Jalen Williams

Thunder Notes: Giddey, Offense, SGA, Williams, Holmgren

The Thunder‘s decision to move Josh Giddey to the bench came at an odd time, in the view of Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman, who notes that the guard’s fit in the starting lineup has been a concern for much of the season, and certainly for the entire series vs. Dallas. Head coach Mark Daigneault explained on Wednesday why he decided to wait until after Oklahoma City’s Game 4 win to make a change.

“Considering all the information before every single game and treating every game as its own life, I just wasn’t comfortable doing it up until now,” Daigneault said. “At the end of the day I’m making a lot of different decisions. They’re not all gonna be right or wrong.”

Benching Giddey didn’t do a whole lot for the Thunder’s offense, which was limited to 92 points in a Game 5 loss, Mussatto writes. Still, as Anthony Slater of The Athletic relays, Daigneault came away from Wednesday’s loss feeling good about the way the offense functioned, even if the results weren’t there. The NBA’s best three-point shooting team during the regular season (38.9%) made just 10-of-40 attempts from beyond the arc in Game 5.

“I’m careful to say I loved a 92-point night,” Daigneault said. “But I did feel like we were bumping up against some hurdles on the offensive end of the floor the (previous) three games. I did feel like (in Game 5) we were able to find some cracks. We made them a little bit more uncomfortable. We had them in rotation a little bit more.”

Here’s more on the Thunder ahead of a must-win Game 6 on Saturday:

  • Regardless of what happens in Game 6, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander passed an important test this spring, Mussatto writes for The Oklahoman. After having established himself as a No. 1 option, a multi-time All-Star, and a true MVP candidate, Gilgeous-Alexander has shown during this postseason that he’s capable of maintaining his level in the playoffs and being the best player on a legitimate contender. That bodes well going forward for a Thunder team still on the rise, Mussatto observes.
  • After scoring 19 or more points in each of the Thunder’s four games vs. New Orleans in round one, Jalen Williams has only topped 18 points once in five games vs. Dallas. The second-year forward, who is playing in the postseason for the first time, is still working out just how aggressive he should – or needs to – be on offense, tweets Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman. “I think sometimes I should probably force a little more. But I’m big on playing within the team, like we’ve been doing all year,” Williams said. “I think (I’m) sometimes getting caught up in trying to create for others the whole game. It’s a balance that I’m still trying to figure out.”
  • In a series of feature stories, Slater of The Athletic takes a look at Gilgeous-Alexander’s evolution as a team leader in Oklahoma City, Marc J. Spears of Andscape examines how Williams’ self-confidence permeates through a young OKC roster, and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN explores Chet Holmgren‘s perfect fit in the Thunder’s frontcourt.

Draft Notes: Lottery, Williams, Sarr, Holland, Sheppard, Shannon

This year’s draft lottery isn’t nearly as highly anticipated as the 2023 event that determined which team would get the opportunity to select generational prospect Victor Wembanyama. Still, each team involved in the 2024 lottery would love to come away Sunday with the No. 1 overall pick, as Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo write for ESPN.com (Insider link).

In a team-by-team look at the lottery teams, Givony and Woo explore what’s at stake for each franchise on Sunday and which prospects they’ll be eyeing if they claim a top spot in the draft or if they end up where they are.

Although ESPN’s draft experts have French forward Zaccharie Risacher ranked as the No. 1 prospect in this year’s class, they suggest that both the Wizards and Hornets may prefer another Frenchman (Alexandre Sarr) if they land the top pick, while the Spurs could be an ideal fit for guard Rob Dillingham, whose perimeter shooting and ball-handling would complement Wembanyama’s skill set.

UConn center Donovan Clingan, meanwhile, could be a perfect match for the Grizzlies, who traded away big men Steven Adams and Xavier Tillman earlier this year. Woo also points out that – if he’s still on the board at No. 12 – Colorado prospect Cody Williams would have an opportunity to potentially team up with older brother Jalen Williams on the Thunder.

