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Josh Giddey Ready to Build Partnership with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in OKC

The rookie will make his NBA debut on Wednesday night alongside one of the league's rising stars.

A new era of Thunder basketball will tip off on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma City’s No. 6-overall pick Josh Giddey will make his NBA debut in Utah, playing alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who will play his first regular season game since sustaining a foot injury last year.

Giddey, a former NBL star in Australia, is the Thunder’s highest draft pick since the franchise selected James Harden with the No. 3-overall pick, and he represents the future of the franchise.

Between Giddey and last year’s first-round pick Aleksej Pokusevski, general manager Sam Presti is clearly moving in the direction of amassing lengthy playmakers who can take the ball handling load off of Gilgeous-Alexander.

For Giddey though, there will be an adjustment period.

Playing for the Adelaide 36ers, the talented Australian was the focal point of the offense and the primary ball handler.

In Oklahoma City, Gilgeous-Alexander will still initiate the offense, and Giddey will have to learn a new position playing off of Gilgeous-Alexander.

But taking the step up to NBA competition while learning a new role isn’t something Giddey is dreading. In fact, he said he’s looking forward to finally getting the season going.

“Sharing the backcourt with (Gilgeous-Alexander) is going to be a lot of fun,” Giddey said after practice on Sunday. “He’s an All-Star caliber player and a lot of the time for me is going to be spent off the ball and learning how to kind of make reads on the second side of the offense and be that secondary playmaker to him. Hopefully I can just take a load off him because he’s going to have a lot of attention every night.”

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault is also looking forward to seeing how it will play out, and he’s confident that both Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey will be able to mesh well together because of the team-first attitude each player brings to the court every day.

“I think it’s good. And I think the reason is it’s really kind of personality more than style,” Daigneault said after Sunday’s practice. “I think style is over rated and team orientation and personality is under rated in those situations. I think there are players that have games that you love, but relationally they can’t figure out how to function together.”

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Gilgeous-Alexander actually already has experience fitting in with other talented guards, as he, alongside Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder, formed one of the most efficient units in all of basketball two years ago.

Oklahoma City’s “three-guard lineup” spent most of the season as the best unit in the NBA down the stretch of games, closing out plenty of tough regular season battles and earning the Thunder the fifth seed in the Western Conference despite entering the season with low expectations.

Daigneault said that specific lineup is a great example of how well a team can fit together when all of the players are committed to doing what is best for the team over personal accolades.

“Those guys all played together effortlessly, and it was probably the best lineup in basketball that year and not because stylistically you would have ever thought that was a natural fit,” said Daigneault, “but relationally those guys all committed to making that work.

“And I look at Shai obviously in that way and I look at Josh in that way. I think because of the way they are as people and the way they see the team and how committed they are to the team, they’re going to figure the style part out of it. And they both really know how to play, and that helps too.”

Still, it will take time for the team to come together as Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey learn how to play with each other.

They appeared alongside each other in three preseason games, all of which Giddey said were key for the duo to begin building chemistry together.

“That was one of the focal points for us,” Giddey said. “Obviously in a young team, so many new pieces, it’s going to be tough to build chemistry right away… Seeing positive signs through the first few preseason games. Guys were unselfish, moved the ball.”

Gilgeous-Alexander will get plenty of attention this year after he inked a maximum contract extension with the Thunder this offseason, but this year, he’ll have plenty of talented playmakers around him to help get the young Thunder offense going.

“Hopefully me and (Lu Dort) and the other guys on the team can take that pressure off him and make his job easier,” Giddey said.

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