Some draft experts saw it as a risk when Oklahoma City drafted Josh Giddey last summer.
The Thunder took the young Australian point guard with the No. 6 pick in the NBA Draft, a few spots higher than most experts had placed Giddey heading into the night. The hope for the Thunder was that Giddey could develop into a premiere playmaker.
So far, that risk has paid off.
The 19-year old rookie has made an immediate impact in the NBA and on the Thunder. He’s started in all 29 games he’s played, posting per-game averages of 11 points, seven rebounds, six assists and a steal.
While Giddey has shown flashes of an all-around game, the potential is clearly there for him to be one of the better passers in the NBA. He not only leads the Thunder in assists per game, he also leads all rookies.
His passing ability has made an immediate impression on his teammates, including backcourt partner Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
“He sees everything,” Gilgeous Alexander told reporters last month. “And then everything’s on target.”
His passing is impressive, in part, because of his vision and his ability to execute. He can already make every pass in the book, and he’s already compiled several highlight worthy plays by threading passes to teammates even when they don’t appear to be open.
Part of what helps is his size. He’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, which gives him the body of a forward with the passing and dribbling skills of a guard.
He’s fit in pretty well in the Thunder’s offense, and has often operated as the team’s ball handler.
“The thing that impresses me about him is that he’s not afraid of the play,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “He’s succeeded a lot of times this year, he’s failed a lot of times this year and he just steps right into shots, he steps right into plays. He plays with no fear of consequence. He just plays.
“Again, for a young player, it’s really impressive.”
He’s played a key role in the Thunder’s recent stretch of solid play, with the team winning five of their past nine games. In a 104-103 win against the Los Angeles Clippers last week, Giddey finished with a near triple-double of eight points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists.
The main focus now is for Giddey to improve his scoring efficiency. He’s shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 25 percent from the 3-point line this season, and he knows that’s going to be an area of emphasis moving forward.
“I’m going to see different coverages, [and I’m] trying to adjust the way I play to that,” Giddey said after the team’s 108-94 win over Denver Wednesday. “I need to work on my shooting, work on finishing, especially in the midrange. Because that’s a part of the game that teams are kind of forcing you to shoot, so if you can’t make those shots, it’s going to be a long night.
“A lot of my game, I’ve still got to work on.”
The real focus for the Thunder moving forward, however, is Giddey’s chemistry with Gilgeous-Alexander. When the duo plays together, they take turns running the offense, and Daigneault has often staggered their minutes to give them both the chance to play without the other.
However, against New Orleans last week, Daigneault adjusted and played Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander every minute of their on-court time together. Daigneault was pleased with the results, as Gilgeous-Alexander finished with a team-high 33 points while Giddey added 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
“One of the things that we’re trying to explore with the team is those guys kind of in their own units with some staggering, and also those guys on the court together,” Daigneault said after the game. “I thought those guys played off each other very well, which is a good sign of progress.”
The ultimate goal is for them to find success together. If they can do that, the Thunder may have the answer to their starting backcourt of the future.
“It’s going to be critical that they’re both better because they’re playing with the other one,” Daigneault said.