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Where Josh Giddey's rookie season ranks, among other Aussies in the NBA
Giddey's impressive rookie year is finally in the books. How does his first NBA season compare with those of Andrew Bogut, Ben Simmons and others?
Josh Giddey has repeatedly defied expectations at every step of his basketball journey. At first, he was an intriguing Victorian prospect, who was leaning towards attending the University of Colorado. He later signed an NBL Next Stars contract with the Adelaide 36ers, and was repeatedly ignored by NBA mock draft experts, before his form with Adelaide saw him getting drafted as a lottery selection at sixth.
Now, the Aussie has once again overturned expectations in his debut NBA season. Giddey achieved four NBA Rookie of the Month selections, and became the youngest player in league history to record a triple double. But where does his rookie season rank all-time, compared to other Aussie NBA stars like Ben Simmons and Andrew Bogut?
Honourable Mention: Joe Ingles (2014-15)
Ingles was already a basketball veteran when he started his rookie NBA season, with eight years of professional experience under his belt. After winning a EuroLeague championship with Israeli heavyweights Maccabi Tel Aviv, Ingles finally reached the pinnacle of basketball, signing with the Utah Jazz. Largely deployed as a spot up shooter and secondary playmaker in his rookie year, Ingles averaged 5.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 21 minutes per game.
The Jazz won 38 games in the 2014-15 season, an improvement from 25 the year prior, and Ingles was a quiet but valuable contributor. The Aussie, perhaps unexpectedly, started 32 of his 79 games and established himself as a member of the Jazz second unit. Jazz coach Quin Snyder was impressed with his commitment to defence, as Ingles’ experience and basketball IQ paid dividends.
“He’s played better defensively, which I think is the crucial thing for him,” Snyder said, midway through the 2014-15 season. “I know the things he can do on offence. I just want him to keep focused on improving defensively and helping our team. He can be a really good team defender. He’s got a good feel for the game.”
Ingles would later make a much bigger impact between 2017 and 2021, a period where he averaged double-digit points, roughly five assists, and shot at or above 40% from beyond the arc. His rookie season wasn’t quite as memorable as Giddey’s, but it laid the foundation for a productive NBA career.
Honourable Mention: Luc Longley (1991-92)
Luc Longley earns a mention for his pioneering status as Australia’s first ever lottery selection in the NBA draft. The college star came out of the University of New Mexico as a seventh overall pick, and carried the weight of expectation exerted by Minnesota Timberwolves fans. His rookie season was hampered by prolonged contract negotiations, which resulted in a disrupted preseason, and delayed his season debut by nearly a month.
As the last first round pick from the 1991 draft to agree to a deal, one could forgive Longley for getting off to a slow start. The 7 footer started just three games throughout the 1991-92 season, and finished with less than stellar averages of 4.3 points and 3.9 rebounds. His 46% clip from the field also left plenty to be desired, for an old school big man who primarily resided in the paint and sought high percentage looks. The transition to NBA basketball posed serious challenges for a then-22 year old Longley, whose defensive play limited his court time to a degree.
"I had to get serious about my body and the way I prepared for games. The biggest problem for me was learning how to defend at a high level. Coaches can't put you on the court if you can't defend. If you're not on the court, you can't show how good you are at scoring. I always felt comfortable to score, I just needed to get on the court, so I worked really hard on defending. On strength. On speed. My application to it all," Longley told The Australian in May 2020.
Two years later Longley found himself on the Timberwolves’ trading block, but it proved to be a blessing in disguise. The big man was headed to Chicago, and ultimately won three NBA championships alongside Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and other talented teammates. Longley’s individual game was elevated to a new level in Chicago, where he started 232 of his 234 games between the 1995-96 and 1997-98 seasons.
"At Minnesota it was everyone to themselves. In Chicago it was very much about sharing the ball, movement, spacing - all the things I hold dear in basketball. They were all back on the table in Chicago. [Coach] Phil Jackson was immediately engaged. I felt like I had arrived at my basketball home. I did everything I could, for as long as I could, to make that stick," Longley added.
While Longley’s rookie season didn’t quite live up to hype for a seventh overall pick, he proved it was possible to crack the NBA via college, even as an Aussie prospect on the other side of the world. If it weren’t for his challenging beginings in Minnesota, there’s no guarantee he ends up in Chicago, starting for one of the greatest basketball dynasties of all time.