Here are a few more draft-related items:

  • Cody Williams isn’t the only lottery prospect with an older brother under contract in Oklahoma City — Alexandre Sarr’s older brother Olivier Sarr finished the season on a two-way contract with the Thunder. Marc J. Spears of Andscape spoke to Jalen Williams and Olivier Sarr about the prospect of their younger brothers entering the NBA as high draft picks later this year.
  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer and Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report have updated their big boards for the 2024 draft, with several notable differences between them. The top two prospects on Wasserman’s board – Ron Holland and Reed Sheppard – don’t crack O’Connor’s top five. O’Connor also published a new mock draft, which has UConn’s Clingan coming off the board at No. 2.
  • Wasserman (via Twitter) shares the rosters for the four teams that will scrimmage at the G League Elite Camp this weekend. The standouts from the event will be invited to participate in the NBA’s draft combine next week.
  • A June 10 trial date set for former Illinois guard Terrence Shannon, the No. 33 prospect on ESPN’s top-100 list, who faces felony charges of first-degree rape and sexual aggravated battery, reports Myron Medcalf of ESPN. Shannon’s attorneys say the trial is expected to conclude before the NBA draft, which takes place on June 26 and 27. He has pleaded not guilty.

Thunder Notes: Playoff Adversity, Giddey, Big Lineup, Williams

Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault isn’t worried about his team bouncing back from its 119-110 loss to Dallas on Thursday, according to Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City is now facing some adversity for the first time in these playoffs after losing home court advantage in its second-round series.

“Curious, but confident,” Daigneault said. “I’m not sitting here wondering. This is a team that’s made a habit of getting back up. We keep a pretty steady temperament through the ups and downs of the season, and this is just part of the deal. This is just part of the deal. This is the playoffs. Playing against really good teams. These are deep waters. You’re gonna throw some punches, you’re gonna take some punches, and now we’ve gotta eat one, get back to zero tomorrow and be a better team in Game 3.”

We have more on the Thunder:

  • Josh Giddey may need to be replaced in the lineup after two poor outings in the series, Anthony Slater of The Athletic notes. Giddey only played 11 minutes in Game 2 and 17 minutes in Game 1. The team is a minus-27 with him on the court. Aaron Wiggins started the second half of Game 2 in place of Giddey. “It’s basically an in-game substitution,” Daigneault said. “So, I don’t view it any different than checking someone into the game with eight minutes to go in the third quarter. We’re going to keep it fluid.”
  • Chet Holmgren and Jaylin Williams have been used in two-big lineups with some success, Slater adds in the same story. After playing only 92 minutes together the entire regular season, the duo has played a combined six minutes in the series and the Thunder have outscored the Mavericks by nine points during that span. “In both games, it’s given us a nice rim presence, a nice rebounding presence,” Daigneault said.
  • Jalen Williams‘ ascent is detailed in a feature by The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov. The second-year forward hit 42.7% of his three-point tries this season and became a reliable go-to option late in games, with Vorkunov pointing out that only 11 players scored more fourth-quarter points this season than Williams. He’s averaging 20.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game during the postseason.

Wolves’ Mike Conley Named 2023/24 Teammate Of The Year

Timberwolves point guard Mike Conley has been named the NBA’s Teammate of the Year for the 2023/24 season, the league announced today (via Twitter).

The Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year award “recognizes the player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and a role model to other players, and commitment and dedication to team,” per the NBA.

The award isn’t voted on by media members. A panel of league executives select the 12 finalists (six from each conference) for the award, while current players vote on the winner. Players receive 10 points for a first place vote, seven for second, five for third, three for fourth, and one point for fifth place.

Here are this season’s full voting results, according to the NBA, with the player’s point total noted in parentheses:

It’s the second Teammate of the Year award for Conley, won also won it in 2018/19 when he was a member of the Grizzlies.

The award, which was introduced in ’12/13, had gone to Jrue Holiday in each of the past two seasons (and three of the past four), with Damian Lillard taking it home in 2021.

