Quietly, over the last few weeks, Josh Giddey has turned a corner and is starting to find the form he displayed last season before a season ending injury. Giddey’s knack for snagging offensive boards and his passing have been huge positives for a Thunder team that can be deficient in those aspects of the game.
At the start of season, Giddey struggled to impact the game in which he had become accustomed. His rookie year provided opposing teams with film to build a scouting report and target Giddey’s weaknesses.
Teams became familiar with his game and packed the paint. Scoring and playmaking has been harder for Giddey this season; the forest of bodies below the arc have made it difficult for Josh to thread cross-court passes through small gaps.
The other point worth noting is that the Thunder’s style of play has shifted in emphasis. In Giddey’s rookie season, he often drove the offense even with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the floor. SGA would play off-ball and try to find ways to get buckets despite not really knowing that role.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence as an otherworldly shot-creator in the half-court has meant that Coach Daigneault is placing the ball in Shai’s more regularly. Oklahoma City still run weave actions above the arc and try to create holes in the defense by moving the ball quickly laterally but the average possession time has fallen.
An offensive possession for the Thunder is 13.4 seconds long as per Inpredictable. Last season, the average time of possession on offense was 14.4 seconds. The difference is marginal but the faster possessions are indicative of the Thunder’s approach.
Oklahoma City are spending less time setting up actions and spending more time going straight for the opposing team’s throat. Again, this style of play fits more neatly in Shai’s wheelhouse than it does Giddey’s. Giddey is best against an opposing team that is uncertain and who do not know where their assignments are.
His last five games would indicate that Giddey is starting to become comfortable but it does not seem to come naturally to the young Australian. You can see this in his assist numbers, Giddey is only averaging 3.8 dimes per night; for the season, he averages 5.5 assists.
Josh’s greatest skill is his passing and the Thunder have to find the right operating window to allow Giddey to shine as a lead initiator. I am really happy that Giddey is playing serviceable defense and knocking down shots from deep, these are skills which improve his fit with Shai tremendously but it is not what fans come to see with Giddey.
As a fan, we live for those brief, breathless moments in which we gasp at Giddey’s audacity and court vision. We have not had many of those moments so far and it is in the Thunder’s interest to get the most out of Giddey’s playmaking. Josh playing to his best capabilities raises the Thunder’s level and assuage doubt about his fit with SGA.
Coach Daigneault has staggered Giddey and SGA this season. Giddey runs the offense solo at the start of second and fourth when Shai sits on the bench. Rotation data as per NBA Rotations indicate that Tre Mann and Jalen Williams often share the court with Giddey during this period of the game.
The front-court is more fluid but Kenrich Williams and Darius Bazley usually complete the lineup whenever Giddey is the lead ball-handler. It is not a bad lineup but I think that playing Bazley at the 5 makes it harder to defend the rim and it takes away the Thunder’s options on offense.
Giddey loves to get in the pick and roll and feed pocket passes into rolling bigs. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Josh Giddey have great chemistry as a result of JRE knowing where to position himself to catch Giddey’s passes. The same can be said for Mike Muscala whenever he pops out behind the arc after setting a pick for Josh.
Bazley is a good finisher around the rim and has shown promise rolling to his basket but his chemistry is not quite right with Giddey. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the disconnect is but it does feel like both players operate on different wavelengths.
In fact, I think that Bazley is a better fit with Shai particularly when you consider Gilgeous-Alexander’s predilection for dumping the ball down into the dunker’s spot. Why not swap the rotation place around and play JRE with Giddey more often?
I would also look at playing Aaron Wiggins and Josh Giddey together more often. Wiggins, along with Jalen Williams, can be relied upon to move off the ball and cut. Aaron usually sits in the deep corner, waiting for the defense to step up so that he can sneak backdoor for an easy finish at the rim.
Having Williams, Wiggins and Kenny Hustle on the floor at the same time would increase the Thunder’s off ball running and give Giddey plenty of targets to pass the ball to. It would create the sort of chaos where Josh’s instinctive passing would thrive.
Lastly, having four talented plus defenders around Josh would go some way to masking his defensive weaknesses. Giddey works really hard on defense but his lack of agility makes it difficult for him to stay attached to his assignment. Playing smart help defenders around Giddey would minimise the number of defensive breakdowns that the Thunder have when Josh flies solo.
The ideal lineup around Giddey should consist of floor-spacing, spatially aware defense and secondary playmaking. I believe that a lineup including Jalen Williams, Kenrich Williams, JRE and Aaron Wiggins would provide that in abundance and go a long to maximising Josh Giddey’s ability.