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SLC Dunk - NBA Summer League: Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder recap

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CalvinBarrett

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2024 NBA Salt Lake City Summer League - Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz

Utah’s Preston and Lofton battle for possession against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Salt Lake City Summer League | Getty Images

The Utah Jazz were outmatched as they fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Utah Jazz Summer League squad came out of the gate flat-footed, falling behind Oklahoma City in the early minutes with an ever-widening lead that the Jazz simply couldn’t whittle down.

If Moneyball’s Billy Beane is to be believed, anything that’s worth doing is going to be incredibly hard. In Utah’s case, shaping its young talent into NBA-level contributors is the goal, and the path to their destination is still unclear. Player development is never linear, and Utah’s blowout loss against the Thunder Summer League squad was a perfect indication that the youth of Utah is far from ready to take on real NBA competition.

In a game where Utah never led, the Thunder looked like the better-prepared team from the tip-off. OKC’s offense was reminiscent of a picky bachelorette addicted to swiping left on Tinder. All night long, it was pass, pass, pass, until the defense was out of men to keep up with their rapid pace.

Utah’s defensive rotations tied themselves into knots as they fought through screens, switched assignments, and frantically chased down open shooters. Of the Thunder’s 35 attempted 3-pointers, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that over half of their hoists were uncontested—absolutely wide open.

As a team, Utah didn’t come to this game ready to win and never caught up with the Thunder’s Summer League clinic. In a 98-75 blowout win, the most exciting play of the game was a Jack Gohlke 3-pointer in garbage time.

Key Performers​

2024 NBA Salt Lake City Summer League - Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz
Getty Images
Brice Sensabaugh enjoyed a fun, though brief, evening in Utah’s Summer League game against the Thunder.

But beyond every crushing defeat, teams only truly lose when they take no lessons from their failure. That may sound like fortune cookie mumbo-jumbo, but it’s the truth. When player development is the aim, nothing can be more detrimental to a prospect’s growth than a story with no moral.

Though the overall sentiment among fans is that Utah’s young core has a long journey before them, several players displayed flashes of inspired hooping that should get onlookers itching to see more.

Brice Sensabaugh was excellent tonight. Limiting himself to only 1 turnover—a drastic improvement from the night before—Sensa was in his bag offensively. Scoring an efficient 18 points in only 15 minutes of playing time

For much of the game, the offense largely ran through Kenny Lofton to varied levels of success. Whether operating as a central hub from the top of the key as a screener, distributor, and shooter, or even playing some minutes as the lead ball handler (that was pretty cool), Lofton’s versatility was on full display as he posted a stat line of 18 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds with a bonus 3 steals and 1 block.

2024 NBA Salt Lake City Summer League - Olkahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
Kenny Lofton elevates over the outstretched arm of a defender as he fires from beyond the arc.

Isaiah Collier and Kyle Filipowki added solid contributions during their floor time. Collier got to the rim easily, though he struggled to finish consistently at the rim. He didn’t see the floor for the second half, but that’s likely to make room for other players to get more minutes. Filipowski moved the ball well and finished a few plays himself. He sprinkled in a few assists to go with his 5 rebounds on the night. Take away a few traveling calls, and the rookie had a solid outing.

Even Armondo Bacot, the Tar Heel star, put in some solid minutes after his DNP last night. He collected rebounds much like I’d expect the pink puffball Kirby would, and put in solid minutes—even if those minutes came after the game had already been put out of reach.

Giphy
Actual footage of Armando Bacot inhaling defensive rebounds for dinner.

The Ice Age​


3 point shooting was hard to watch. More shots clanked off the rim than I could stomach in this one. I sent countless prayers to the basketball gods for Cody Williams to knock one down, and I finally received an answer when he knocked down a trey in the late second half.

Williams was still trepidatious in seeking his own offense, and I would have loved to see him involved in more cutting actions, drives to the rim, or anything other than simply standing in the corner while Preston and Lofton played hot potato at the top of the key. Whether this was due to the Jazz’s offensive scheme or Williams’ tendencies, I’d love to let him go to work and show off what he can do.

2024 NBA Salt Lake City Summer League - Olkahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
Cody Williams locks and loads for a long-range jumper against OKC.

Cody was far from the Jazz’s biggest problem in this one. Shooting 32% from the field and 22% from beyond the arc will equal out to a loss in any situation. Some players who won’t be seeing NBA minutes took more shot attempts than I’d want to see, with certain players who will go unnamed taking and missing far more than their fair share.

Poor shooting nights happen, but tonight’s result was likely a symptom of unprepared players, an incomplete offensive system, and role ambiguity. Tonight was a bump in the road for Utah’s young players, and without Kessler, George, and Hendricks in the lineup, the team lacked leadership and direction.

Keep in mind that while taking too much from Summer League is an easy habit to fall into, making up your mind on a player’s first NBA experience is shortsighted. Utah endured a rough game against Oklahoma City tonight, but the future is as bright as ever.

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