Eighteen-year-old Aussie basketball sensation Josh Giddey is set to join the Oklahoma City Thunder after being taken at 6 in today’s NBA draft.
Projected as a first-round pick (top 30), few expected Giddey to go this high although his pedigree is elite. Fresh off an incredible debut season in the NBL with the Adelaide 36ers in which he led the league in assists and collected Rookie of the Year honours, Giddey’s combination of height (6’ 8”), court vision and playmaking skills has long had NBA scouts’ salivating.
It’s possible Giddey’s elevated pick is courtesy of the ‘LaMelo Ball effect’. After seeing how Ball lit up NBA defences in his rookie year after a brief stint on the Illawarra Hawks the season before, it’s clear many scouts now view the NBL as a legitimate league with the capacity to nurture young talent. Without Ball’s success, it’s difficult to see Giddey going this high.
OKC will pair Giddey with star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, in what looks like a backcourt of the future. The Melburnian will need to work on his shaky jumper and become a better defender to excel in the NBA, but his potential is limitless and at just 18, time is on his side.
Elsewhere in the draft, the Detroit Pistons surprised nobody by selecting Cade Cunningham from Oklahoma State University with their first pick. Another lengthy playmaker, at 6’ 8” Cunningham’s polished game, defensive intensity and a preternatural, Doncic-like level of poise that allows him to anticipate defenders’ moves and make on-the-fly adjustments, means he comes into the league with the skills to excel straight away.
At no.2, the Houston Rockets took athletic guard Jalen Green who excelled in the G-League last year, averaging close to 18 points per game against grown men. Possibly the most exciting prospect in this draft due to his explosive leaping ability, he’s got shades of Ja Morant.
The Cleveland Cavaliers took 7-footer Evan Mobley at 3, a player many thought Houston might snap up at 2. With a 7’ 4” wingspan and jump-out-of-the-gym athletic ability, Mobley has elite finishing skills and can guard positions 1-5.
The big surprise of the night, apart from Giddey going so high, was the Toronto Raptors taking Scottie Barnes, a defensive minded forward out of Florida State, at 4. Another lengthy playmaker, Barnes could end up being the scoop of the draft.
That meant Jalen Suggs, the 6’ 4” guard who guided Gonzaga to the national championship final with a memorable buzzer beater over UCLA in the Final Four, fell into Orlando’s lap.
Throughout last season many thought Suggs was actually a better prospect than Cunningham, so this could be one that ends up coming back to bite the Raptors, as the man himself has already predicted: “The ones that do pass up on me, [that] take another prospect, it’ll come back,” he said before the draft. “It’ll be to their detriment.”
The other big news of the day, of course, was that triple-double machine and catwalk dressing superstar Russell Westbrook is now a Laker, after a trade that saw Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and the pick (Isaiah Jackson) go to the Washington Wizards.
While many will wonder how the ball-dominant Westbrook gels with LeBron, he will certainly dial-up the Lakers’ intensity during cold nights in January. Easily the most divisive player in the NBA, Westbrook has shown he can put mediocre teams on his back and take them to the play-offs. The big question is can he take a contending team to a championship or does he, despite his best efforts, in fact make good teams worse? Time will tell.