A Young Playmaker, Giddey Eager for Thunder Opportunity

Josh Giddey grabbed the ball, squared himself up to the backboard and darted towards the rim. The miniature ball squeezed completely in his right palm, he reared back, leapt into the air and slammed it home through his backyard hoop. Pajama pants ruffling, the pre-teen Giddey pounded his chest in celebration in front of the family trampoline. He shouted with glory at his achievement.

“I grew up from a young age with a ball in my hands,” a now-18-year-old Giddey said while reflecting on childhood moments when he fell in love with the game, one of which he posted on his Twitter account this summer. “I always wanted to make it a career, but I never thought it was realistic. Everything's happened really fast, so looking back on the stuff that was 10 years ago, it's funny to look at now.”

The number six selection overall in the 2021 NBA Draft for the Thunder, Giddey didn’t have to look far though for professional inspiration. His father, Warrick, and mother, Kim, both played professionally in the Australian leagues. Josh eventually played for the NBL for one season as well, as a part of the Adelaide 36ers. When it came to interviewing with NBA teams and getting a feel for organizations, Josh had two former professionals in his camp to help evaluate. In the spring of 2021, Giddey was blown away by his interactions with the Thunder.

“The way they talked and told me about how they want to lift their program and the direction they're headed in, it was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Giddey. “It's a young team and I think it can be something really special and I wanted to be a part of that. Moving forward hopefully in the next coming years we can have a lot of success in Oklahoma.”

Hannah Giddey, Josh’s older sister, preceded him in her basketball career, traversing all the way from the family’s Melbourne home to Tulsa’s Oral Roberts University to pursue her love of the game. Thanks to a fortuitous draft night match, holidays and basketball seasons are going to be a lot simpler than they otherwise might have been for the Giddey crew.

“This was a dream situation and my parents are over the moon about it,” said Giddey. “Ever since the pre-draft process started, Oklahoma is where I wanted to be. I said to my agent, ‘you’ve got to do everything you can to talk to these guys and get them to draft me’.”

In the NBA Draft not only does it take two to tango, but it also requires some luck in the lottery and the draft board to fall the right way to create an outcome like the OKC scenario that Giddey envisioned. Scouting was hard enough over the past 18 months, especially evaluating players in a country like Australia where travel was not an option. But for the Thunder, from adversity springs opportunity.

In early February, Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti traveled to the G-League Bubble in Orlando and, upon arrival, was confined to his hotel room for four days due to a mandatory league-wide quarantine. That’s when Presti dug into his collection of Giddey film. The 6-foot-9 wing was in the midst of putting together his NBL Rookie of the Year campaign, where he averaged 10.8 points, a team-high 7.4 rebounds and a league-best 7.4 assists per game.

“By the time I left my room I had a pretty good feel for him,” said Presti. “That was very helpful because it was just so consistent.”

It was his decision to stay in Australia and play for Adelaide instead of playing collegiately in the United States that vaulted him into lottery pick contention.

“That's a really, really good league and one that has produced some NBA players recently,” said Presti, referring to LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton, players Giddey has looked up to for carving an NBL to NBA pipeline. “That was really helpful actually in our evaluation overall, just knowing the level of that league and the way that Josh was able to impact it.”

“We think Giddey is a great match for us, and where we are as a program, can really have a role for us over time.”-Sam Presti, Executive Vice President & General Manager

Despite his basketball bloodlines, Giddey didn’t view himself as an NBA prospect as a youth. He joined the NBA Global Academy for his high school years, training at Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence in Canberra, the same one that helped mold NBA standouts Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, Luc Longley and Patty Mills. Giddey was also tabbed to try out for the Boomers, Australia’s national basketball team, for the 2020 Olympics. Though he didn’t make the squad, Giddey gained valuable perspective hanging around and playing with long-time veterans.

“Two years ago I was watching their highlights and trying to get them to reply to my Instagram messages,” Giddey said with a grin. “So, following in their footsteps being drafted in the NBA, it's really special.”

The first time the Thunder front office was able to meet with Giddey in person came in late June at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. Cramming his 6-foot-9 frame into his seat on a 14-hour commercial flight, Giddey made the journey from Australia to California, connected through to the Windy City and blew straight into the interview. Presti was impressed that the curly-haired teenage prospect was even awake for the conversation, let alone able to perform in his workout.

Contact continued over the intervening six weeks between the combine and the draft, and on July 29, as Oklahoma City’s selection came up and the clock ticked down, Giddey and his family huddled around one of the 20 tables in front of the stage at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver strode to the podium, announced the Thunder’s pick. After that, Giddey doesn’t remember much more, though vaguely recalls his walk across the stage in front of thousands of fans and a live television audience to shake hands with Silver.

Immediately, Thunder fans and Oklahoma City media were clamoring to get as much information on Giddey as possible. A highly skilled, well-rounded player, the Thunder clearly views Giddey as a playmaker whose size and vision can help connect a team and enhance the ceiling of the five-man unit on the floor.

“First and foremost, he makes other people better,” said Presti. “With the way that the game has developed over time, people that can recognize patterns and read situations in advance and really anticipate things are of great value. He's someone that does that at a very high level.”

After some practices and offseason workouts in Oklahoma City over the last few months, the Thunder has a solid feel for how Giddey can impact games, with his performance in Australia serving as further proof. The ability to grab the ball off the glass and go, defend fluidly across positions and spot cutters and shooters with his passing are all a part of Giddey’s arsenal.

“Being bigger allows me to play a few more positions, be a little bit more versatile on the floor,” said Giddey. “I always love rebounding the ball because I can just get it off the rim and push it in transition. That's where I'm at my best, when I've got it off the board and getting out in the open court. I try to get on the glass as much as I can.”

There’s a lot of runway in front of Giddey as a professional. He won’t even turn 19 until October 10th, just a week and a half before the start of the 2021-22 regular season. Around him, Giddey will have all the assets that the Thunder organization affords its players – coaches, trainers, support staff and information to help him bolster his body and grow as a player. He’ll put in the work and let that carry him onward in his Thunder journey that has already covered many miles, but has thousands more to go.

“A big part of the success of any player in my experience is not just the player's talent, but also the fit that they find with the organization and their ability to plug into the situation that they are in,” said Presti. “We think (Giddey) is a great match for us, and somebody that with where we are as a program, can really have a role for us over time.”