Thunder Notes: Dort, Williams, Playoff Series

Luguentz Dort‘s smothering defense on Brandon Ingram has made him the MVP of the Thunder‘s first-round series so far, writes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. With Zion Williamson sidelined by a strained hamstring, the Pelicans need Ingram to carry a larger-than-usual share of the offensive load. Dort has made that impossible, holding Ingram in check as Oklahoma City has built a 3-0 series lead.

“My main thing is just to make everything tough,” Dort said. “Whatever I gotta do, if it’s a crazy contest or just running by a guy, anything that I can do to mess up a shot I’ll do it.” 

Dort has been an impactful defender since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Coach Mark Daigneault calls him “relentless” on defense and says he has learned tricks over the past five seasons that have made him even better.

“Some of the stuff with Ingram, even off-ball … he’s just giving the guy different looks,” Daigneault explained. “That’s not the scouting report. That’s just us kind of unleashing him on the game. There’s more of a method to that madness than maybe meets the eye.” 

There’s more on the Thunder:

  • Jalen Williams survived an injury scare after being hit in the eye on the first possession of today’s game, according to Brett Martel of The Associated Press. Williams was taken to the locker room to have his eye checked, but he was able to return late in the first quarter and wound up scoring 21 points. “Dub’s very talented,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “He was clearly big tonight, very impressive and nothing we’re not used to.”
  • With the series well in hand, the Thunder’s biggest concern might be finishing off the Pelicans too quickly, suggests John Hollinger of The Athletic. Game 4 is Monday, and if OKC completes the sweep, the team could have up to eight days off before its second-round series begins. Counting the time off after the end of the season, the Thunder may end up playing just four games in a three-week stretch.
  • The Thunder have figured out how to capitalize on the trend of positionless basketball that has swept the NBA over the last few years, Rylan Stiles writes for Sports Illustrated. Stiles notes that virtually every player on Oklahoma City’s roster can do something to create plays on offense. “I think one of the things that I think is pretty evident, especially when you watch the playoffs — the teams that are the most formidable in the NBA are the ones that offensively have multiple creators,” Daigneault said.

Western Notes: Thunder, Pelicans, Loucks, Christie, Kings

The Thunder demolished the Pelicans by 32 points on Wednesday, led by 80 combined points from Rookie of the Year finalist Chet Holmgren (26), MVP finalist Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (33) and rising second-year forward Jalen Williams (21), per Andrew Lopez of ESPN. The trio was extremely efficient, going 32-of-49 from the field (.653%).

After Pels center Jonas Valanciunas opened by scoring the first 11 points for New Orleans, Oklahoma City countered by giving Holmgren looks from the perimeter, Lopez writes. The 2022 No. 2 overall pick responded with 15 points in the opening frame en route to a double-digit lead.

He was great to start,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of Holmgren. “He was aggressive, he was assertive, made quick decisions and obviously was a big reason why we got out to that lead. He just played to his strengths and didn’t try to stray from them. We all know when he does that, he’s really good.”

Here’s more from the Western Conference:

  • Perhaps more concerning than the loss itself was the way the Pelicans lost. As William Guillory of The Athletic details, New Orleans came away from Game 1’s two-point loss somewhat encouraged and responded with an absolute dud of a performance in Game 2. The Pelicans allowed OKC to score 124 points on a shooting line of .590/.483/.900. They had 18 turnovers, including eight offensive fouls. And they only finished with 92 points for the second straight game. Yes, the Pelicans are playing without Zion Williamson, but an ugly early exit could lead to major changes in the offseason, Guillory writes.
  • Kings head coach Mike Brown told reporters, including Sean Cunningham of Fox 40 KTXL (Twitter link), that assistant coach Luke Loucks will move to a front-of-bench role after Jordi Fernandez‘s departure to Brooklyn. Brown added that assistant Doug Christie will likely coach Sacramento’s Summer League team, though that isn’t set in stone.
  • After winning a tiebreaker with Golden State, there’s now a 92.9% chance the Kings will end up with the No. 13 overall pick in June’s draft. GM Monte McNair said Sacramento is “excited” about the prospects who could be available at that spot, but the team will explore its options with the lottery pick, including potentially trading it, tweets James Ham of ESPN 1320 and TheKingsBeat.com.

