Josh Giddey’s ability to adapt to basketball in the NBA was one of the key questions asked about him time and time again. His thin frame and perceived lack of strength led many to believe that Giddey would flame out pretty quickly. For full disclosure, I thought that Giddey would have issues against physical, tough forwards like PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris.
So far, Josh has confounded expectations. He has emerged as a legitimate contributor on a competitive young team. Giddey has proven that he can lead the offense and that his silky passing translates to a more athletic level of the game. Giddey’s creativity has been dialled back a touch but his accuracy and passing vision means that he is an effective playmaker.
Josh’s passing cannot simply be summed up as accurate and reliable. His ability to find a pass goes further than that. He plays like an attacking midfielder in soccer, like a Bernardo Silva roaming across the field and bringing his teammates into play. The soccer analogy is the only analogy that makes sense to me. Giddey’s ability to create time and thinking space is unlike most NBA players.
The best soccer teams in the world, Liverpool, Manchester City and Bayern Munich all depend on a style of high-intensity, aggressive passing that cuts opposing teams apart. All three teams are elite at creating ‘pausa’, a Spanish term from Latin America soccer used to describe control of timing.
You often see the ‘pausa’ during their games. It may be Thiago Alcantara drawing defenders close before switching a pass out to the right wing for Trent Alexander-Arnold to attack. It may be Kevin De Bruyne slowing his dribble slightly and allowing the passing windows to develop before sliding the ball to Ferran Torres. Josh Giddey has those same, soccer-like qualities.
You will see Giddey dribble into the painted area and create that pocket of thinking space countless times during the game. His deft, sharp passing allows him to withstand pressure from the defense for a longer period than most and he uses that period to find a great shot.
Giddey’s ambidexterity aids him in this regard; he is able to find escape routes and passing angles more easily than other guards. It is very difficult to box Giddey in even when the defense is standing right in front of him.
Giddey has one final quality in his game that allows him to find thinking space, his feel for the game and interpretation of space. Giddey is a pass-first player who looks to get his teammates involved in the game all the time. He understands that soft doubles on him means vast swathes of space for another Thunder player.
More than that, Giddey seems to understand that space fluctuates during a game depending on how opposing teams play him. When Giddey plays one defensive player in a man to man coverage, he will use his soft touch around the rim to score within three feet. His scoring threat leverages the defense and forces them to send two players after Giddey.
That situation is almost preferable for Giddey. He has a Houdini-like ability to escape pressure and play an incisive pass into a teammate. That 1v2 situation is something that Giddey exploits and turns into a weapon.
The other aspect of Giddey’s play which is intriguing is his offensive rebounding. Giddey currently averages 1.8 offensive boards per game; he is ranked first out of all guards when it comes to offensive rebounds. The obvious benefit of his work on the glass is that the Thunder can extend possessions and find additional chances to score the basketball.
Giddey’s offensive rebounding has less obvious benefits as well. With Giddey snagging boards, Oklahoma City can suffocate the opposing team and force them to make mistakes defensively. It is incredibly difficult for a team of five players to make the right decision on every single movement for two whole possessions.
Teams rely on alternating offensive and defensive possessions to provide respite and the sort of mental reset needed to play good defense. Thinking your way through problems become much harder for a team when their players are gassed.
The other benefit of Giddey grabbing boards is schematic. The offensive rebound stretches the floor vertically. Most teams send one person to the glass to get the defensive rebound while everybody else wanders down the court and sets up on offense. The presence of Giddey down low forces the opposing team to commit another body to the glass and prevents them from getting into their half-court sets early in the shot clock.
The addition of Giddey has allowed the Thunder to play with greater control and ball retention. The Thunder were last in turnovers per game last year and now the team is 20th. Oklahoma City are losing the ball for nothing less often which has a benefit to the offense and defense. There are simply less wasted possessions for the Thunder.
Giddey’s control of the shot clock and willingness to work through the progressions on the offense means that the Thunder are usually able to find a decent look and do not give up a ton of easy transition scores. His passing organises the game for the Thunder on both ends of the floor.