Mussatto's Minutes: Why Josh Giddey should stay in Thunder starting lineup

With each defender who sags off Josh Giddey, daring the Thunder guard to shoot or drive into traffic, somebody somewhere cries for Mark Daigneault to change his starting lineup.

In this week’s edition of Mussatto’s Minutes, we raise a glass to Poku and talk Bedlam women’s hoops, but first let’s dive into the Thunder’s starting five.

You don’t have to be a basketball savant to see that Giddey, like a puzzle piece from a different box, doesn’t naturally fit the position he’s been forced into. He’s best with the ball in his hands, initiating an offense.

Giddey’s opportunities to do that have shrunk, rightfully so, when he’s sharing the court with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and/or Jalen Williams. Giddey has been demoted to standing in the corner, where teams have no interest in guarding him. It creates a spacing issue, allowing Giddey’s defender to linger closer to the paint, where Gilgeous-Alexander does so much of his damage.

Having said that, I don’t think the Thunder will or should remove Giddey from the starting lineup.

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Thunder guard Josh Giddey (3) tries to get past Wizards guard Tyus Jones (5) on Friday night at Paycom Center.
Thunder guard Josh Giddey (3) tries to get past Wizards guard Tyus Jones (5) on Friday night at Paycom Center.

The Thunder is 40-17, tied for first in the West. 40-17! OKC has the No. 3 offense in the NBA.

Imagine having predicted that in October. Perspective is important.

And the starting lineup of Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey, Lu Dort, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren? It has a 6.4 net rating — outscoring opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions in 610 total minutes.

Granted, the lineup has been trending in the wrong direction as teams defend the Thunder in more extreme ways. OKC has a -4.0 net rating in its last 10 games — an 89-minute sample size.

In that same 10-game sample, though, the Thunder has a 9.6 net rating in the totality of Giddey’s 249 minutes, which speaks to the success of other lineup combinations involving the third-year guard.

Starting lineups are overrated, anyway. Closing lineups win games.

And Giddey’s minutes have already been slashed in crunch time.

Giddey has played in 56 first quarters compared to 48 fourth quarters. He averages 7.4 minutes per game in first quarters and 5.8 minutes per game in fourth quarters.

He’s also been much more efficient in first quarters, shooting 46% from the field, including 38% from 3-point range. In fourth quarters he’s shooting 42% overall and a measly 15% from 3-point range.

It’s not like the Thunder is digging out of early holes because of Giddey’s shortcomings. The Thunder has a 7.6 net rating in first quarters, 5.8 in second quarters, 14.1 in third quarters and 4.2 in fourth quarters.

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If Daigneault does alter the starting lineup, replacing Giddey with sharpshooter Isaiah Joe is the obvious move on paper. That’s the group Daigneault went with to start a second half last week.

A lineup of Joe and the other four starters has outscored opponents by a whopping 28.9 points per 100 possessions. That’s been OKC’s second most-used lineup (78 minutes) behind the regular five starters (610 minutes).

But say the Thunder makes that change. What are the trickle down effects?

What does that do to Giddey’s confidence, which already seems shaky? The Thunder still believes in Giddey, by the way. He’s a 21-year-old who’s a year removed from averaging 16.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.

What does it do to the Thunder’s bench? Joe has thrived in his reserve role.

It seems an issue best solved for next season.

Because as clunky as it might look, it’s working. And on nights when it doesn’t, it matters not who starts games but who finishes.

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Oklahoma City Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski (17) reacts before checking in during the second half of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Charolette Hornets at Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski (17) reacts before checking in during the second half of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Charolette Hornets at Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.

Aleksej Pokusevski and the end of an era

Pour one out for Aleksej Pokusevski, whose Thunder career ended last week.

The Thunder waived Pokusevski, who played in 150 games (65 starts) for the Thunder in parts of four seasons. The 7-footer from Serbia averaged 7.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game with a sub-40 field goal percentage and sub-30 3-point percentage.

Pokusevski was relegated to the end of the bench this season, inactive for more games (18) than he played (10).

The flashes were bright but scant for Pokusevski, who became a caricature of the Thunder’s rebuild. He was beloved by fans, genuinely and ironically, for his fanny packs and goofy dance moves, absurd passes and awkward drives. And although his bloopers were aplenty, there were enough highlights that teased at his upside.

But the real Poku never developed into the idea of Poku, no matter how much Thunder fans tried to kid themselves. And that’s no fault of Pokusevski’s, who from Day 1 was hailed a cult hero despite being the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Look at the list of 17th overall picks. Way more misses than hits. The last No. 17 pick to become an All-Star is Jrue Holiday, drafted in 2009.

There were some real finds in the 2020 draft after Pokusevski. Tyrese Maxey went 21st, Immanuel Quickley 25th, Jaden McDaniels 28th and Desmond Bane 30th.

But every draft is filled with what-ifs.

The Thunder whiffed on Pokusevski, but he was worth the swing.

Mussatto: Jennie Baranczyk has OU women's basketball on cusp of history after Bedlam rout

Bedlam women’s broadcast on FOX important for sport

OU’s 91-56 bludgeoning of OSU on Saturday aired nationally on FOX.

To have a Bedlam women’s basketball game get that kind of exposure is important for the sport.

“I’m really, really happy today that we had so many people here,” OU coach Jennie Baranczyk said after the game. “At a national level, women’s basketball is at an all-time high. People are following.”

Baranczyk cited increased viewership numbers to back her point.

“In the state of Oklahoma, we’re not there yet,” Baranczyk said. “But today, look at how many people came today. And they could’ve watched it at home, they can watch most of our games at home, but they came today to show the support for this sport.”

During the press conference, Baranczyk’s daughter played under the table from which her mom spoke.

“I have young kids. Clearly,” Baranczyk said. “I see young boys, I see young girls playing. There are plenty of young people in this state that are playing this sport. We need them to continue to fall in love with it.

“I love that we have great Division I basketball programs in our state. We need to just continue to do our job to elevate the level of women’s basketball in our state. And I feel like today, the rest of the world got to see that we’re getting closer.”

The 20th-ranked Sooners will host third-ranked Texas at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Joe Mussatto is a sports columnist for The Oklahoman. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at Support Joe's work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Why Josh Giddey should stay in OKC Thunder starting lineup