OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — As he looks to rebuild the Oklahoma City Thunder into a NBA contender, general manager Sam Presti has brought in a handful of highly touted young players who have similar characteristics — long, good ball-handlers, capable shooters and international.
To a team that already includes current franchise cornerstone and point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Canada, Presti last year drafted 7-foot center Aleksej Pokesevski of Serbia and this week selected 6-foot-8 guard Josh Giddey of Australia with the No. 6 pick.
The 18-year-old Giddey was introduced Saturday along with Oklahoma City’s three other draftees — fellow first-rounder Tre Mann of Florida and second-rounders Jeremiah Robinson-Earl of Villanova and Aaron Wiggins of Maryland — in the lobby of the newly renamed Paycom Arena.
Rather than looking for a particular skill set, Presti said he simply seeks good players in an attempt to return the Thunder to playoff contention, after the franchise relied for more than a decade on superstars including (at times) Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul.
“The ability to anticipate and really process the game quickly is really important with the way that defenses are today and the way the game is officiated and the pace of the game,” Presti said. “We just want to play good basketball. Part of good basketball is playing together, anticipating where your teammates are going to be on the floor and putting each other in position to be successful.
“We have such a blank canvas. We’ve predominantly had, over the course of time, some truly amazing Hall of Fame-level players that … have helped us achieve the second-best record in the NBA over the past 10-plus years. But now we have a brand-new opportunity in front of us. That’s one of the most invigorating things for us as an organization.”
Presti said he became extra familiar with Giddey while sitting in quarantine in an Orlando hotel room after arriving there to watch the Thunder’s G-League team, the Oklahoma City Blue, compete in a bubble.
“I had four days to sit in my room and that was the first time I really dug into a lot of his film,” Presti said. “By the time I left my room, I had a pretty good feel for him. That was very helpful, because it was so consistent.”
Giddey, the son of two professional players, said he “grew up … with a ball in my hands.” He said he considered playing college basketball at Colorado but ultimately decided instead to play in Australia’s National Basketball League. He was the NBL’s rookie of the year for the Adelaide 36ers last season.
“I think I’m a bigger playmaker,” Giddey said. “I think it’s best to pass the ball and get my teammates involved and put them in positions to succeed, sacrificing myself for the team’s success. I’ve always been a pass-first guy but obviously, being bigger, I can rebound, get out in transition and make plays. That’s my game.”
He thinks he’ll blend in well with Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder’s other ball-handlers.
“When I was in Australia, I didn’t really play with another point guard,” Giddey said. “I had the ball in my hands 90 percent of the time. … Playing with a guy like Shai, it really takes the pressure off me to handle the ball all the time. He’s an All-Star-level talent, a young guy who’s got a bright future in the league. I think playing with him will enhance my game.”