3. Andrew Bogut (2005-06)
Andrew Bogut is the greatest collegiate basketball player Australia has ever produced, and it will be a long time before his sophomore year is surpassed by another Aussie. A then-20 year old Bogut collected the prestigious Naismith trophy, given to the best player in college basketball, in addition to a slew of other accolades that credentialed his status as the number one NBA draft pick.
Bogut averaged gaudy figures of 20.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks at the University of Utah, but needed some time to replicate this success with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. Unlike most number one picks, who get drafted onto struggling teams with an infinitely long leash, Bogut joined a Bucks side that made the 2006 NBA playoffs. He therefore encountered pressure to perform, almost immediately from day one, and that may have limited his ceiling in terms of putting up numbers.
The college stud averaged a respectable 9.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 28.6 minutes per game - impressive numbers for most rookies, but par course for a #1 pick. He was a interior force to be reckoned, shooting 61% at the rim, but also made just 29% of his jump shots and didn’t shoot three pointers. Moreover, Bogut showed signs of a burgeoning passing game that would later make him one of the NBA’s premier playmaking big men, with an average of 2.3 assists per game. Overall, the seven foot rookie boasted a promising skillset in the mid-2000s NBA, where the three-point revolution was still yet to take off.
“Getting drafted to Milwaukee and becoming a professional, basically, it’s your job now. I felt a lot more isolated and kind of by myself,” Bogut said, in a 2019 interview with Kane Pitman on the Locked on Bucks podcast. “I wouldn’t say I had an outstanding rookie year or bad rookie year – I think I was quite average," he added. "I had some good games and showed potential. Not knowing how to handle it was the hardest thing. I think maybe having a closer knit group at the time would have helped me a lot more. I didn’t know how to handle it and hadn’t spoken to anyone that had been through it.”
While Bogut later developed into an All-NBA big man, he didn’t exactly set the league alight in his rookie year. The first overall pick finished a distant third in NBA Rookie of the Year voting, behind runaway winner Chris Paul, and underdog Charlie Villanueva. However, Bogut did manage to pick up one Western Conference Rookie of the Month award, for the month of January 2005.
On the defensive end, Bogut became an elite rim protector and led the NBA in blocks throughout the 2010-11 season, but this was a far cry from his rookie season. The big man was a self-described “defensive bust” coming out of college, and it wasn’t until coach Scott Skiles took over the Bucks in 2008, that his defence reached a new level.
“I really learnt a lot from [Scott Skiles]. He was the first coach that held me accountable defensively. I got labelled as a defensive bust coming out of college – in college I couldn’t afford to foul out, because I was a 20/12 guy. I probably could’ve been better defensively but I couldn’t really afford to foul. He really got my defence to an elite level,” Bogut said in 2019.
While Bogut recorded a commendable rookie season and shouldered the burden of expectation, as Australia’s first number one draft pick, his debut year has since been surpassed by two fellow lottery picks - Josh Giddey and Ben Simmons.
2. Josh Giddey (2021-22)
Josh Giddey has capped off one of the most meteoric climbs in the history of Aussie hoops, with an impressive rookie NBA season. Just three years prior he appeared on the prospect radar for the first time, after a standout showing at the 2019 Australian Under-18 Championships. It then wasn’t until late 2020 that Giddey started generating NBA buzz throughout American media, after his performances for the Adelaide 36ers became too good to ignore.
Drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the sixth overall pick in 2021, Giddey stumbled into an ideal situation with the freedom to develop as a player, and zero pressure in terms of winning games. The Thunder finished close to the bottom of the league, with just 24 wins and 58 losses, but you would be forgiven for thinking the organisation entered tank mode. After playing just 54 games, Giddey’s season was shut down due to a mysterious hip complaint, and several of his teammates later followed suit - including Luguentz Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Nevertheless, those 54 games were more than enough to validate Giddey’s lottery selection, made by shrewd Thunder executive Sam Presti. The Aussie averaged 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists, emerging as a regular triple double threat in the second half of the season. As a rangy 6’9 point guard, Giddey would regularly collect the defensive rebound and push the ball in a coast to coast sequence, much like his idol Luka Doncic. He also entered the NBA’s history books, when he surpassed LaMelo Ball in becoming the youngest player to ever record a triple double.
