The Oklahoma City Thunder got off to a hot start against the Utah Jazz, leading 17-5 midway through the first quarter, but the game quickly turned into a nail-biter that featured 13 lead changes and 8 ties.
Despite OKC leading for a lot of the game, the Jazz were able to knock off the Thunder in Oklahoma City 110-109 thanks to a go-ahead bucket by Donovan Mitchell with 7.0 seconds left on the clock. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was unable to be the hero for a second consecutive game as he missed a layup at the buzzer, but OKC proved yet again that, despite “tanking” being on everyone’s minds, the Thunder is going to be competitive this season.
The Talent Drop-Off is Real
The Thunder’s starting five has looked good through two games. George Hill and Al Horford are solid veterans, and the young trio of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, and Darius Bazley are about as fun to watch as anyone. As a unit, they can compete with some of the best lineups in the league.
Through two games, the starting 5 has been the same group of guys, and they hold a +/- of 6.7, which is the 6th best among starting units in the league. If that were the team +/-, that would still be good for 8th best among teams in the NBA.
Unfortunately, the quality takes a bit of a downturn as soon as Coach Daigneault turns to the bench.
Mike Muscala and Hamidou Diallo are the first guys off the bench, and they have done a pretty solid job so far. After that, though, it gets a bit shaky. Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Kenrich Williams have been the only other guys to see the court.
The energy from the second unit has been great. They’ve played with complete effort, and it was pretty easy to see improvement even from game 1 to game 2. Still, the youthfulness and drop in talent is glaringly obvious, and that will be what hurts/helps the Thunder this season, depending upon how you feel about tanking.
As a unit, the bench has a +/- of -8.4 through two games, which ranks 28th in the NBA, or 3rd worst. It’s safe to say that they can almost only get better from here on out, so at least there’s that to look forward to.
Luguentz Dort is Severely Underpaid
From undrafted free agent signed as a two-way player to earning a full NBA contract and a starting position for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Luguentz Dort is easily the best contract in the entire NBA.
In just the second year of his 4-year, $5.4 million contract, it’s incredibly obvious by now that Dort is severely underpaid. He’s consistently fantastic on defense, and his offensive capabilities continue to improve. Tonight was a perfect example of why Dort has a long NBA career ahead of him.
Finishing with a career-high 26 points, Dort was 9-of-11 (81.8%) from the floor, including 5-of-7 (71.4%) from downtown, and he held Donovan Mitchell to 8-of-23 (34.8%) from the field, including 2-of-10 (20.0%) from three.
Oh, and let’s not forget that he hit a clutch 3 to put OKC on top 109-108 late in the game.
Don’t be surprised if Luguentz Dort ends up on an NBA All-Defensive Team at the end of the season because I sure won’t be.
George Hill Isn’t Going to Last Long in OKC
I have to admit, of all the changes and rotation of faces through Oklahoma City in the offseason, I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I heard George Hill was coming in. Nothing against the guy, but his best days of basketball are long gone by now.
At nearly 35 years old, Hill hasn’t averaged double digits in points since the 2017-2018 season when he split time in Sacramento with the Kings and in Cleveland with the Cavaliers, but he’s already shown that he’s a capable scorer and a solid decision-maker.
Much like Chris Paul changed how I felt about him last season, Hill already has me liking him, but unfortunately, I’m not convinced he will be in Oklahoma City for very long.
Hill is in the second year of a 3-year contract worth $28.77 million, and if he plays at this level consistently, I could see contenders coming after him willing to pay the price.
After his 21-point effort the other night on 8-of-9 (88.9%) from the floor, including 4-of-4 (100%) from three in just 24 minutes, he put up another solid effort tonight scoring 14 points to go along with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. He did not shoot as well as Saturday, knocking down just 5-of-13 (38.5%) of his shots, and he missed all 4 attempts from downtown, but he only turned it over once, so all in all, it was a pretty decent outing.
Thankfully, we have GM Sam Presti at the helm, and he’s not going to just give an asset away. Either we trade Hill for something of value, or we keep him, and the young guns get to learn from him. It’s a win-win.
Thunder Unsung Hero of the Game
I have a feeling that this guy is going to earn this honor a lot this season, but it seems especially fitting tonight. Mike Muscala had an incredible opening performance against the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday, and he started off tonight a bit rocky. By the end, though, he had put in more than his share of effort.
Despite shooting 3-of-9 (33.3%) overall, Muscala knocked down 3-of-7 (42.9%) from 3, and his 9 points off the bench led the second unit. Muscala is a guy that didn’t see a ton of minutes last season, but if he keeps playing at the level that we’ve seen through these first two games, he will continue to find his way onto the court.