receiving end was unable to convert.
Here he uses the screen from Isaiah Roby and throws the one-handed, left-handed bullet pass to a wide-open Theo Maledon who is unable to convert. Luckily, he gets the offensive rebound and puts it in for an And-One.
With his shooting touted as his biggest weakness, Giddey was able to knock down 2/4 shots from behind the arc. His form still shows areas in visible need of improvement, he leans too far forward and throws his entire body into the shot and his set point is far too low, but it was a good sign that he was confident enough to shoot them and knock them down.
His scoring in general was much better than expected. He finishes at the rim well with a soft touch and his ball-handling ability, which was considered a weakness prior to the draft, was crafty and well-controlled in this game. Here is a clip of him getting out into transition and using a crossover on Kelly Oubre to get to the rim and finish.
Here he uses a quick and smooth in-and-out move to get another easy bucket in transition.
Giddey’s ability to handle the ball and score in transition is deadly and when you combine that with the threat of his playmaking, the Thunder can excel on the fast break this year.
Defensively he was better than expected. He did a good job staying in front of his opponent on the perimeter and cutting them off before they could get to the basket. He’s not the fastest lateral mover but he shows promising signs as a defender. “I think for me it’s taking baby steps, keeping my man in front of me, not taking possessions off,” he said.
The Thunder are fully embracing the ‘position-less basketball’ style of play this year. Giddey started the game alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort but wasn’t necessarily playing the three. He took turns with Shai running the offense.
After Shai was done for the night, there were instances where he was on the court with Maledon, Ty Jerome and Tre Mann. This wasn’t as good a lineup as Giddey wasn’t able to handle the ball as much as I would’ve liked. I’d like to see Giddey as the primary playmaker, utilizing his elite passing abilities to run the offense. OKC is using this pre-season slate to experiment and find out what works the best, so there is no need to look too far into dodgy line-ups.
Despite barely playing in the Summer League, Giddey looked poised and composed out there which can be attributed to his previous professional experience in the Australian NBL.
“It wasn’t too hard of an adjustment but there are still ways to go,” he told reporters after the game. “Nothing surprised me, I just didn’t realize how big guys are and deceivingly strong and athletic and physical.”
He looks to have added a solid amount of weight to his frame since we last saw him play in the NBL. He finished through contact well and wasn’t intimidated by bigger NBA bodies. Concerns over his athletic abilities may have also been slightly overstated. He looked quick enough attacking the basket and turning corners. He was not in fact “slower than a turtle.”
The Thunder ended up losing 113-97 to the Hornets, but there were many positive takeaways. Not just Giddey, but 55th overall pick Aaron Wiggins impressed with 12 points and three 3-pointers in seven minutes of garbage time.
Yes, it is just pre-season. But a performance like this in his first experience at the highest level of competition, is extremely exciting.
The Thunder will play three more pre-season matches before opening the regular season on Oct. 20 against Utah.