The Oklahoma City Thunder will travel to Vivint Arena on Wednesday night to take on the Utah Jazz to open up the NBA regular season. The Thunder were 14th in the Western Conference last season as they finished with a 22-50 record and failed to reach the playoffs. The Jazz finished with the best record in the Western Conference last season as they went 52-20 and lost in the Western Conference Semis to the Los Angeles Clippers in six games. Both teams have essentially kept their major pieces so they are close to what they were last season.
These teams seem to be on two opposite sides of the spectrum as the Thunder are a young team while the Jazz are experienced. Let’s take a deeper dive into the matchup to determine where we should be leaning.
Smooth Like ShaiThe Thunder have been depending on shooting guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to carry the offensive load throughout last season. He finished the 2020-21 season averaging 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 0.7 blocks, and 0.8 steals in 33.7 minutes per game in 35 games. He is continuing to improve his shooting as he was 50.8 percent from the floor, 41.8 percent from beyond the arc, and 80.8 percent from the free-throw line. If he can continue to work on his late-game free-throw line shooting, it could really help him take that next step as a basketball player offensively.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been below-average on the defensive side of the ball this season as they finished last season as the 26th-ranked defense by giving up 115.6 points per game. Looking at some of the adjusted numbers via Dunks and Threes, OKC finished 22nd with an adjusted defensive rating of 113.3, which was 22nd in the NBA. The Thunder need to work on their defense in front of the rim as only the Denver Nuggets allowed a better shooting percentage inside of five feet from the basket at 63.8 percent. Oklahoma City needs to continue working on defending the open shots if they want to be a playoff team.
Smooth Like JazzThe Utah Jazz have been depending on the output from their shooting guard Donovan Mitchell last season as he averaged 26.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.3 blocks, and a steal in 33.4 minutes per game in 53 games. He shot the ball well as he was 43.8 percent from the floor, 38.6 percent from three-point range, and 84.5 percent from the charity stripe. He needs to work on being a better playmaker as he is entering his prime if he wants to enter that next step of NBA players to be compared to.
The Utah Jazz were an incredible defense last season as they gave up 107.2 points, which ended up being third in the NBA. Looking at the advanced numbers via Dunks and Threes, they finished third in the NBA with a 108 adjusted defensive rating as well as having the second-best three-point percentage against as opponents shot just 34.1 percent beyond the arc. If the Jazz can figure out how to defend without fouling, they will be in an incredible spot here.
- Utah: 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games as a home favorite
- Utah: 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games as a favorite
- Oklahoma City: 8-21 ATS in their last 29 games
- Oklahoma City: 8-21 ATS in their last 29 games as an underdog