The decision to take Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out of the lineup started the Thunder’s tank. Al Horford was sent home. Luguentz Dort sat out games for rest that he would have played if the Thunder were pushing to achieve something. What resulted was some of the ugliest basketball that I have seen in a long time.
There was no sense of collective in the lineups that the Thunder ran towards the end of last season. Oklahoma City played minutes for the sake of development not for any real desire to win games of basketball. As a Thunder fan, it was difficult to watch.
Although, I could take solace in watching players like Isaiah Roby grab the opportunity by the bullhorns, it was not what I was used to. For the entirety of my time watching the Thunder, I had watched some approximation of good basketball.
Russell Westbrook provided feats of incredible ability and will on a nightly basis. Chris Paul delivered those epic fourth quarters where he would turn back the clock and prove that the wily old veteran could still hang with the best of them. It was fun to watch and watching the Thunder last season reminded me of what we had lost.
The fun in the Thunder had been replaced by basketball played by young guys trying their best to hold things together. All of that heartache was not in vain, the Thunder ended up with sixth pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
The Thunder getting sixth was unexpected but not necessarily unwelcome. Oklahoma City would either get Scottie Barnes or Jalen Suggs depending on how everybody else picked. Nobody expected Jonathan Kuminga to slide as he did. All of the supposed blue-chip talents were gone by the time the Thunder picked and imperfect solutions were left.
The two best options were Jonathan Kuminga and Josh Giddey. Kuminga was and still is viewed to have a higher ceiling. Kuminga is an athletic marvel and once he adds refinement to his raw game, he should be a force to be reckoned with. However, the Thunder took Josh and caused consternation.
There were very few who truly understood what the Thunder had acquired in Giddey. The headline was that the Thunder had taken an Aussie forward who could pass the ball but had a shaky shot and limited athleticism. None of those are really votes of confidence.
Giddey turned all of that around in the first game of preseason. The finer points of his play can be discussed another day but he left me feeling like Thunder basketball was fun again. Giddey found these jaw-dropping, cheeky passes in game against the Hornets which left me in awe.
I will apply the caveat that it is just preseason and the games are meaningless right now but I am so happy with the skill that Josh has displayed so far. He is already an elite passer at 19 years old and is only getting better with every second that he plays.
I enjoy watching Giddey as he does not try to do difficult things for the sake of proving that he has sauce. Giddey will take the simple option if it benefits the team and puts his teammate in great positions to score.
In an odd way, he reminds me of Kevin De Bruyne. For those who do not know, Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best midfielders in soccer in the world right now. De Bruyne has a wand of a boot that allows him to drop a weighted pass perfectly into the path of a teammate over and over again.
He has the ability to play the Hollywood pass every single time he receives the ball but his focus is his team. De Bruyne will do anything it takes to win even if it sacrifices his own personal glory. Giddey seems to have that same selflessness, the same desire to win at the cost of anything else.
Last night was only another example of Giddey being able to perform when it matters most, The Thunder were in a close game with the Denver Nuggets and Josh stepped up in a big way. Giddey was unafraid of the moment and played his game calmly.
Giddey could be a rising tide for the Thunder and the second cornerstone of the Thunder’s next generation of basketball. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander taking teams apart in isolation and Josh Giddey seeing the floor like few others can, I feel pretty positive about the Thunder’s future.
This season will still be difficult given the Thunder’s youth and inexperience but the long-term outlook seems much better. The Thunder are fun again and there might something for fans to believe in again for the first time in a long time.