Josh Giddey I Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images.

AS THE FIBA World Cup kicks off in Japan, The Philippines and Indonesia tonight, the most exciting player on a deep Boomers roster is one of its newest and youngest members: Josh Giddey.

Giddey, just 20, made a leap last season that saw him put up 16.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Those are gaudy numbers for a second-year point guard, particularly one so young, but speak to the Melburnian’s prodigious talents. Already Giddey boasts canny playmaking, x-ray court vision, feathery touch around the ring and rebounds like an AFL centre-half forward. He doesn’t yet have a consistent jump shot but if and when he does, as Stephen A. Smith likes to say, it’s a wrap.

Of course, you’ve probably heard about tall Australian point guards with sick handles and telepathic passing. A few years ago, this tournament would have loomed as the beginning of the Ben Simmons Boomer era. Heck, ideally that would have started at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, but despite coach Brian Goorjian’s best efforts to keep the door ajar for Simmons, the enigmatic Brooklyn Nets star won’t be wearing the green and gold in Okinawa tonight.

To be fair to Simmons, he is on a long road back from a serious back injury and is not the only big NBA star to be skipping this tournament. Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, newly crowned NBA champion Nikola Jokić, France’s no.1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama, Canada’s Jamal Murray, and a host of the top American players aren’t suiting up for their countries. The US team, while still formidable and favoured to win, is probably a third-string outfit.

So, instead the spotlight for Aussie fans falls on Giddey. This is likely the last World Cup for stalwarts Patty Mills and Joe Ingles—you would expect them both to have their swansong at Paris 2024. And if ever a player was ready to assume their mantle, it’s Giddey. With his gloriously flowing brown mane and cherubic face, the Thunder point guard has a private school prefect vibe that belies the fact that he’s a hardwood hitman with a determination to keep improving his game.

Last season Giddey was working out with renowned shooting coach, Chip Engelland, two to three times a day to improve his jumper and three-point shot. Coming off a rookie campaign where he shot just 26.3 per cent from beyond the arc, Giddey had lifted that number by nearly 10 percentage points to 34.2 per cent by January last year, before levelling out at 32.5 per cent for the year—the league average is 35 per cent. Giddey’s overall field goal percentage rose nearly seven full percentage points between his rookie year and last season, to an impressive 48.2 per cent. At the same time, he’s become a double-double machine; in just two seasons he’s already notched 44 double-doubles, 10 more than Russell Westbrook recorded in his first two seasons. He also has eight triple-doubles and was the youngest player ever to record the box-score filling stat.

Now let’s look at the intangibles. Thanks to the leadership of Mills, Ingles and those that came before them, the Boomers have a proud culture that has little time for prima donnas. Giddey isn’t one. And while softly spoken he’s already revealed himself to have steel in his step—he certainly didn’t back down after being elbowed in the nuts by veteran Josh Richardson in a game against the Pelicans last season. Going all the way back to Shane Heal standing up to Charles Barkley, the Boomers pride themselves on not taking a backward step on the international stage.

In warm-up games last week Giddey appeared to fit right in with the squad, tallying 14 points, eight rebounds and nine assists against Venezuela and 20 points, 10 rebounds in a loss against Brazil. While Giddey said afterwards he was still adjusting to the intricacies of FIBA basketball—the three-second-in-the-key rule catches out a lot of NBA players, he looks set to assume the role of primary ball handler from Mills and Mathew Dellavedova.

Giddey’s pedigree and background seem to have been building inexorably toward this moment. Growing up in Yarraville in Melbourne’s east, he played for the Melbourne Tigers juniors and was coached by his father, Warrick, a former NBL stalwart, as well as hoops icon, Andrew Gaze, whose son also played for the team. He credits them for establishing his pass-first approach to the game. “My dad always harped on me to be a team player and to get guys involved,” Giddey said last year. “It’s something that’s stuck with me to this day.”

In year 11, Giddey was recruited to the NBA Academy in Canberra and at that point was thinking primarily about a future as an NBL player. He would go on to play one season in the Aussie league with the Adelaide 36ers, winning the NBL Rookie of the Year award and leading the league in assists with 7.6 per game. That was enough to put him on the radar of NBA scouts, though most pundits predicted he’d be a late lottery pick. Instead, the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder stunned everyone, taking the then 18-year-old at 6 in the 2021 draft.

