Confident Josh Giddey gives Thunder a boost in win over Nets

Confident Josh Giddey gives Thunder a boost in win over Nets

Teams have been sagging off Giddey, and the Thunder has sought ways to combat it. Against the Nets, Giddey’s confident jump-shooting did the trick.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Jan 1, 2024, 12:44am CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Jan 1, 2024, 12:44am CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — The ball hit Josh Giddey’s hands, and he hesitated. 

The Thunder guard had taken a pass from teammate Lu Dort and found himself in the left corner, behind the 3-point line, with the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie defending. 

Dinwiddie wasn’t in Giddey’s grill, but neither was he sagging well off the way so many defenders of late have. Giddey was crowded, but if he wanted to shoot, the look would be contested but pretty clean. 

He did. It was. He sank it. 

It was the third of Giddey’s season-high four 3-pointers in a 124-108 win against the Nets, and though that’s an outlier night from long distance — he came into the game making 32.9% of his 3s — it was indicative at least of progress. 

Ten games ago, Giddey was getting even more space and was even less willing to shoot. His bumpy third season seemed to hit its on-court rock bottom at Houston, where the Rockets — often with center Alperen Sengun as the primary defender on Giddey — practically dared him into a 3-for-11 shooting night. 

In the 10 games since, Giddey has made 12 of 31 3-pointers, a strong 38.7% for a player with a rep as a non-shooter. 

“Josh is a professional,” teammate Isaiah Joe said Sunday. “He took it upon himself to really put in work to be able to knock down the shots whenever they start to do that. I think he’s done a really good job thus far. Whenever they’ve sagged off, he’s made them pay the majority of the time.”

It was a tumultuous 2023 for Giddey, and his shooting struggles were a small part of the story. 

In November, a post on social-media site X, formerly known as Twitter, posted photos of Giddey alleging an improper relationship with a female minor.

The  Newport Beach Police Department and the NBA launched investigations into the allegations, and Giddey has continued to play for the Thunder, drawing boos on the road nearly every time he touches the ball. 

Those investigations are ongoing, and Giddey hasn’t spoken to reporters since the day after the initial post went viral. 

Independent of the off-court issue, Giddey seemed to struggle early in the season to adapt to a role that changed with the emergence of wing Jalen Williams and the arrival of rookie Chet Holmgren, who missed last season with a foot injury. 

Giddey is still the Thunder’s second-highest usage player — meaning only Gilgeous-Alexander ends more OKC possessions with a field goal attempt, free throws or a turnover — but his game isn’t the same. 

His scoring is down from 16.6 points per game last season to 11.8 in 2023-24. He’s getting 11.1 shots per game, down 3.6 from a season ago. 

Last season, Giddey touched the ball an average of 76.7 times per game and held it for an average of 4.4 seconds per touch. This season, that’s down to 57.4 touches and 2.8 seconds, in part the product of a more balanced offense. 

With so many offensive weapons, teams are opting to give Giddey space to shoot, and he’s struggled, shooting 30.2% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Over his past nine games, though, he’s made 6 of 15 catch-and-shoot 3s (40%). 

“He’s doing exactly what I expected,” teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I’ve said this before: Every young player gets thrown different looks and has to adjust, especially early in their careers. I’ve had to go through it. Teams are going to try to scheme and take you out of your comfort zone and that’s what we saw. And Josh did exactly he’s supposed to do  — learn from it, get better and attack it. And he was killing it tonight.”

He wasn’t alone. The Thunder (22-9) shook off a sluggish start — they trailed 36-33 after a quarter — and controlled the final there quarters. All five OKC starters scored in double figures, led by Gilgeous-Alexander’s 24 points. 

Holmgren and Lu Dort had 18 apiece. Williams pitched in 17. 

But Giddey’s shooting was the story of the night. He was 8 for 16 from the floor and 4 for 8 from 3-point range; he scored 20 or more points for the second time this season, the first since an Oct. 30 home win against Detroit. 

It mostly came down to making shots against the Nets, but Giddey’s recent offensive confidence has come from more than just jump shooting. 

The Thunder has kept him on the move more as a cutter, keeping him from standing still when defenses sag. It’s urging him to move into open space when it’s there to crash the offensive glass. 

And despite a 21-game start in which Giddey shot 30.9% from 3-point range, the Thunder hasn’t stopped giving him the ball on the perimeter. 

Daigneault noted an early third-quarter play against Brooklyn when Giddey inbounded to Williams, who saw Brooklyn center Nic Clayton sagging off and whipped Giddey a pass on the right wing. 

Giddey launched an open 3-pointer and drilled it. 

“I think it’s powerful when your teammate gives you confidence by just throwing you the ball in that situation,” Daigneault said. “(Giddey) obviously stepped into those with confidence. I thought we handled it pretty well. It’s now multiple times that we’ve seen that (sagging defense), so it’s not unfamiliar to us. And we just continue to grow. It’s just another attack that we have to have.” 

One Sunday night against the Nets is hardly enough to say Giddey has turned a corner. But he’s trending in the right direction, and his offensive development is essential for a Thunder team that seems playoff bound. 

In a seven-game series, teams lean into scouting. They pick on every deficiency. If leaving Giddey open is an option, teams will seize on it. 

The version of Giddey OKC has seen in late December would be a postseason perk. 

“He’s coming out extremely confident and aggressive, and that’s what we expect from him,” Holmgren said. “He works extremely hard at his craft, going back to shoot at night and really putting in the effort to be able to play his game, and those are good shots for him and us as a team. He’s knocking them down now, and he’s gonna continue to do that.”

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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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