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Garden of Giddey
Josh Giddey dominates at Mecca, the return of an MVP candidate, a walkoff poster and mailbag.
The Garden of Giddey
Josh Giddey is 19 years old.
Let me repeat that.
Josh Giddey is 19 years old.
Cast your mind back to July, just mere days after being denied a spot on the Australian Olympic team to take on Tokyo, there was Josh Giddey, suited and booted, awaiting his fate at the hands of Adam Silver at the NBA Draft.
He wouldn’t have to wait long, but as soon as the card was opened and Oklahoma City announced as his destination, the whispers started.
“Can he shoot?”
“Is he athletic enough?”
“He hasn’t played against real competition yet.”
The unfortunate reality of the American sporting landscape is it doesn’t matter how good you are, because if you didn’t do it stateside, you may as well have not done it at all. It’s the same concerns that caused Luka Doncic, a Euroleague MVP at the age of 19 for one of the biggest sporting organisations in the world, to fall to the third pick in 2018 because he didn’t play in front of 30 people at Oral Roberts on a sleepy Tuesday afternoon.
Remember this gem of a scouting report?
I would like to speak to this scout’s manager.
Listing shot creation and ball handling as weaknesses of Giddey, a 6’8” point guard who led the NBL in assists in his rookie and only season, is like calling Steph a poor midrange shooter.
Even still, there were some legitimate concerns about Giddey, namely his outside shooting and ability to play at NBA pace and against NBA level athletes, but I think what a lot of scouts discarded was Giddey’s ability to “out-big” his opponents.
As a 6’8” guard, Giddey has a size advantage over almost anyone who guards him. Athleticism isn’t limited to being able to put someone on a poster, and Giddey’s ability to get to absolutely anywhere he needs to be mitigates his lack of flashy bounce and burst.
But maybe what’s been the most impressive aspect of Giddey’s season so far, to me, isn’t the raw numbers, it’s the manner in which he’s willed the team to some wins they don’t deserve to have.
Before the season I spoke to people from every NBA fanbase trying to get a sense of the narratives and feelings around each team heading into the season. For OKC, I spoke to David Brandon and, like with everyone, I asked whether the Thunder would go over or under their wins line (set at 25.5).
“Over, mainly because Shai will drag this team to that mark by himself.”
Well the Thunder have been without Shai for 12 games this season, and they still sit at 18-39, 26 win pace over an 82 game season. Lu Dort has picked up some slack, but the Thunder are 4-8 in games without Shai, and a large part of that is Giddey averaging 16.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists in those contests.
Giddey’s triple double in Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of basketball, was his magnum opus, his announcement to the rest of the league, where he stood on the table and bellowed that he belonged.
28 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists, one huge Shai-less win.
Balling out in the Garden is a special occasion. The hardwood in the Mecca is hallowed, it creaks stories of Stephen Curry’s 54 point explosion, of Melo’s historic 62 for the Knicks and MSG record, of litres of bloodshed and sweat drips, of legends like Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Bernard King, John Starks, Latrell Sprewell and Patrick Ewing.
You’re nothing until you show up in the Garden.
Forget the Knicks record and struggles. Forget the memes around Tom Thibodeau, the Cam Reddish storylines, the Julius Randle post-MIP plateau. The Knicks could be a winless mirage of desperation and despair, but a game in the Garden carries that reverence.
Josh Giddey’s triple double was a carefully orchestrated assault of precision, finesse and creativity. Where Russell Westbrook dominates with the force of a cartoon anvil, where Nikola Jokic monsters opponents like the swirling night ocean, Josh Giddey was the silent samurai, snaking and plotting, unapologetically, unassuming, yet mirthless and methodical.
In a game where you could be forgiven for faltering under the lights, without your brightest star and his longtime sidekick, it was the new act in town who put the circus on his shoulders. Willing a ragtag bunch of rookies and journeyman alike, it was a game the built-to-win-later Thunder had no business winning.