Sixers’ Maxey Named Most Improved Player

Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey has won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award for the 2023/24 season, the league’s communications department tweets.

Maxey edged out Bulls guard Coby White for the award. Maxey received 51 of 99 first-place votes while recording 319 voting points. White had just 32 first-place votes, but showed up on more ballots (91) than Maxey (79) and compiled 305 points.

The third finalist, Rockets center Alperen Sengun, was a distant third with six first-place votes and 92 points.

Thunder forward Jalen Williams and Knicks guard Jalen Brunson finished fourth and fifth, respectively, according to the NBA, which revealed the full voting results on Twitter.

A total of 14 players appeared on at least one ballot, with Wizards forward Deni Avdija and Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton each earning one first-place vote.

Maxey, who is expected to sign a maximum-salary contract this offseason as a restricted free agent, ranked 11th in the NBA in points per game (+5.6 PPG from last season) and 20th in assists per game (+2.7 APG from last season). The first-time All-Star also made a career-high 212 three-pointers, up from 160 last season.

Maxey recorded three games of 50 or more points, tied for the most in the NBA. Those were the first 50-point games of his four-year career.

Maxey is the first member of the Sixers to win the award since Dana Barros was the leading vote-getter for the 1994/95 season.

Northwest Notes: Reid, Wolves, Murray, SGA, Williams

Naz Reid is making a strong late-season push for the Sixth Man of the Year award, having averaged 19.4 points and 7.1 rebounds on .488/.448/.743 shooting in his past 14 games as he fills in for injured Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns. After racking up 31 points and 11 rebounds in a win over the Lakers on Sunday, Reid admitted that winning that award is a personal goal, per Chris Hine of The Star Tribune.

“That’s something that I want. I’m hungry for it,” Reid said. “I want that. I think the impact, the record has shown it, our standing has shown it. I want it bad. I’m hungry for it.”

Reid has come off the bench in 65 of his 77 appearances this season — all 12 of those starts have come within the last month, which is the primary reason for the bump in his production. Still, as Hine points out, it’s the mark of an effective sixth man to be able to sub in for an injured starter without missing a beat.

“I think it’s obvious that Naz Reid is the Sixth Man of the Year,” teammate Anthony Edwards said. “We’re the No. 1 team in the West. He’s had multiple 30-point games. He’s the reason we’re winning. He’s a big reason why. KAT went down a little minute ago and we’ve still been able to win, it’s because of Naz.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Securing the No. 1 seed in the West would be the “cherry on top” of a terrific regular season for the Timberwolves and would give the team a “huge advantage” heading into the playoffs, according to head coach Chris Finch (Twitter video link via Mark Medina of Sportskeeda). However, no matter where the Wolves end up in the standings, Finch expects a difficult path in the postseason. “It might be the hardest playoffs ever,” Finch said, “so any advantage you can get is going to be a big one.”
  • Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was on a minutes restriction on Sunday in his first game back from various leg injuries and that restriction may continue for the rest of the regular season, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post (subscription required). Murray played just 21 minutes on Sunday, though head coach Michael Malone confirmed his limit isn’t actually that low — the star guard wasn’t needed in the fourth quarter since Denver had the game well in hand.
  • In an entertaining feature story for ESPN.com, Ramona Shelburne explores Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s evolution into a legitimate MVP candidate. The star guard doesn’t show up on the Thunder‘s injury report for Tuesday’s game vs. the Kings, notes Clemente Almanza of Thunder Wire, so it appears he’ll return after missing four games due to a quad injury. Jalen Williams (ankle), who has also been out for the past four games, is listed as questionable.

Northwest Notes: Ayton, Henderson, Billups, Murray, Hayward, Conley

Deandre Ayton and rookie point guard Scoot Henderson are developing the on-court chemistry that the Trail Blazers have been hoping to see, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. That duo led Portland to a pair of road victories this week, combining for 46 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists on Wednesday at Charlotte and 53 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists on Friday at Washington.

