Following last year’s regular-season campaign, the Thunder fanbase locked their crosshairs onto what the future could’ve beheld. For most, hitting it big on Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, or even Evan Mobley had been widely considered the “grand prize” of sorts — following the June NBA Draft Lottery, however, expectations were reduced. Oklahoma City would end up earning the sixth overall pick that day, and just like before — people were quick to out their favorite prospects. As Draft Day approached, factions of Jonathon Kuminga fans, Scottie Barnes fans, and even James Bouknight fans surfaced — but no one could’ve predicted what Thunder GM Sam Presti had up his sleeve.
As Adam Silver went to the podium, the name “Josh Giddey” was uttered, in the aftermath, the Thunder’s landscape had been flipped upside down.
As detailed in Giddey’s selection profile, he clocks in at an astonishing 6-foot-8 while playing delegated minutes at the point guard position up to this point as a pro. The Aussie joins the Thunder’s ranks as an 18-year-old budding with potential. Whether it be handling the basketball, dishing out to his teammates in transition, or creating for himself — Giddey has glistened.
The kicker? The Oklahoma City Thunder carry a whopping nine guards on roster, and earning a starting gig won’t come easy.
On the surface level, the idea of Josh Giddey being named as a day-one starter should be a no-brainer. Oklahoma City has commonly been pegged as one of the weaker teams in the NBA, and with a roster fostering thirteen players under the age of 23 — there’s margin for error, and growing pains are to be expected.
The flipside to Giddey receiving a hasty induction to the starting rotation comes from the mindset that Oklahoma City has a sturdy core, and positional versatility may start him on the reserves.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have two players guaranteed to be day-one starters — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Lu Dort. The case with Gilgeous-Alexander is about as clean-cut as you can get. Entering his fourth season, Gilgeous-Alexander has earned his stripes as the franchise’s cornerstone after placing averages of 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists in 33.7 minutes last season. Accordingly, Gilgeous-Alexander has the keys to the franchise and full lockdown on the roster’s starting point guard gig. In regards to Lu Dort, he’ll be entering his third NBA season as Oklahoma City’s defensive stronghold. Dort’s stock skyrocketed following a promising sophomore campaign which saw him mockup 14.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 29.7 minutes. Dort’s playing time is a given, however, positionally — he could be labeled as an enigma. Dort began his NBA career as a fill-in shooting guard due to injuries, but by the end of his rookie campaign — he was a fingertip away from punching the Thunder into the second round. Last season, Lu Dort had also assumed the role as a fill-in moving up to play solely small forward after a key departure in Danillo Gallinari, and new addition in George Hill forced his hand into the frontcourt.
Now, Lu Dort’s position may be in question, and Mark Daigneault’s decision could directly impact Josh Giddey’s stance within the team.
If Lu Dort slides down to the two-guard, a 6-foot-8 Josh Giddey perfectly fills the gashes as Oklahoma City’s small forward. Playing with the starting unit, Giddey tags alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as his secondary ball-handler, but on the flip side — he also gets valuable reps with the ones in efforts to spark his development.
On the other end of the spectrum, if Lu Dort remains at the small forward — the idea of Josh Giddey starting with the twos starts to make a bit more sense. Among the hoard of Thunder members, guards Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome, and Tre Mann are all well-deserving of minutes, the problem: all three are limited to the guard spots. If Dort is to have a firm grip as a starter, Giddey opening as the bench unit’s small forward has some logistics to it. Under Giddey’s blueprint off the bench, he would have utter control of ball-handling duties in the second unit, but he’d also bargain stints playing alongside Gilgeous-Alexander with the one.
Overall, both Dort and Giddey’s positions within the rotation are interchangeable, but regardless — minutes should remain the same.
For Dort, a 30-minute palette working at the two and the three best suits him. In regards to Josh Giddey, a concoction of minutes ranging from the 1-3 would net him close to 26-28 minutes per contest, starting or not. Giddey’s cut of minutes would likely spread evenly across the shooting guard and small forward position netting time along with names in Tre Mann, Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome, and potentially Lu Dort at the two while also working at the three with Lu Dort, Kenrich Williams, or even Aleksej Pokusevski.
As my personal anecdotal, I’d envision Josh Giddey starting at the two with Lu Dort opening at the three as Bricktown’s best option. This model would give Giddey a 15-or-so minute to run with the starters, while also offering the 18-year-old close to 12 minutes operating as a small forward in conformity with the second unit.
No matter where Josh Giddey is placed to open the Thunder’s regular season, one thing is for certain — Mark Daigneault will hand the guard a sea of opportunity.