#nbatwitter Reacts To Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr’s Debuts

It’s not a genuine night of watching the NBA if your timeline isn’t filled with hot takes, predictions, and photoshop. Three weeks after the NBA wrapped up its highly successful 75th season, it returned with its staple of Summer League action. And as expected, all eyes were on this year’s top-three draft picks– Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr– when they made their respective league debuts.

Whether you watched them play or placed complete (and possibly questionable) trust into what your timeline said, the reactions from #nbatwitter were swift and didn’t lack personality. For many viewers, it was their first time watching Banchero, Holmgren, or Smith Jr play– an everyday reality for those who don’t follow high school or college basketball.

But regardless of how you feel about the trio’s performances, they provided highlights and a closer look at their potential. Banchero (17/4/6) and Holmgren (23/7/6) produced a pair of memorable games, and Smith Jr proved he could be comfortable doing a bit of everything on the floor.

Below are some of the reactions to the NBA debuts of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr.

Chet even had KD talking about him!

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Josh Giddey Is a New Kind of NBA Star

The future trends towards abstraction. Cryptocurrency has taken the idea of fiat currency to its furthest logical extreme, turning tangible dollars and cents into some invisible, impermanent store of value that exists only in Coinbase wallets and the people who own them. Non-Fungible Tokens have forced a wide-scale reevaluation of what it means to “own” something. The metaverse will divorce our daily life from our physical one. To live in modern society is to reconcile the idea that the real world increasingly exists outside of what was once considered the real world, to understand that tomorrow has no obligation to continue the ways of yesterday. 

In this sense, Josh Giddey, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s precocious rookie, is the truest representation of basketball’s future.

Beyond the fact that his hair makes him look like a peach-defiling leader of House Atreides, there’s nothing outwardly remarkable about Giddey—he’s tall, but not that tall; quick, but not fast; sturdy, but not especially strong. In addition to the tired stereotypes of deceptive athleticism that accompany being a white player from Australia, Giddey isn’t an offensive threat in readily apparent ways; his shooting touch is circumspect and he’s an inelastic dribbler. When tasked with creating his own shot, Giddey betrays the leanness of his scoring bag, struggling to finish in the paint over interior defenders or create meaningful separation against perimeter ones. In a high-octane league that’s getting increasingly faster and more skilled, he’s more Prius than Porsche. 

And yet, despite his individual limitations, Giddey has proven himself as one of the Thunder’s foundational players because of the way that he expands team-wide possibilities; his goodness is most evident in a grander and more opaque sense, rather than merely in discrete basketball skills. When Giddey is on the floor, the Thunder’s shot quality increases and their proportion of assisted field goals skyrockets. In other words, he’s an insane passer, leading all rookies with 6.2 assists per game.

More impressive than the sheer quantity of his playmaking, though, is the quality of it. Through just his first 42 games, Giddey has quickly established himself as one of the most inventive passers in the NBA,  consistently able to not only deliver the “right” pass, but also the coolest. For Giddey, the patterns and rhythms of the game are mere suggestions; he can manufacture a corner-three for a wing or lay-up for a big in almost any context. Whereas his dribbling is stilted and inexact, he’s a truly ambidextrous passer, able to access a wide variety of deliveries with both hands. If there’s a pass to be made, he will make it. Besides LaMelo Ball and Trae Young, no other player hunts seemingly-unavailable passes as aggressively as Giddey.

As such, Giddey is such a brilliant passer that it affords him extra space as a scorer, even if he’s struggled to actually, you know, score. Although Giddey attacks the rim with gusto (his 14.7 drives per game rank in the 94th percentile league-wide, per Basketball Index), he rarely provokes any help defense—his scoring gravity ranks in the bottom pentile of the league. Herein lies both his biggest strength and weakness: defenses feel neither comfortable nor compelled to rotate against him . Giddey’s passing is so effortlessly and synesthetically brilliant that it makes help defense untenable; off-ball defenders fear making their proscribed rotations because Giddey will simply whiz pass to the open man. Players like Steph Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo are hailed for their gravity, but Giddey’s playmaking functions as a sort of anti-gravity, keeping defenders at bay. 

Conversely, this inability to pressure defenses in any meaningful way is also proof of Giddey’s limitations; defenses don’t need to respond to him because he’s not a dangerous enough scorer to warrant a response. Even with the intense defensive apathy he receives, Giddey shoots badly from just about everywhere—according to Cleaning the Glass, Giddey is one of only two wings (the other being his teammate, Luguentz Dort) to rank in the bottom quartile as both a finisher at the rim and three-point shooter. 

Whereas the skills (i.e. shooting and team defense) required of role players have more or less become codified in conventional wisdom, elite players are allowed—encouraged, even—to be increasingly weird and idiosyncratic; everybody in the NBA is so skilled now that the greatest marginal advantages are found in the things that be can’t filmed and put on Instagram. Now, stardom is a state of mind—its defining trait isn’t an unerring jumper or bountiful array of hesitations and crossovers, but rather the ability to offer something so unique that it can offset any individual deficiencies.  This is why Ben Simmons can refuse to do the most elemental basketball task and still headline a league-rearranging trade or why Trae Young can make an All-NBA team while probably not being able to guard my coworker’s dad. 