To David’s original point, Shai might will the team to invisible wins, wins that don’t materialise until late in the game, but he can’t do it when he isn’t there, and he hasn’t been there for a large enough sample size now this season.
What we’re learning is Josh Giddey is that guy. All your pre-draft blithering about an unathletic international prospect who didn’t dance for you in your unpaid NCAA backyards has been well and truly silenced now, because Josh Giddey is coming for your precious All-Stars, your hallowed courts, and your fancy records.
Josh Giddey is coming for your league, don’t get caught lacking.
And now, the rest of today’s musings.
Don’t Forget About DeMar
The Chicago Bulls, once the hipster’s delight of the Eastern Conference, have faltered slightly, and no I don’t mean record wise.
The greatest compliment you can give a team in the NBA is to stop caring about them because their success is expected. The Bulls sit at 37-21, second in a strong Eastern Conference, and all talk of them has mainly subsided, but why?
If I had to guess, the Bulls just aren’t as watchable as they were earlier in the season, mainly due to injuries to Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Patrick Williams and Derrick Jones Jr.
Ayo Dosunmu, the feature of last week’s newsletter, has emerged as a very useful swiss army knife in the backcourt, but the main reason the Bulls are still winning with their hodgepodge collection of depth talent right now is the early bolter for MVP, DeMar DeRozan.
Take a look at this insanity.
Wilt Chamberlain was a seven footer playing in a time where the league average height was much lower and he was constantly fed forty shots a night.
The fact DeMar DeRozan is doing something we haven’t seen in sixty years, to have only been done by Wilt Chamberlain himself, in this modern era of advanced scouting and elite athleticism, on a team where he’s options one, two and three on offense, is nothing short of completely insane.
The Bulls are 4-2 in their last six, keyed by a 2K MyCareer statline from DeRozan, with averages of 38.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists, but the most insane thing? He’s barely sniffing the three point line. In fact, in today’s win over San Antonio he didn’t attempt a single three.
Shot profile is common terminology that has crept into modern NBA parlance. It basically argues that you should be shooting threes or layups, and very few players are so good that their shot profile is whatever they want or get.
DeMar’s shot profile spits in the face of analytics and dances on its grave. An atypical modern offensive force, it’s death by a thousand elbow jumpers and post fadeaways. A game so ruthlessly effective yet analytically distasteful it sends desk jockeys into math-induced fits and sleepless nights.
DeMar is 10th currently on Basketball Reference’s MVP tracker, but to me his case feels very similar to Joel Embiid’s, at least lately. Embiid’s narrative has been built by dragging an underperforming team to wins through gaudy numbers. Well, you replace the underperforming with injury-riddled and that’s DeMar DeRozan.
The narrative might not favour DeMar because his team is legitimately good and he’s had better help for the majority of the season, but you shouldn’t forget his case when voting.
A Walkoff Kodak Moment?
Pardon my language, but holy shit.
There isn’t much to analyse from the NBL this week but this Kings-Bullets ending was so batshit insane that it deserves its own little section. A poster dunk from your point guard to tie the game, with a foul on the play and a free throw to take the lead.
Talk about insane endings to games of basketball. Remember the question from last week, about the worst way to lose a game? Well, I present to you…
Ok I lied, there is a little bit to unpack here, mainly to do with the Bullets deficiencies. Why you send Robert Franks to halfcourt for a potential outlet against a set defender in Xavier Cooks (who is a DPOY candidate mind you), I have no idea.
More questionable though is why you run an ultra-small look at all in this situation. Tyrell Harrison is your behemoth, the value in securing the rebound is paramount and I feel James Duncan got too cute.
If the Kings make the shot, Bullets can sub in their desired offensive unit at the dead ball before the inbound after a made free throw, whereas if they miss (which Adams did), the worst result is your center secures the rebound and you go to overtime.
Instead you get cute, allow Angus Glover (who may have gotten away with a slight push off) to keep the ball alive and Jaylen Adams, already soaring with confidence after the dunk, finds an inexplicably unguarded Jarell Martin under the hoop for the game winner.
