Jazz Thunder Basketball

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey (3) shoots between Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles (2) and forward Royce O'Neale (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, in Oklahoma City. 

The young guys in Oklahoma City are showing some growth.

Leading scorer Shai Gileous-Alexander has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, creating opportunities for some of the Thunder’s young players to step up in his absence. So far, three players have stood out among the rest.

Josh Giddey is normally a co-conductor of the offense along with Gilgeous-Alexander, but he’s operated as the sole lead ball handler over the past two games. The rookie point guard was impressive against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, posting a near triple-double of 15 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

He was even better in the Thunder’s narrow 110-104 loss to the Jazz on Wednesday, posting 19 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. He also made 8-of-15 shots and 3-of-4 from the 3-point line.

He’s obviously still got room to grow, but the No. 6 overall pick in last summer’s draft has already shown he’s capable of conducting an offense.

“With Shai out, it allows him to kind of slip back into that role,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said after Wednesday’s game. “I thought his pace [against the Jazz] was much better than it was against Atlanta, especially up the floor. … He did a good job against a really high-quality defense, one of the best defenses in the league for a long time.”

Lugentz Dort has stepped up offensively this season, and he turned in one of his better games against the Jazz.

He led the Thunder with 27 points on 8-of-19 shooting while also making five 3-pointers. He added three rebounds and three assists. He also drew the defensive assignment against Donovan Mitchell, and he limited the shooting guard to 13 points on 6-of-16 shooting.

He’s scored 10 or more points in all but two games this season, and he’s finished with 20 or more in six of his last 10 games.

“His offense continues to come around,” Daigneault said. “... He just continues to grow. He had another big night [against the Jazz], but we can’t be surprised by that anymore. He’s a good player. He’s got a ways to go. He’s got things to learn, but he plays [both] ends. He competes, he’s got great spirit, and his offense is coming, clearly.”

Dort’s offensive growth isn’t a surprise, but Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s fast development has been surprising.

Robinson-Earl has scored 13 points in each of the last three games, while showcasing his shooting ability. He’s made 8-of-16 shots from the 3-point in that span, and his skill as a pick-and-pop big man has been utilized by the Thunder’s offense.

The Thunder drafted him in the second round last summer, and he’s made an immediate impact.

“He’s got a bright future because he can guard the perimeter, he can play some four,” Daigneault said last week. “He’s skilled enough to play both positions. and if he can kind of hold his own at the five, then he’s a pretty versatile piece.

“He’s done a really nice job in a pretty short period of time proving that he’s on track to do that.”

• Injury update: Gilgeous-Alexander has been “day-to-day” with his right ankle sprain since the Boston game last Saturday. Daigneault said he’s optimistic

The fourth-year guard is averaging 20.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game this season.

• Playoff picture: The Thunder (6-12) have dropped a little bit in the Western Conference Standings after losing six of their last seven games.

The team is currently the 12th seed in the conference.

• Up next: The Thunder play at home against the Washington Wizards at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580

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