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On the night of the 2021 NBA Draft, Josh Giddey was considered by many to be the possible Reach of the Year. Okay, give Giddey first runner up because Joshua Primo had that one on lock.
Fast forward five months, Josh Giddey is being considered by many to be the possible Rookie of the Year. Okay, give Giddey first runner up because Evan Mobley has that one on lock.
While the highly Thunder-coveted Cleveland Cavalier center has become a first-year sensation and will almost certainly claim rookie gold unless he gets Freaky Friday’ed or Rick Moranis shrinks him, it’s not far fetched to figure OKC’s #6 overall pick can finish at #2 when final votes are tallied for this much ballyhooed class.
Only 32 games into his NBA career, the second youngest player in the league is already piling up an impressive resume.
Giddey won Western Conference Rookie of the Month for October/November. Then he won it again in December. Unless Jalen Green has a second half jolt of shooting consistency, Josh might just snatch up every Western Conference Rookie of the Month like Thanos collects infinity stones.
So after running the rookie table in October, November and December, how’d the 19 year old Aussie open January? By becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple double. Not to mention stealing Luka Doncic’s thunder by outplaying the young superstar in every facet of the game in his return from injury. Three days later, Giddey flirted with another triple double.
The Wizard of Aus is averaging 15.5 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists and 2.5 steals on 48.1% shooting and has hit 55.5% from three in 2022.
But while the early honors and numbers are eye-popping, let’s not plan that Rookie of the Year parade through Bricktown just yet. The reasonable thought is that sweeping every Western Rookie of the Month award would translate to a slam dunk Rookie of the Year campaign. But there’s just one big and three smaller problems: all the best rookies are in the East.
Evan Mobley has transformed the Cavs from a LeBron-less lifeless franchise into an exciting up-and-coming young playoff team by dominating on both ends of the court. He’s averaging 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.8 blocks while shooting 50% from the field.
Franz Wagner has become a scoring machine for the Orlando Magic, usurping teammate and top 5 pick Jalen Suggs as the most exciting newbie on the squad. The German stretch big is averaging 15.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 45.3% and a healthy 36.9% from three.
Scottie Barnes has proven the Raptors (and the Thunder, if rumors are to be believed) knew more than all the armchair draft experts by ranking the point power forward and defensive dynamo ahead of Suggs. The former Seminole’s scoring has been much better than advertised, as he is averaging 15.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals on 49.2% shooting and 33.8% from three.
Cade Cunningham’s hype cooled when he opened the season injured and fell flat in his first handful of games, but he’s been sensational ever since. The man who wore a Thunder jersey in thousands of OKC fan photoshops is averaging 15.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.3 steals, but his shooting splits are rough at the moment.
And therein lies the rub with OKC’s most famous TikToker. (I can’t believe my job requirements now include spell checking TikToker. I had it wrong the first time, thankfully.)
Giddey’s court vision, IQ and playmaking are already all at an elite NBA level. His jaw dropping passes have become standard nightly social media content. He notches a double doubles in one out of every four games played. The raw counting stats stand up to any and every ROTY candidate: 11.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.0 steals. The points dip a bit lower than his competition, but he makes up for it in boards and dimes.
But the black-eye (shout out Justine Termine) on Giddey’s ROTY resume is his 39.5% shooting from the field and 26.9% from three. Now, voters may extend some grace on the field goal percentage given Giddey is a guard and his numbers line up with top two overall picks and fellow backcourters Cunningham and Green. Mobley and Barnes are bigs, so they were always going to boast better percentages. And Wagner is 6’10” so, hey, maybe some voters will be hoodwinked into thinking he’s a big too.
The 3-point percentage is really the lone red flag on an otherwise electrifying debut season. And even then, there are encouraging signs.
In his last two games, Giddey has hit 5-9 from three. I know, small sample size. So let’s stretch it out a little farther. He’s shooting 35% from three in his last six games. Yeah, still a small sample size. But the whole season is a small sample size so far, so cut me a break! Let’s look for progress. In Giddey’s NBL rookie season last year, he shot like a starting OKC shooting guard from three the first half of the season but improved to hit around 36% the second half of the season. If Giddey could somehow repeat that bricking first-half caterpillar to second-half swishing butterfly transformation this season, then Mobley’s gonna start sweating.
Ultimately, the odds Giddey wins Rookie of the Year are not especially high given the stiff competition out East. But NBA All-Rookie 1st Team is in the cards. A season-long subscription to the Rookie Jelly of the Month Club is a given. More triple doubles would not surprise in the least.
And most importantly, Thunder fans can revel in the validation that Sam Presti did not reach on draft night when OKC selected Josh Giddey at #6. In fact, they just might have drafted the Rookie of the Year.