Question 20 of the OKC Thunder 30 for 30 roundtable series addresses the greatest strengths and weaknesses if the Jazz is the first-round playoff opponent.
Although there is still uncertainty about whether the season will be canceled if the Association did return and dive directly into the playoffs the Jazz would be the OKC Thunder first-round opponent.
With that in mind, the writing team at Thunderous Intentions team offers up their opinions on where the OKC Thunder hold an advantage and what areas of the game the Jazz would hold the upper hand.
With that, I give you question 20 from the series…
Q20: If the Thunder were to play the Jazz in round one what are their greatest weaknesses and strengths versus Utah?
One of the OKC Thunder’s greatest strengths against the Utah Jazz would be their all-round team defense, holding opponents to 108.4 points a game. Everyone on OKC is a capable defender. And going up against a side with one of the leading Defensive Player of the year Candidates in Rudy Gobert is going to be tough.
But the Thunder has shown this season that in big moments, they rise to the occasion and “defend the guy” as Chris Paul has preached. They remain dedicated on the defensive end throughout the entire game and are able to use this to create offense even when they’re in bad situations.
Their speed is also a strength and will come in handy against the Jazz. I will also say that having CP3 is a strength in itself. He’s proven to be unstoppable in 2019-20 for any team.
OKC’s greatest weakness would be its 3-point percentage. The Jazz is second in the league shooting 38.3 percent while the Thunder is 18th with 35.5. This is especially important in the postseason when everything is on the line and you may just need one shot to get your team to the next round.
Steven Adams is also a good matchup for Rudy Gobert, taking another strength away from the Jazz
OKC vs Salt Lake City would be a fun first-round series. They each have dynamic young stars in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Donovan Mitchell. Both teams are led by veteran point guards in Chris Paul and Mike Conley. The teams are very similar.
The edge in this series comes down to clutch performance, and no one in the league has been better in the last five minutes than Chris Paul. Paul has a 29-13 record this season in games within five points with less than five minutes remaining. CP3 would be the difference and the Thunder would win this series in six.
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The last time the Thunder was on the hardwood it was the Jazz they were about to play. As we all bore witness to that game was postponed and shortly after the season suspension announced.
With the caveat of impending canceled season, the Utah Jazz was the team I’d select as the ideal first-round opponent for the Thunder. OKC has proven to be capable of winning games on the road and while the Jazz is fairly adept on the road the Thunder has improved on the road as the season progressed. That’s a relevant point since the teams would be playing on a neutral site if the NBA returns to action.
In terms of matchups, the Thunder backcourt will cause the Jazz fits. Sure on paper, it seems like a straight-up one to one with SGA – Mitchell and Conely – Paul. However, Conley hasn’t integrated in the way Utah expected whereas Paul’s fingerprints are all over the Thunder.
Where the Thunder will be challenged is upfront with Rudy Gobert. Teams who’ve been able to expose the Jazz have spread the court and forced the defender out of the paint, but Adams is another typical center who will set up shop in the post.
Although that should be a matchup that would be a draw it’s not a guarantee as Gobert will be a handful. Factor in if Adams struggles at all with Gobert then the Thunder guards will be limited driving to the paint and forced to hit mid-range or perimeter shots.
Ultimately, this is my preferred matchup because unlike the Jazz have Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic as key offensive threats. The remaining roster members aren’t consistent offensively and they’ve taken a step back defensively. In particular, the Thunder clutch time killers will be a huge problem for Utah to deal with.
Sunday the Thunderous Intentions writing team considers how the OKC Thunder would fare in a first round series versus the Denver Nuggets.
Wishing everyone a safe and healthy day.