Thunder journal: Darius Bazley earns first NBA start
SALT LAKE CITY – Thunder Rookie Darius Bazley made his first NBA start Monday, while Danilo Gallinari (left ankle sprain) was sidelined at Utah.
"I think he's got a really bright future ahead of him," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of Bazley. "He's a great kid, picks things up very quickly. He's obviously very young, so he's going to get stronger. He's going to gain more experience.
"There's a lot of things he can do athletically. He can handle the ball, he can pass. I think he'll become a better shooter, a more consistent shooter. But I think you look at him as a player, there's really nothing he can't do. He's good at everything. Now what he really emerges to become elite at, we'll wait and see."
The 19-year-old forward is averaging 4.1 points 16.7 minutes off the bench this season and shooting 35.7% from 3-point range.
Gallinari suffered the injury in the Thunder’s 108-96 win at Portland on Sunday, per the Thunder. He is averaging 18.3 points in 22 games this season and shooting a team-leading 40.3% from 3-point range.
"We’ll probably just evaluate him again tomorrow and keep seeing how he’s feeling," Donovan said. "It’s not like something we’re overly concerned about, but he did kind of sprain it, tweak it, twist it, whatever you want to call it yesterday."
Mike Muscala, who has played center for most of the season, filled in at backup power forward.
Gallinari joined Hamidou Diallo (right elbow hyperextension sprain), Terrance Ferguson (right hip soreness) and Andre Roberson (left knee injury recovery) on the Thunder injury report.
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Moving up the standings
If the NBA season had ended Sunday night, the Thunder would have been in the playoffs.
Of course, OKC’s first 22 games aren’t necessarily predictive of what’s to come in the final three-quarters of the season. The Thunder (10-12) is expected to shake up its roster again before the trade deadline in February. OKC will make roster moves with the Thunder’s long-term success in mind as it progresses toward a rebuild, which means the team will likely get worse before it gets better.
That doesn’t take away the fact that early in the season, OKC is outperforming expectations. With a 108-96 win over the Trail Blazers on Sunday, the Thunder claimed its fourth victory in five games. After losing its first six road games of the season, OKC won three of its next four.
“That’s what’s fun about our team, is it’s a team effort every night,” Thunder veteran Chris Paul said Sunday. “And as long as we keep playing like that, we’re going to keep thriving.”
On Sunday night, the Thunder jumped the playoff line and landed at No. 7 in the Western Conference. OKC owns the three-way tiebreaker between it, the Suns (10-12) and the Timberwolves (10-12).
Thunder wing Abdel Nader made his third consecutive start Monday. … The Thunder bench out-scored the Jazz bench 22-9 in the first half, largely thanks to Dennis Schroder's 13 points.
Maddie Lee, Staff writer