The 2021 NBA Draft evaluation process was tough on everyone.
Sam Presti acknowledged that ahead of the NBA Draft Lottery. Not being able to freely attend games to scout, as well as jumping through all of the extra hoops the pandemic has placed on travel, was going to still be disruptive even in a post-vaccine world.
Pair that with the extra layer of Josh Giddey playing his professional basketball halfway across the world in Australia’s NBL, and it was going to be a tough road ahead for any GM.
But Presti said he was able to do his due diligence, and a certain point during the season afforded him the perfect chance to hunker down and dive into Giddey’s film.
“I have a funny story about that. So I went down to the G League Bubble this year and we had a quarantine,” Presti said on Saturday at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s introductory press conference for their four new draft picks. “I had four days to sit in my room and that was the first time I really dug into a lot of his film. So by the time I left my room, I had a pretty good feel for him I think because I piled up a bunch of games.”
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Still, Presti wasn’t able to make the trip himself Down Under to scout Giddey in person. But the strength of the NBL gave Presti a consistent measuring stick for Giddey’s performances, especially after players like LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton have made the successful transition from Australia to the NBA.
“There's so much basketball that (Giddey) played at such a high level overseas. That really helped us in our evaluation,” Presti said. “That's a really really good league, and one that has produced some NBA players recently so you'd have a little bit of a barometer.
“I think that was really helpful actually in our evaluation overall, just knowing that level of that league the way that Josh was able to impact it.”
Staying to play professionally in his homeland ended up being the perfect fit to launch Giddey’s career, but it wasn’t always a certainty. Giddey said he had an opportunity to come to the United States and play college basketball, and he almost pulled the trigger.
“I took a visit to Colorado University, and I came back from it I was ready to sign there,” Giddey said. “But I came back home and I just changed my mind, I guess. You know, (I) started watching the NBL and with the Next Star program that they put in place and decided I want to be a part of.”
Giddey is the first successful graduate of the NBL Next Stars program, finding his way to the NBA, but the program actually has roots in Oklahoma City.
The NBL launched their Next Stars program after the Thunder took Terrance Ferguson in the 2017 NBA Draft. Ferguson was one of the first high profile players to skip out on college basketball to head over to the NBL.
The goal of the program is to identify talent in Australia and place them on teams in the NBL to foster their growth and give them a path to the NBA — a path that led Giddey to Oklahoma City by way of the No. 6-overall pick in the NBA Draft.
“I got to stay in Australia… it was a tough decision at the time but looking back on it, I think I made the right one,” Giddey said. “I’m happy with it.”