NBL fans were already familiar with Giddey’s passing wizardry, and his vision translated seamlessly to the world’s premier league. A season average of 6.4 assists doesn’t quite encapsulate some of the magic we saw, as Giddey would routinely feature on highlight reels thanks to mesmerising sling passes, bounce passes and kick outs. The rookie averaged 11.6 potential assists for the season, suggesting that his teammates occasionally let him down with less than stellar finishing.
Those who saw Giddey play for Adelaide already knew his jump shot was a work in progress, so a 26% three point clip comes as little surprise. However, the fact that he attempted four three-pointers per game is cause for optimism, as he isn’t taking the Ben Simmons route by neglecting a key deficiency. Closer to the hoop, Giddey’s scoring was often a pleasant surprise, as he shot 44.4% between three and ten feet - on 4.2 attempts per game. The Aussie isn’t known for taking contact at the rim, but often deploys long layups, as well as floaters, and makes good use of the backboard.
Defence was a huge question mark for Giddey entering the 2021-22 NBA season, but early signs were promising as Thunder coach Mark Daigneault praised his application towards preseason camp. As the season progressed, Giddey was quoted as saying he “doesn't want to be a liability on the defensive end”, and showed a desire to guard wing players, after initially sticking to opposing fours who were of comparable size.
In terms of individual accolades, Giddey picked up four consecutive NBA Rookie of the month awards - for November, December, January and February. If his season didn’t get shut down prematurely due to injury, a betting man would have backed him to sweep the remaining monthly awards. Taking his numbers, accolades and meteoric rise into account, Giddey beats out Bogut on this list, but falls short of surpassing Ben Simmons - who recorded a rookie season for all time, and not just among Aussie players.
1. Ben Simmons (2017-18)
While Bogut holds the title of Australia’s best ever NCAA export, Simmons arguably lays claim to being the most impactful freshman from down under. The three-time NBA All-Star averaged 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds in his only season at Louisiana State University, earning a first overall NBA draft selection for his efforts. As a number one pick, anything less than Rookie of the Year honours would be considered an underachievement, and Simmons didn’t disappoint.
Although he sat out his first NBA season due to a foot complaint, the 6’11 point guard returned in emphatic fashion, averaging 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists. Simmons’ season marked a tectonic shift in Philadelphia’s title hopes, as they went from 28-win battlers the season prior, to 52-win contenders with their Aussie rookie on board. Finishing with 12 triple doubles in a remarkable rookie year, Simmons surpassed Lakers legend Magic Johnson, who recorded only seven in his first season.
Going in to his rookie season, draft nerds were already familiar with Simmons’ playmaking ability, and lethal scoring in transition, which both translated seamlessly from the college arena. Concerns about his jump shot and lack of half court scoring ability were bubbling under the surface, but stifled by the hype around his flashy highlight reels. Another major talking point was Simmons’ defence, as the LSU graduate was considered a defensive underachiever coming out of college.
“Simmons' porous defense is masked by his gaudy steal and block numbers. But when watching him closely, it's clear that no opposing player or coach fears attacking him,” prominent scout and analyst Jonathan Givony wrote, in a predraft piece about Simmons. It’s possible that the Aussie was simply worried about foul trouble in college, and toned down his defensive intensity, but in any case the analysis was damning. “Simmons hasn't shown the length, toughness and inclination to emerge as an asset on the defensive end,” Givony added.
Simmons quickly dispelled the predraft narratives about his defense, emerging as a two-way threat who could guard positions one through four. 76ers coach Brett Brown recognised Simmons’ defensive versatility, and did not hesitate to hand him the reins as a starting point guard.
”I think that because of his versatility, he’s going to be able to put out a lot of fires. I think because of his foot speed and length, if he gets crossmatched on a point guard, I’m OK with that. If he gets sort of buried behind a four-man, he’s been a four-man his whole life, I’m OK with that,” Brown said in 2017. “The 6-foot-10 Australian just missed my cut for second-team All-Defense, but he’s the clear Rookie of the Year, and he also made my All-NBA third team,” prominent NBA analyst Kevin O’Connor wrote, in a 2018 piece for The Ringer.
Simmons somehow exceeded the lofty expectations bestowed upon him as a first overall pick. His offensive output came as little surprise, but thanks to a remarkable overhaul on the defensive end, the former 76er beats out Bogut and Giddey on this list. While Simmons hasn’t yet become the transcendent superstar many were hoping to see, his rookie season is hard to criticise in any way whatsoever.