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(Editor’s note: We are starting individual grades for all players from the 2021-22 Oklahoma City Thunder. To access other reviews as part of this ongoing series, click here.)
With the 2021-22 regular season now officially in the books, the Oklahoma City Thunder (24-58) finished their season with the fourth-best lottery odds. This means it is now time for individual player grades for all 26 players who suited up for the team this season during the 82 games. The grades will be determined by what the season expectations were for each player and how they lived up to them.
The second player in the installment will be Josh Giddey, who completed his rookie season. The 19-year-old is easily the second most important on the Thunder right now.
12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists on 41.9 percent shooting from the field and 26.3 percent shooting from three in 54 games.
Significant Advanced Statistics
Isolation scorer: 71.3 percentile
Potential assists: 11.6
Passes made: 59.9
2022-23: $6.3 million
2023-24: $6.6 million
2024-25: $8.4 million
If you were to tell Thunder fans back in June when the team had the worst lottery luck in the league by falling to the sixth overall pick, that their rookie would finish his campaign winning four of the five Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards, then they would ecstatic that somehow Thunder general manager Sam Presti did it again in making the best of a bad situation.
In the two-thirds of the season that he was available in, Giddey was phenomenal and broke any type of temper expectations by being consistently one of the best rookies in his class. While the jump shot still looked funky as Giddey self-admitted during exit interviews that he plans on tweaking it this summer, the 19-year-old was able to make up for that weakness by being one of the best rebounding and passing guards of the league already. Before a hip injury sidelined him for the entirety of post-All-Star break sans one game, Giddey led all rookies in total rebounds and assists by a significant margin.
Giddey’s basketball IQ and maturity also matched up well with his playmaking skills, as Presti and Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault raved about the rookie’s ability to play like a seasoned veteran throughout the season.
“He’s a very, very quick learner. His pace of learning I think exceeds his results, so I think — and I think I would say that for the team. I think the pace of learning — our pace of learning exceeds the results that we’re seeing right now,” said Presti during his exit interview. “I think Josh is learning quickly, and you may not get to see — it’s not being applied immediately.”
It’s going to be interesting to see how the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey backcourt works out in the long term as both players need the ball in their hands in order to maximize their potential. The team was robbed of the chance to test out the duo with Giddey more on-ball and Gilgeous-Alexander more off-ball due to the former’s hip injury that kept him out for the last third of the season. But as Daigneault has said multiple times, in today’s league, having multiple playmakers and ballhandlers is not a bad thing and teams do not traditionally play position basketball anymore.
The Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey backcourt definitely has a ton of potential as they both are the best and most important players on the roster currently. It can certainly work if both are willing to adjust to each other’s game, but that is not a guarantee either. Only time will tell how the backcourt duo plays out and whether or not it can be a fit for the foreseeable future.
For right now, Giddey will need to tweak his shot enough to make him a respectable outside shooter that opposing defenses need to respect. It’s unfair to expect Giddey to turn into a great shooter, but if he can develop a reputation of being a slightly below average to average shooter, then that is going to unlock a lot of things for both Giddey and the Thunder offense as a whole.
Now, that doesn’t mean if Giddey never develops a shot he’ll be unplayable. The elite playmaking, passing and rebounding should be enough to make him a high-end starter in the league for at least a decade — and that’s perfectly fine! If the Thunder get a high-end starting guard with the sixth overall pick, I would consider that a win. But if Giddey can craft a somewhat respectable jumper, then that increases his ceiling significantly.
Overall, I think it’s fair to say that Giddey exceeded his rookie season expectations. Even if he only played 54 games, the rookie guard proved to show that he was one of the best in his class when healthy. It looks like the Thunder got someone really special whose floor is being a high-end starter in the league, and considering how much bad luck the Thunder got during the 2021 NBA draft lottery by falling to sixth overall, then that’s coming out of a bad situation with a massive win.
Giddey was consistently good throughout the season and as his confidence continued to grow, so did his performances. Throughout the season, it felt like Giddey was breaking some sort of rookie record every other night where the company he shared were first-ballot Hall-of-Famers.
Final Grade: A