Start time: 7 p.m. (CT)
Broadcasters: Bally Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
In the Thunder’s last game, Oklahoma City lost against the Sacramento Kings. OKC did not have any guards available and started a jumbo-size starting lineup. While the Thunder lost, there were a few positive signs.
Darius Bazley showed promise running the offense, and Kenrich Williams had a strong scoring night.
The Jazz is a totally different proposition to the Kings. Utah has been one of the most efficient teams in the league, and their high-powered offense has not really dropped despite the absence of Donovan Mitchell.
Utah has won four of their last six games, with the only loss coming against a scrappy Golden State Warriors and a surging Portland Trailblazers.
The Thunder are injury-ravaged now, and I honestly do not expect the Thunder to win if Utah plays their regular rotation.
It is pretty pessimistic about having this outlook, but the Thunder have looked overwhelmed over the last two weeks, and I do not expect there to be any miraculous improvement against a strong Jazz team.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
Kenrich Williams has impacted the Thunder all season long with his gritty, productive play, and it was no different against the Sacramento Kings the other night.
Williams effectively played point guard for the Thunder, with Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome, and Luguentz Dort missing the game. Despite the unfamiliar role, Williams stuffed the stat sheet.
Kenrich had 20 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks. He was disruptive defensively and created quite a few transition scoring opportunities for the Thunder.
His 20 points came in the usual manner; Williams was patient and selective with his shot attempts. The key difference in his scoring approach was where he scored the points.
Williams can be a reticent outside shooter at times, and he is only averaging 1.8 3-point attempts this season.
He likes to use a one-dribble pull-up to step inside the arc and drain the long two. The long two is a surprisingly good shot for Williams, and he is shooting 42.9% on a decent number of attempts per game in the 10ft-16ft range.
In the game against the Kings, Kenrich cut out the mid-rangers and focused on spacing the floor. Williams had four makes from downtown, with the majority of his makes coming from the corners. The adjustment in his game shows solid situational awareness.
The Thunder did not have much shooting in the starting lineup against the Kings. It seems that Williams took it upon himself to space the floor and create space inside for Darius Bazley to drive the ball.
Mykhailiuk had a nice game off the bench against the Kings. Svi notched 14 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in an efficient scoring game. It was a good performance from Mykhailiuk, and it is representative of what Svi can do when he is playing well.
Mykhailiuk is one of the most confident players that I have seen play for the Thunder, and that confidence can occasionally boil over into recklessness. Mykhailiuk’s confidence can be detrimental to the Thunder at times, but I like his willingness to trust himself.
The Thunder’s bench has been strong on the scoring front this year; the Thunder’s reserves average 38.4 points per game which ranks eighth in the league. Mykhailiuk’s ability to get a bucket has contributed greatly to the bench being highly effective.
I like what I have seen from Svi so far, but his scoring efficiency could do with fine-tuning. At the moment, Mykhailiuk’s true shooting percentage is just 52.4% which is below league average.
His scoring and secondary playmaking largely drive his value as a player; it would be wise for Svi to spend an offseason refining his jumper and handle.
Svi currently takes 4.8 3PA per game, he is not shy of the outside shot, but he only makes 32.4% of these looks. Mykhailiuk becoming league average from outside will change how defenses guard him.
At the moment, defenses can sag off Svi safe, knowing that he is not the most efficient shooter on the court.
Mykhailiuk shooting 36% from 3-point land will mean that defenses have to pay attention to him. The other benefit of improving Svi’s outside shot will mean that the Thunder’s spacing will be improved.
I would also like to see Svi Mykhailiuk work on developing and polishing a dribble move. Mykhailiuk is currently shooting 66.7% within 3-feet, but he does not get to the rim enough. Svi is athletic vertically, but he does not have a turn of pace that can be used to gain separation from the defense.
A tight Eurostep or a crossover will create an element of trickery in Mykhailiuk’s dribble package that can throw off defenders and make driving much easier. Svi has the tools to be a microwave scorer off the bench from all three levels; all he needs is offseason work.
The Thunder are 1-19 in their last 20 games. Oklahoma City has been tanking hard, and that painful, occasionally disheartening losing is finally starting to pay off. The Thunder now have sole control of the third-worst record in the league.
Minnesota beating Detroit on Wednesday has moved the Timberwolves back in the lottery. This was a crucial game in the tank race for the Thunder, and Minnesota winning has effectively eliminated the Timberwolves as a contender for a top-three pick.
However, there was another surprising result on Wednesday.
The Celtics have trudged through a difficult season, and the injury to Jaylen Brown has only dented the Celtics’ chances of doing something in the playoffs. The side effect of Brown’s injury is that the talent differential between the Cavs and Celtics was evened up.
Cleveland was able to pull out a huge upset win against the Celtics, with Kevin Love leading the way with 30 points and 14 rebounds.
Love looked like the Kevin Love of old as he effortlessly drained 3-point shots and hoovered up rebounds. Cleveland winning means that the Thunder have a real chance at getting a top-three pick providing that OKC loses the last two remaining games.
Rudy Gobert has been much maligned as a regular season phenomenon over the last few years. Gobert has traditionally performed excellently on the defensive end in the regular season before running off the court by dynamic, challenging guards in the postseason.
Rudy has performed at a historic level defensively this season. Gobert’s 2020-21 season is in the top-five of seasons by an individual in Defensive RAPTOR (+8.00), Defensive Real Plus-Minus (+7.73), and LEBRON (+5.05).
According to these metrics, his performance will put Gobert on the level of other elite defensive bigs such as Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo.
However, the numbers do not tell the true story. Gobert has improved significantly when it comes to guarding in space.
His footwork and positioning have meant that Rudy is much better at containing smaller players and buying time for his teammates to recover defensively.
Rudy Gobert is one of the best defensive players in the league, and I expect him to do really well in the postseason.
Bojan Bogdanovic has dialed up his offense, while Donovan Mitchell has been unavailable due to injury. Bogdanovic is averaging 17 points this season on 59% TS. Over the last ten games, he is averaging 26 points on 67.5% TS.
Players generally become less efficient when they increase the volume of their shot attempts, but this trend has not applied to Bogdanovic.
Bogdanovic’s ability to score efficiently from all three levels will make him a tough task for Darius Bazley.
Bazley has to focus on staying in front of Bogdanovic and using his length to wall off space. Bogdanovic is not the sort of player who can hurt the opposing team with his passing, so it will be important for Bazley to isolate Bojan and make Bogdanovic play 1v5.
On Tuesday, Russell Westbrook broke Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record. Robertson’s record stood for 47 years, and it was one of the few records that seemed impossible to break.
However, somehow, Russell Westbrook has made history by accumulating 182 triple-doubles.
Westbrook’s performance was jaw-dropping, and his game against the Hawks was reminiscent of his 2016-17 level. Russell Westbrook deserves so much respect for achieving what we thought was impossible.
He is a testament to the fact that hard work and resilience can lead to special results.