Ayton said Henderson, who hit a game-winning shot to beat the Wizards, is learning how to impose his will on teams in his first NBA season.

“We’ve seen glimpses of it right now,” Ayton told reporters. “Scoot’s being extremely poised in certain situations in the game no matter the momentum and he’s just really taken over.”

The short-handed Blazers have relied on Ayton to become their on-court leader, Fentress notes. Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Matisse Thybulle and Malcolm Brogdon are all out of the lineup, leaving Ayton as the only player with significant NBA experience.

“DA doesn’t get the credit for being as smart as he is on the floor,” coach Chauncey Billups said. “He’s understanding the angle in which he has to set the screens for Scoot as teams try to go under him. I say it all the time with that pick-and-roll, it’s the point guard and the big guy, it’s a two-way relationship. It takes some time to get used to. You can see them starting to develop some chemistry in the coverages that teams play against us and against Scoot, which obviously is totally different than with (Simons). So, it takes some concentration to be honest with you, but I just love to see that chemistry developing between those two guys.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Billups called his selection to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall a Fame a bright spot in a difficult season for the Trail Blazers, Fentress adds in a separate story. “This definitely comes at a good time,” Billups said. “I think not just from me but just our group. Just to have some positivity. To have some good things to talk about about our organization, about our team. Because it has been a very tough year. But this has come at a really good time for all of us.”
  • Jamal Murray returned to the Nuggets‘ lineup on Saturday after missing seven games with inflammation in his right knee, per Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. Durando notes that Murray wore wraps on his knee and back during part of his pre-game warmup.
  • Thunder forward Gordon Hayward exited Friday’s game early due to soreness in his lower left leg, tweets Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman. He and Jalen Williams are both listed as questionable for today’s game at Charlotte.
  • Timberwolves guard Mike Conley flew from Phoenix to Memphis on Saturday so he could be part of a jersey retirement ceremony for former teammate Marc Gasol, according to Chris Hine of The Star-Tribune (Twitter link). Conley will catch a flight to Los Angeles in time for tonight’s game with the Lakers.

Thunder Notes: SGA, J-Dub, Dort, Dieng, Daigneault

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will miss his third straight game on Friday in Indiana due to a right quad contusion, tweets Rylan Stiles of Inside The Thunder.

Head coach Mark Daigneault said the MVP candidate was sent back to Oklahoma City on Thursday and he’ll also miss Sunday’s game in Charlotte, which is the finale of a four-game road trip, per Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman (Twitter link).

We need to make sure he doesn’t decondition during this time and gym access on the road is much more difficult to come by,” Daigneault said.

Second-year guard/forward Jalen Williams will also miss his third straight contest on Friday due to a left ankle sprain. He was initially listed as doubtful.

Here’s more on the Thunder:

  • In an interesting story for The Athletic, Fred Katz examines Luguentz Dort‘s defensive impact for OKC, describing how the 24-year-old has added layers of complexity to the way he approaches many aspects of the less glamorous end of the court, including certain “quirks” he uses to throw star players off-balance. According to Katz, Dort has spent more time guarding the opposing teams’ highest-usage player than anyone in the NBA. “We can shift him anywhere,” Daigneault told The Athletic. “He can guard any player. There’s no one he can’t guard.”
  • He hasn’t played much at the NBA level in 2023/24, averaging just 11.0 MPG in 31 appearances, but second-year forward Ousmane Dieng has been more assertive this season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s NBAGL affiliate, Stiles writes for Inside The Thunder. Dieng, the No. 11 pick of the 2022 draft, hit a game-winner in the first round of the G League playoffs, eliminating the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s affiliate.
  • Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle expects Daigneault to be one of the frontrunners for the Coach of the Year award in ’23/24, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. They’ve drafted with the idea that positionless basketball is the future and there’s a lot of evidence that is the case,” Carlisle said. The second-youngest team in the NBA, the Thunder won 40 games last season and already have 54 in ’23/24 with six games remaining in the regular season.