Oh and Lamar Patterson couldn’t help but post through it after,
I watched Lamar, the clock started on the first tip.
Tough L for Brisbane to take indeed, an absolute disasterclass all the way around.
I figured given the length of the Giddey feature that three topics was probably enough for this week, plus I have a mailbag question I’ve been sitting on for close to a week.
Tom later qualified that size was the only change, with every other skill and athleticism-related attribute remaining the same, so my answer?
5 Yao-sized Muggsys.
It feels criminal to even remotely entertain betting against LeBron but unfortunately I gotta back the horde of 7’6” point guards on this one, and I’ll explain my reasoning.
I feel like the level of variance on offense is going to be far higher for a team with a size disadvantage, because you’re going to be naturally inclined to shoot more from outside. I get this theoretical team of mini-LeBrons could still dunk all over anyone, but with a wall of 7’6” guys waiting at the rim I think the odds of LeBron being stopped by super-Muggsy is higher.
Then you resort to taking more outside shots, again, with a higher level of variance, whereas I’m imagining big Muggsy would get a seal or post up near the rim and score that way.
I get LeBron would still have his strength to hold his own ground in the post, but I think the ability to repeat the offense is higher for Muggsy, so I’m giving big Muggsy the win over mini-LeBron based on offensive variance.
Happy to hear counter arguments though.
I love Matty and I love his Celtics optimism and I know he’s joking, but the Celtics picking up Derrick White for spare parts is sensational business to bolster an already-impressive defensive unit.
My main worry with Boston is their depth has taken a hit by selling off Schroder and Langford, among others.
The Nets are 30-27 and 2.5 games outside the sixth seed and automatic playoffs, but with the reinforcements they’ve made I expect them to go on a run.
The Nets broke a long losing streak by shellacking the new look Kings, keyed by impressive debuts for Andre Drummond (11 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) and Seth Curry (23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists).
The Nets gave up a malcontent in James Harden and a bench big in Paul Millsap to shore up their center rotation with proven All-Star quality in Andre Drummond, as well as one of the best active shooters in NBA history (who is having a “down” year at 40% from three).
Once Ben Simmons is added to the mix, presumably after the All-Star break, I expect this Nets team to go on a serious run and I think they’ll make it out of the play in bracket.
Even if they stay mired in the play in I think they’ll prove too much for a team with lesser talent like the ones currently occupying the 7-10 range. At worst, the Nets, if they stay 8th, will have to account for two games of variance, with the double chance.
On a related note, I recorded a Nets specific podcast with Jac Manuell of the Brooklyn Buzz, listen below for more in-depth Nets chat.
I’ll start with the Boston one because I feel I’ve kind of covered off on it already, but yes I think they’re legit since adding Derrick White.
Playoffs are all about short rotations and the Celtics top eight stacks up really nicely with the other teams atop the East. I do worry long term about the minutes these guys will have racked up come playoff time, and the eventual makeup of the starting lineup, and what Marcus Smart’s role is in the offense, but the defence is legit.
As for the Lakers? I have no idea.
Smarter minds than I questioned the Russ fit heading into the season, given both LeBron and AD aren’t known marksmen from behind the arc, so the spacing was always projected to be cramped at best.
Still though, when your best offseason recruit ends up being a minimum guy in Malik Monk it doesn’t bode well for your playoff chances, forget title talk.
LeBron can will this bunch to wins they don’t deserve, but the supporting cast in LA right now feels like a dartboard at free agency in a 2K career sim from 2018. Avery Bradley, Trevor Ariza and Stanley Johnson being key contributors on a 2022 contender is a recipe for heartbreak.
As for next steps, it’s pretty obvious to me the Lakers will be scouring the buyout market like every other win now team. The Lakers have no trouble attracting names regardless of success, so they should be able to find someone willing to jump into the fire.
The LA Lakers are a bit of a poisoned chalice right now, and the passing of time is really highlighting how important that 2020 title was. Without that, the last few years look like a massive waste of LeBron’s time, so it’s up to the organisation to stop being cheap (Caruso) and give him something to work with.