Inside Josh Giddey’s ‘make-or-break’ adjustment to his new Thunder role

Inside Josh Giddey’s ‘make-or-break’ adjustment to his new Thunder role

Fifty games into the Thunder’s season, Josh Giddey still hasn’t grown comfortable in his new role. He called Sunday’s game against the Raptors a step in the right direction.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Feb 5, 2024, 4:00pm CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Feb 5, 2024, 4:00pm CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — Twenty-nine minutes in, the best game of Josh Giddey’s season seemed like anything but. 

The Thunder guard was on the court, at least, and that was something.  

It was midway through the third quarter Sunday night at Paycom Center and Giddey — a starter — had been re-inserted after beginning the second half on the bench. 

Not much else was going Giddey’s way. 

Toronto was blitzing teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with double-teams, forcing the All-Star guard to surrender the ball. It’s a strategy that gave Giddey added opportunities to take the ball and make plays, and he hadn’t done it much. 

Besides that, the Thunder tailed by 23 points to a Raptors team that entered the game having lost nine of its past 12. 

But maybe it’s fitting that, in this season that Giddey on Sunday called the “most difficult” of his three in the NBA, he had to look so lost before he could find something. 

The Thunder’s rally to win 135-127 in double overtime took contributions from everyone, but Giddey was as good as anyone. 

He finished with 24 points, six rebounds and six assists, and given the adjustments he’s making — and the criticism he’s taking — that performance felt as notable as any in the win. 

“I’ve just tried to get back to me,” Giddey said afterward. 

That has been a journey. 

Giddey’s season has been most notable for its off-court tumult. 

In November, a post on social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, alleged he had an improper relationship with a female minor. The post went viral, and Newport Beach (Calif.) Police  opened an investigation, then closed it last month after failing to find corroborating evidence. 

Independent of that, the season has been a struggle. 

The emergence of second-year wing Jalen Williams — who missed his second-straight game Sunday with a right ankle sprain — and rookie center Chet Holmgren has reduced Giddey’s shot attempts and scoring opportunities. 

He’s taking four fewer shots a game than he did a year ago. 

And though Giddey still has the ball plenty, it’s rarely as the Thunder’s primary playmaker, given Gilgeous-Alexander’s continued growth as both a creator and scorer. 

“A guy like Josh, it’s the hardest thing to do,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Like, he’s been a dynamic ballhandler his whole career, and some of that has been pulled away from him, obviously.”

Giddey has insisted he’s OK with that — he “never pouts,” Gilgeous-Alexander said — but accepting isn’t the same as adjusting. 

The latter has been a process, and one terrific game against Toronto isn’t an arrival. 

“It’s not going to be overnight,” Giddey said. “This takes time, and progress is never linear with things like this. I’m 21 years old. I’m gonna go through tough stretches, as I’ve been through most of the season. But I’m trying not to let it faze me, trying to stay confident.”

He called Sunday’s game “a good step in the right direction in terms of confidence and decision-making.”

From the time the Thunder fell behind by 23 until the buzzer sounded on the second overtime, Giddey had 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, four rebounds and three assists. 

Daigneault lauded Giddey’s “intensity” at the defensive end and on the glass — he blocked two shots and had four defensive rebounds — and said that offensively he played “with great decisiveness in his shooting and also his driving, his movement off the ball.”

“I thought he had great balance tonight,” Daigneault said. 

Balance is key for Giddey. He can contribute without scoring. He entered Sunday having averaged 6.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists over his previous 10 games. 

The 6-foot-8 Australian scored 9.8 points per game over that same span but hit 5 of 28 3-pointers. 

For the season, he’s averaging career lows in points (11.7), rebounds (6.3) and assists (4.6).

Giddey was 2 for 6 from long range against the Raptors, and though he’s worked hard at his jump shot, it isn’t — and might never be — his strong suit. He’s shooting 32.6% from 3-point range this season, effectively the same as a year ago (32.5%) and he’s a 30.3% 3-point shooter for his career. 

That number more than any other seems to drive criticism of Giddey — and conversation about whether he’s a long-term fit with Gilgeous-Alexander. 

Last week, Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze created some buzz when, in an interview with CODE Sports, he called the Thunder trading Giddey a “realistic possibility,” both for long-term economic reasons and because playing off the ball “probably isn’t the best situation” for Giddey. 

The fit hasn’t always looked natural. 

Giddey is a good cutter, but he’s struggled this season to finish around the rim, shooting 57% in the restricted area and 39.7% on shots inside the paint but outside the restricted area. 

There are nights like Sunday when he looks like a valuable cog. And nights like last Monday’s loss to Minnesota, when the Timberwolves guarded him with center Rudy Gobert, who played off and gave Giddey space to shoot. 

Giddey was 2 for 11 from the floor. 

So Sunday’s game was a positive step. But it was just one. 

Still, for all his struggles to adapt to his new normal, the Thunder has thrived. It’s tied for first place in the Western Conference, and when Giddey says he’s trying to get “back on track,” his next words are “more importantly, the team’s been awesome.”

Given that, he can work through his struggles. 

“I would say for me, yeah, it’s been the most difficult out of my three years but that’s not a bad thing,” Giddey said. “I think these moments and these stretches are what make or break players, and we’re heading in the right direction.”

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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