Accordingly, Giddey represents the outermost frontier of this idea, challenging the conception of what it means to be a star player. He’s a bad shooter, below-average athlete, and porous defender on a team that’s more of a draft-pick hoarding pyramid scheme than an actual NBA franchise; he’s a future All-Star who has already offered proof of concept by becoming the youngest player in NBA history to rack up a triple-double. Giddey exists within the dialectic of whether NBA success is determined by how a player functions within the flow of the game or by how thoroughly they can manifest their own vision of it. Lots of players can shoot 37 percent from three while playing respectable defense but no one else can occupy Giddey’s specific valence of genius. Is it possible to be a great basketball player without being a great hooper? For Giddey, the answer is a resounding yes. 

Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From November 29th-December 5th

As everyone’s focus is to either improve or build upon what happened during the first quarter of this NBA season, the quote “iron sharpens iron” becomes a living reality. Whether it’s conference-leading teams going toe to toe or young stars taking on their idols, the season’s second quarter becomes a proving ground before the All-Star break. Below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

The league’s past, present and future are having memorable battles

It’s normal for the league to have its first heavy slate of important matchups when the calendar turns to December, but it doesn’t make it less exciting. Now on a nightly basis, there’s a matchup that pits any cominbation of the league’s past, present, and future stars against each other. Accordingly, on Sunday night, we watched an incredible duel between guards Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell.

Garland, the third-year Cleveland Cavalier who’s having a breakout year, had 31 points and five assists, and Mitchell, the Utah Jazz’s soon-to-be superstar, finished with 35 points and six assists in a 109-108 thrilling Jazz victory. As the game inched closer to its conclusion, both players weren’t shy to score and guard each other in the clutch while already being the two best players on the court.

The NY Knicks are struggling to build upon last season’s success

After being one of the league’s biggest surprise stories last season, the Knicks have struggled to regain that spark as they’re currently 11-12 and sitting outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race due to their ongoing three-game losing streak. And while this season’s Knicks team is more talented, they certainly don’t have the determination and focus that powered last season’s team to a surprise playoff appearance.

“We gotta look ourselves in the mirror and decide what we want the season to be,” Julius Randle said after the team’s 113-99 loss against the Denver Nuggets last Saturday. “I know what I want it to be. I know what the guys want it to be. But we have to commit to it, and that’s just really what it is.”

CanWill Damian Lillard find his swagger before it’s too late?

To say it’s been a crazy handful of months for Lillard is an understatement. In between readjusting to a new head coach, daily rumors surrounding his unhappiness with the Portland Trail Blazers, and him and the team’s constant struggles, Lillard now has one more problem: injuries.

The multi-time All-Star will be out of action for at least ten days due to an abdominal injury, and it couldn’t have happened at the worst time. Despite averaging his lowest points per game average since his third NBA season (2014-’15), Lillard was beginning to regain his previous form, as witnessed by his 39 and 32-point performances against the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings between November 20th-24th.

The Thunder are simply bad and there isn’t much to say about that

While it’s already unfathomable that the Oklahoma City Thunder lost by 73 points last Friday, it’s crazier when you realize they lost by 57 points less than six months ago. And even though the NBA can’t do anything about the Thunder and their rare, historic losses, some say an eye should be kept on their performance moving forward.

In the spirit of competitiveness and further eliminating the thought of tanking, which at one point plagued the mind of sports fans, the Thunder must turn the corner in that department, even if it doesn’t produce a more wins.

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Why Aleksej Pokusevski Should Be Your New Favorite NBA Player

NBA games follow a certain rhythm; the three-point revolution has established a more concrete definition of what qualifies as good offense and there are only so many ways to create corner threes. Watch enough regular season basketball and the patterns emerge—the help defense arrives from the same spots against offenses that follow similar choreographies of pistol sets and Spain pick-and-rolls. The whole enterprise is not predictable, but it is familiar. The antidote to all this sameness: Aleksej Pokusevski, a 7’0, 190-pound power forward/sapling for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

A first round pick in the 2020 Draft, Pokusevski plays like he was weaned on ayahuasca and Jason Williams mixtapes. While it’s still an open question whether the 19-year-old Serb is actually good, he’s already one of the NBA’s coolest and most fun on-court forces. He flicks over-the-head alley-oop lobs while he flies out of bounds; he nails step-back threes in his defender’s eye; he even punches dunks on people’s heads. And during last night’s preseason game, he delivered his magnum opus by doing whatever this is. 

In this sense, no other player in the NBA has a larger delta between their actual in-game utility and their ability to deliver mind-bending highlights. Statistically, Pokusevski was probably one of the five or so worst players in the NBA last year. In terms of vibes, though, he was—and is and will continue to be—elite.