Josh Giddey dissects a game of basketball like few other rookies.Threading the needle with surgical precision, the Australian point guard turns magician on the court, picking opposition defences apart like a quarterback. And that is no coincidence either. Giddey said he “always liked” the NFL, even before heading over to America for his first season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Like any good student of the game, Giddey would sit down every week for Sunday’s slate of football, with a keen eye on the NFL’s $500-million man — Patrick Mahomes. “I definitely love watching it, quarterbacks like Mahomes, he’s my favourite player,” he told foxsports.com.au of the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback. “How good he makes his team. If you look around the NFL, I’m not a diehard NFL fan or know a whole lot about it, but just the way he impacts the game and makes his teammates better. That’s why he drew my attention and ever since I started watching him I loved it.”
Like Mahomes and the NFL’s other elite quarterbacks, Giddey is always a few steps ahead of the opposition, finding open teammates with one-handed, crosscourt lasers. Giddey reckons the passes Mahomes throws on the weekly are “incredible”. But there is something equally incredible about the way the Australian makes the extraordinary ordinary. It is not so much about passing to the man himself but a space, anticipating a play before it unfolds.
“There is different aspects from a quarterback to a point guard or guard in the NBA,” Giddey said. “That’s why I love Mahomes — the way he passes and he puts the ball in front of his teammates so they can run onto it. To be a quarterback in the NFL you have to be able to have 360-degree vision. It’s essential for a guard in the NBA to be able to see the floor at all times and it’s essential for a quarterback to see the field at all times.
“That aspect of it is the same and it’s definitely one of the things as a quarterback you can take and put into your game as a basketball player. I guess that’s what a quarterback has to do, you put it into a space so a guy can run onto it. “The same with basketball, throwing back-cuts or passing in transition, you want to throw it so they can run onto it and get into their gather straight away. It’s definitely something I try and do, just like those quarterbacks do.”
And his teammates have noticed it too, with Ty Jerome telling reporters in October last year that whenever Giddey has the ball in hand, he knows something is going to happen. He won’t know exactly what but is always prepared, always running into space. “I love playing with Josh Giddey,” Jerome said at the time. “I’m on his team every practice and I sprint to every spot because I know I have a chance to get the ball… he’s going to be special.” That was October. Now Giddey is in his first full NBA off-season, having already made a mark with his majestic passing, so much so that he caught the eye of LeBron James.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar was full of praise for Giddey back during the All-Star break, speaking of the 19-year-old’s ability to “see the game a lot quicker” than most. Giddey said he has “not really spoke” to James out on the floor — both are intense competitors after all. But even still, those words from one of his “idols” won’t be forgotten. “He’s arguably the greatest to ever play and someone who was a massive role model for me growing up,” Giddey said.
“To hear those things out of someone like that is really special and means a lot, it has a lot of weight behind it.” Like James, who was drafted into a Cleveland Cavaliers side coming off five-straight losing seasons, Giddey was also well-aware what being selected by Oklahoma City meant. But that did not change a thing for the Australian, who is now ready to put the extra hours in, confident the Thunder is building something special — and that he can be a part of it.
“I knew I was probably going to lose a few more games than I had in my life,” he said. “But I wanted to be in Oklahoma. I loved it, a great group of guys, the organisation is awesome, the city is great. As a rookie I had a lot of learning experiences but [I’m] happy with how the year went and I have a lot to work on this off-season.”