OKLAHOMA CITY — The Utah Jazz lost another one. That’s three straight losses and a 0-2 start to the six-game road trip. So, if you’re someone that is hoping for the Jazz to improve their draft positioning, things are going great!

Lauri Markkanen was sidelined on Sunday with low back soreness after an awkward fall in Friday’s game and although Jordan Clarkson returned to the lineup (right thumb sprain) after missing two games, the Jazz were struggling to find a really consistent way to score.

In the end, it was the Oklahoma City Thunder on the winning side of a 129-119 result.

Johnny Juzang

Every game from here on out is about evaluating growth, improvement or even regression of some of the younger and more inexperienced players on the roster. On Sunday, two-way player Johnny Juzang showed quite a bit to be happy about in his 12 minutes of action.

Juzang was most notable in his sophomore season at UCLA, when he was a star scorer for the squad that made it to the NCAA Tournament Final Four and he chose to stay at UCLA for another year rather than enter the NBA draft. His junior season wasn’t much of a boost though, and Juzang fought through injuries, COVID-19 and some dips in production before eventually declaring for the draft last year and going undrafted.

All that being said, Juzang has tried to make the most out of his time with the SLC Stars and the Jazz. He has been working a lot behind the scenes to improve and expand his game.

“He’s spent a lot of time in the G League moving around screens not just standing still shooting catch-and-shoot 3s,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said. “That’s a big part of his life right now — trying to develop that sort of gunner mentality — coming around and moving off of off-ball screens and finding 3 balls. I thought he did a good job of that tonight. He got six of them off in 12 minutes, which I think is great.”

And Juzang hit on three of those 3-point attempts as part of his 11-point performance. But he’s shown in his handful of appearances in the past week that he’s not just going to be a scorer. It’s not like he’s expected to be a lockdown defender, but the fact that he’s putting in a ton of effort on that side of the ball and and actually seems better than expected is a bright spot.

“I’m a competitor and I’m taking every challenge, so if there’s something that I can do to help us win then that’s something that I’m all over,” Juzang said before noting how helpful the Jazz have been in encouraging his development. “That’s something that I want to continue to prove … and the learning and development has been so great because you’re learning from the best and you’re learning from people who really want to teach you.”

Juzang has played in just three NBA games and he certainly has a ways to go, but it’s nice to see some flashes of potential in these games. There are some players who take a lot longer to show where they can be useful.

Jordan Clarkson’s injury is real

There are a lot of people who have been thinking Clarkson’s injury might have been exaggerated because the Jazz want to lose games. I think that there is a sliver of truth in that. If the Jazz were in a playoff series right now, I don’t think Clarkson would have taken two games off; instead, he would have just played through the pain. But, since they aren’t making a run for a title, why not let him rest a little longer?

But it’s also important to note that Clarkson’s injury is real. He’s been taped up and his thumb sprain is on his shooting hand, his dominant hand. That means that every shot, almost every dribble and every move he makes puts him in a little bit of pain.

By the end of Sunday’s game, his first back after missing two, he was holding onto that hand and trying to shake it out because it was bothering him. And to make matters worse, he dislocated a finger on his left hand during Sunday’s game. He immediately popped the joint back into place and played through that pain as well, but that digit was noticeably swollen after the game.

Clarkson is not a guy who likes to miss games. He wants to be out on the court and competing. But it’s a good thing that the Jazz are trying to preserve him and not force him to play through pain when these games truly do not matter in terms of wins and losses.

Walker playing aggressive to start

I was just really impressed with the way that Walker Kessler started this game.

First, we have to address that the first offensive play of the game was once again a 3-point play for Kessler, this time from the top of the arc. But this time he missed, bringing his NBA 3-point percentage down from 100% to 50%.

“Listen, I’m happy with 50%,” Kessler said with a laugh. “Still leading the team.”

Jokes aside though, that was not the only way Kessler was aggressive. After that shot attempt, Kessler came down the floor and prevented Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from scoring. Then within the next couple of minutes, he picked up an offensive foul because he was making a run for the basket, scored on a dunk after a post-up and blocked a shot.

That was all in the opening two and a half minutes of the game.

Kessler is not a guy who is really looking for his offensive moments during a game. He plays really well and comfortably within the system. But it’s nice to see him be a little aggressive and put some pressure on the rim.