Following Wednesday’s win over Detroit, Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault was asked by Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman how important it is to the team to make the play-in. Daigneault’s response didn’t exactly make it sound as if Oklahoma City is going all-out to secure a top-10 spot in the Western Conference.
“I think if it is an outcome that’s downstream of our process and the way that we’re trying to do things, it would be great, because it would be a marker along the way,” Daigneault said, per Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman (Twitter links). “Not so important that it’s gonna distract us from our way of doing things. We need to bet on that day over day over day. We’ve done that for two or three years. That’s what’s put us in a position to compete for the play-in, so for us to abandon that at this point would be hasty.”
The Thunder were projected to finish at or near the bottom of the NBA standings coming into training camp, especially given that No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren had been sidelined with a season-ending injury. As a result, player development rather than short-term success has been the primary goal in OKC this year
Daigneault’s comments suggest player development is still the top priority, but some of the Thunder’s young players – including breakout rookie Jalen Williams – have been so good that the club may still find itself in a play-in game. With five contests left in their season, the Thunder hold the No. 10 seed in the West and hold a one-game lead over the 11th-place Mavericks.
Here’s more from around the Northwest:
- Within a profile on Luguentz Dort, who is in the first season of a five-year contract with Oklahoma City, Jason Quick of The Athletic notes that the Thunder forward drew high praise from Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers star referred to Dort as the NBA’s best defender. “I think he has the perfect balance of strength, quickness, speed and desire to do it,” Lillard said. “And he’s young. So I just think he is the best at it.” Thunder All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also raved about his teammate, telling Quick that “every team needs a Lu Dort.”
- As his Lakers prepare for a big game in Minnesota on Friday night, point guard D’Angelo Russell had nothing but praise for his former team and his former city, as Chris Hine of The Star Tribune details. Russell was traded from the Timberwolves to L.A. at last month’s deadline. “Fans here were amazing. I have nothing bad to say about Minnesota,” Russell said. “If you’re not here or you haven’t lived here or anything like that, then you’re not aware of how good of a city (Minneapolis) is and a sports town, how committed fans are to their sports, things like that. So the city has a lot to offer. They treated me with great respect.”
- Talen Horton-Tucker is still learning the ropes at point guard for the Jazz, but he has shown some “undeniable talent” in the process, including on Wednesday when he scored 41 points in 30 minutes in San Antonio, writes Tony Jones of The Athletic. “There aren’t that many pure point guards left in the league,” head coach Will Hardy said of Horton-Tucker, who holds an $11MM player option for 2023/24. “Talen is dynamic. He knows how to run pick and roll. He has to know how to react when teams play him differently. He has to know to get off the ball when teams give him a lot of attention. But he’s very talented.”