Together with All-Star teammate, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the pair have the potential to become the best backcourt in the NBA. And with 2022’s no.2 pick Chet Holmgren set to join the team this coming season, plus a war chest of first-round draft picks, the Thunder are a team many are picking to make the playoffs next season.

But first, the World Cup, which could actually accelerate Giddey’s rise. In the past, many players have found the cauldron of international competition and its knockout format to be formative in their development; Dwyane Wade and LeBron James both had stellar seasons in 2009 off the back of their TEAM USA experience at the Beijing Olympics, where they witnessed how manic Kobe Bryant’s work ethic was—4am shooting drills anyone? Hopefully something similar happens here with Giddey. Perhaps we’ll look back at this tournament and point to it as the moment the boy became a man.

Who is favoured to win the FIBA World Cup?

Who do you think? Even though this team doesn’t boast outright superstars like Steph Curry or LeBron James, Team USA is stocked with players who soon will be, such as Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, last year’s rookie of the year, Paolo Banchero and Jaren Jackson Jnr. Even so, the team got an awful fright in their warm-up game against Germany, down by 16 points at one point in the fourth quarter, before rallying to win by eight. That’s the thing about the USA; once they clamp down on defence and get their fastbreak game going, they have the ability to go on runs and swallow up deficits in minutes. Even if you’re up by a sizable margin, as the Boomers were in Tokyo, you can never feel safe.

Which teams could realistically challenge TEAM USA?

Well Germany, led by the Orlando Magic’s Wagner brothers, Franz and Moritz, just did, so they must be considered. Canada are fielding possibly their strongest international team ever, with six above-average NBA players in Nickeil Alexander-Walker, RJ Barrett, Dillon Brooks, Luguentz Dort and Dwight Powell, plus one on the cusp of superstardom in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who like Giddy, made a leap last year, averaging 31 points per game. Perennial podium threats Spain will likely be competitive; they’re the reigning champions and have finished on the podium in eight of the last 10 World Cups. The team lacks the pure firepower of the past but boasts a nucleus of players like Ricky Rubio, Juancho Hernangomez and Santi Aldama, who know how to play together, kind of like the Boomers.

Slovenia can’t be ruled out due to the presence of Luka Doncic, probably the prince to Nikola Jokic’s king of hoops right now. Luka can beat teams single-handedly and has enough of a role-playing roster alongside him to ensure he gets his shots off. Trust us, no one wants to play Luka in a quarter or semi-final, even Team USA.

Finally, the Boomers. They gave a superior USA team all they could handle in Tokyo and have the experience, an injection of new talent in Giddey, Dyson Daniels and Josh Green, plus a roster boasting nine (nine!) NBA players. A podium spot is their floor.

Who are the international players to watch?

Karl Anthony-Towns is suiting up for the Dominican Republic. The Timberwolves big man has his critics but the stats don’t lie and his presence gives the Dominicans a shot at getting out of the group stage and possibly even the second round.

Finland’s Lauri Markkanen was another player who blossomed last season, having a breakout year with the Utah Jazz that was set up by a great Tokyo Olympics campaign beforehand. The Boomers will need to try and limit him as much as they can in their opening game tonight.

What is the format of the FIBA World Cup?

32 teams will play in 92 games over 16 days of competition, all of them vying for the title of world champion as well as qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Group A: Angola, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Italy

Group B: South Sudan, Serbia, China, Puerto Rica

Group C: USA, Jordan, Greece, New Zealand

Group D: Egypt, Mexico, Montenegro, Lithuania

Group E: Germany, Finland, Australia, Japan

Group F: Slovenia. Cape Verde, Georgia, Venezuela

Group G: Iran, Spain, Cote D’Ivoire, Brazil

When are the Boomers playing in the first round?

Australia v Finland, Friday Aug 25, 6pm

Australia v Germany, Sunday Aug 27, 6.30pm

Australia v Japan, Tuesday Aug 29, 9.10pm

How can you watch the FIBA World Cup?

You can watch it live with ESPN on Kayo.

INSTAGRAM I @joshgiddey


Why isn’t drug-testing of athletes the same across all sports: an explainer

The Ted Lasso effect: why American celebrities are taking over English football