Off-season, Josh Giddey fit with Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers preview, Basketball without Borders camp, Jarrett Allen
Back in 2018, long before he was lighting up the NBA, a fresh-faced Josh Giddey was just like the 60-odd young male and female basketball players who have descended on Canberra this week.
He too had been invited to take part in a Basketball without Borders camp, this one in India, identified as an emerging Australian talent with the potential to go places.
Now, few people would have predicted this is where Giddey would land, rewriting the record books and quickly establishing himself as one of the NBA’s most marketable rookies – on and off the court.
Even Giddey himself would admit that.
The 15-year-old who attended that camp in India was very different to the Giddey we see now, playing with a certain ‘swagger’ that just shows that he belongs on the biggest stage.
“This was when no one knew who I was,” Giddey, now a rising star at the Oklahoma City Thunder, told reporters earlier this year of that camp.
But that did not stop Caris LeVert, who mentored Giddey at the camp, from leaving a lasting impact on the young Australian.
He was there to do much more than just ‘coach ball’.
“He was the first NBA player I ever spoke to, he gave me a lot of advice after that camp,” Giddey said of LeVert.
“He was big on believing in me and my potential. Hearing that from an NBA player did a lot for me in terms of self-confidence.”
LeVert was the first but certainly not the last NBA player to speak glowingly of Giddey’s masterful skills on the court, with Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James even complimented the Australian at the All-Star weekend earlier this year.
You see, watching Giddey is one thing but playing and trying to defend against him is another entirely, as Cleveland Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen told foxsports.com.au on Tuesday afternoon.
“Playing against him, you get a good idea,” Allen said at the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, where he is coaching at the latest Basketball without Borders camp.
“Sitting on the bench and just watching him, it’s like: ‘Oh s***, how did he see that guy?’ His passing ability is unbelievable and he definitely has a place in this league.”
Seemingly always in a rebuilding phase, Oklahoma City now has three key pieces to build around in Giddey, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and recent No. 2 draft pick Chet Holmgren.
Daily Thunder writer Brandon Rahbar told foxsports.com.au last month that Holmgren is the “perfect partner” for Giddey and Allen is only expecting the Australian to improve alongside his new teammate.
“Now that he has Chet, I do think his game is going to elevate to another level,” Allen said.
Expectations of Giddey will be high given how much he achieved in his rookie season, but Thunder assistant coach David Akinyooye has little doubt the Australian is ready to lift his game accordingly.
“The big thing with him is he’s a worker,” Akinyooye, who is also coaching at the camp in Canberra, told foxsports.com.au.
“He’s great about asking questions but most importantly doing the work, showing up early, staying late and I think for him going into his second year he’s going to improve.
“His first year he was able to adjust to the game, both on the offensive side and defensive side, and now it’s his second year. His confidence is going to grow and he’s going to continue to grow.
“Players are starting to see it, his teammates are starting to see it and he’s stepping into it. Again, it all begins with the willingness to put in the work in practice, after practice and in games as well.”
Like Giddey’s Thunder, Allen and the Cavaliers also have a young core to build around in the coming years, with 21-year-old forward Evan Mobley making an immediate impact in his rookie year.
Finishing runner-up to Scottie Barnes in last year’s Rookie of the Year race, Mobley eased any concerns over his fit alongside Allen, who described his teammate’s first season in the NBA as “phenomenal”.
“He came in with high expectations from everybody and I personally feel like he exceeded it,” Allen said.
“He came out, did his role, shot 3s and especially protected the rim, so he did great.
“I don’t think people realize how much he puts everyone else in position too. His presence being on the floor, his gravitational pull to have other people come and defend him, I don’t think people realize how big that is for us.”
Mobley was one of the big reasons Cleveland was a surprise playoff contender last season, eventually falling short to the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in tournament.
You could say that, on paper, the Cavaliers overachieved. But Allen doesn’t want to hear any of that.
“Our goal is to show people that we are here to stay,” he said.
“Last year, people kind of thought it was a fluke, that we had three 7-footers in the line-up, people didn’t think it would work but now the idea is to show people we are here to stay and here to be one of the best.”