For all the broken records and highlight-reel passes, a big question mark still hung over Josh Giddey’s first NBA season — one all rookie players face.
Oklahoma City Thunder coach Mark Daigneault never really doubted Giddey but even he admitted there is always one mystery surrounding even the best prospects.
“You just never know,” he said, speaking at his end-of-season press conference, “when you coach guys, when they start to hit adversity what that looks like”.
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For Giddey, while his rookie season was eventually ended by a hip injury, that moment was more mental than physical. It was the product of non-stop games and travel, something the Australian had not faced while lighting it up back home in the NBL.
When the shots were not going down, the old Josh Giddey would have let it get to him, struggling to put the missed buckets behind him. But this was a different Giddey — one that quickly answered that question mark that Daigneault had.
“His level of fearlessness and aggressiveness in the face of failure is really impressive for a young player,” the Thunder coach said.
“He leans into competition. There are a lot of times when you see young players, they become timid and afraid to fail when they have setbacks. He’s willing to fail and I think that bodes well for him moving forward.”
Oklahoma City has never been the type of the franchise to have quiet offseasons, at least recently, making moves on the trade table and draft board in a longstanding rebuild.
But Giddey’s historic rookie season has given Thunder fans reason to believe, that the Australian along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are foundational building blocks for something better.
If that is not enough of a reason to be hopeful, Giddey already has one eye on the summer, which he said is the period “where players separates themselves”. And how exactly is Giddey planning to separate himself?
Well, speaking to foxsports.com.au late last week, Giddey said both “shooting” and “getting in the weights room” would be “big points of emphasis” for him.
“Hopefully those two things can unlock different things for me and make me a lot better player,” he said.
Shooting in particular could be a “big swing factor” for Giddey, having only shot 26.3 per cent from 3-point land in his rookie season.
There were obvious plenty of things Giddey did right this past season, notably joining Oscar Robertson as the only other player to record three-straight triple-doubles in their rookie season.
In spite of that, Giddey did not receive a single vote in Rookie of the Year polling, something the Australian admitted did “suck to see”.
“It was disappointing… to not even get a single third vote,” he said.
“It is what it is. I experienced the same thing with the state teams, so I’m used to it, I felt it. At the end of the day, it is not the be-all and end-all for me, winning Rookie of the Year. It did suck to see but we moved forward now and I’m excited for year number two.”
As for what year two could look like, one of the more intriguing off-season storylines to follow surrounds Giddey’s pairing with Gilgeous-Alexander.
The pair struck up a lethal partnership before Giddey’s hip injury saw him forced onto the sidelines for the rest of the year. That was just as Daigneault hinted at the Australian having an increased role in the offence alongside the 23-year-old Canadian.
It means both Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander will need to find ways to impact the game off the ball, which again further highlights why shooting will be a “swing factor” in the Australian’s sophomore season.
“It’s evident to see we can both run a team by ourselves but it’s going to be important for us to do that together,” Giddey said earlier last month in his end-of-season Thunder press conference.
“Finding ways to impact the game off the ball, whether it is cutting, screening, whatever it may be.
“As the season got on, it got much better, game after game. I think two ball-handlers isn’t a natural fit and these things take time. I think if you look at all the great duos around the league, they don’t start off as the best. They have to work and it takes years of experience.”
Gilgeous-Alexander said similar himself while praising the Giddey’s “confidence level” as his most impressive quality.
“I think you see guys in the NBA — Steph and Draymond, Damian Lillard and CJ [McCollum] at one point, [Jusuf] Nurk [Nurkic] a little bit — tandems are really hard to guard and both of those examples I gave you have been together for a long time,” he said.
“It takes time to be that good and the earlier Josh and I attack it, the better we’ll be and the better this team will be.
“He’s [Giddey] not the most skilled or athletic player in the NBA. He might be the most smart but he’s not the other two. But he gets it done every night. He’s super confident in himself.”
And the franchise is super confident in him, to the extend that even in his rookie year Giddey said he had been in constant communication with both Daigneault and Thunder GM Sam Presti.
“I’ve got a good relationship with Sam and Mark,” he said.
“We talk a lot. There’s no secrets in our organisation. The direction we’re headed is really positive. Everyone wants to win.
“The sooner that can start, the better. And we’re all headed in that direction. I love Shai, he’s a great guy, the chemistry between us is only growing.”
Giddey said that chemistry was at its best right after the All-Star break in a 124-104 loss to Phoenix, sparked by a meeting he had with Gilgeous-Alexander and Daigneault the day prior.
“We sat down, spoke about some things and that next day we played Phoenix and that was the best it felt out there,” he added.
“Obviously I didn’t play again after that for the season but knowing from there, things picked up from there, it makes me excited for the season. We’re both obviously better with the ball in our hands, it’s not a secret. In that Phoenix game it was evident we really started to figure it out and going forward it is only going to get better.”