Maintaining Normalcy While Preparing for Preseason Opener
With 82 games each season year after year, games and arenas and fan bases can sometimes blur together. For newcomer Ryan Gomes, that isn’t the case when it comes to Chesapeake Energy Arena and the Thunder. After playing seven NBA seasons with three different teams, Gomes could tell that there was something special about Oklahoma City, and since joining the club in August, he’s gotten a taste of what the Thunder’s city is all about.
“You can tell the community thrives off this team and the team thrives off the community as well,” Gomes said. “This is one of the toughest places to play. It’s a college-type atmosphere just with the crowd and the support.”
For his NBA career, which he started with the Boston Celtics in 2005 as a teammate of Kendrick Perkins and continued with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers, Gomes has averaged 10.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per contest. In every year besides 2011-12, Gomes started at least half of his team’s games, including 62 starts with the Clippers as recently as the 2010-11 season. Last year, he spent the season with the Artland Dragons in Germany, where he averaged 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.
While his niche isn’t carved out quite yet, the Thunder will spend training camp fitting all of the pieces together to see what works best. Regardless of role, Gomes is a team-first player who understands that he’s joining a talented roster so finding a way to mesh with the group will be most helpful.
“When you look across the board, they have the makeup of a team that can do something special,” Gomes said. “For me as an individual, I’m just trying to come in and provide whatever role is needed. I like our team right now.”
“I can provide leadership, rebounding and defense,” Gomes continued. “I know Coach Brooks will decide on exactly what my role is, but just looking at how I’ve played over the years, I think those are the qualities I could provide for this team.”
Snaring a defensive rebound off the backboard, Kevin Durant whipped the ball to Reggie Jackson, who pushed the tempo, only to see Derek Fisher awaiting him in a perfect defensive stance. With the heart and energy every player showed during Friday afternoon’s practice, it was the epitome of Thunder basketball on both ends.
Bodies were flying up and down the floor during the nearly two-hour practice, which featured a ten-minute long, five-on-five-on-five drill that pitted three squads against one another in a make-it-take-it format. A defensive closeout drill was the formal end to practice, with each player giving their all to square up to the ball-handler, making passing, dribbling and shooting all difficult options. Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club may have been practicing at the Turkish club Besiktas’ practice gym, but the work they put it looked the same as it does at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center
“We had good work yesterday and today’s practice was outstanding,” Brooks said. “One of the things about our guys, they don’t make excuses. They just went out there and had a good hour-and-a-half worth of work. I thought it was very productive… I thought the guys gave good energy today.”
After 15 hours of travel spanning Wednesday and Thursday, the Thunder has managed to not only get in two practice sessions but also create a sense of comfort and regularity to their processes. Brooks and his staff earned much of the credit that players doled out for the consistency of the team’s routine, but also having veterans and continuity within the squad has played a major factor. Leaders like Durant, Fisher and Nick Collison do an excellent job of helping the entire squad maintain poise regardless of changes in environment and setting.
“We’ve just tried to make sure we’re respecting the process and respecting this trip as far as our community events with NBA Cares and all the things that are important to do off the court as far as really engaging with the community,” Fisher said. “But when we step on the floor, it is training camp and business as usual.”
“Our coaches and our staff, they do such a good job of making this trip normal just with how we go to practice and what we do before practice,” Durant echoed. “The transition from being home to here has been very smooth.”
Not only has the Thunder’s routine been similar to what it would be in Oklahoma City, but the type of work that is being done on the court has been steady. Over the first week of training camp, the focus has been primarily on the defensive end as the team tries to cement its core concepts and that was the same Friday.
Early in the month of October it is still a learning phase for the Thunder, as players will continually improve in terms of knowing where to be, understanding spacing and developing a rapport with one another. With each day of work, however, the Thunder has been able to grow and expand its lesson plan just a bit more while still maintaining its core principles.
“We’re trying to add more plays to our repertoire,” Durant explained. “We’re trying to work for what we have already and build every day. We’ll be consistent with our work and if we do that, we’ll be okay.”
“We can always be better, but we’re looking forward to our game tomorrow to see where we can grow,” Durant continued.
On Saturday at 8:00 a.m. CT on NBATV, the Thunder will get its first opportunity to showcase what it’s worked on so far in training camp when it takes on Fenerbahce Ulker, one of the premier basketball clubs in Turkey. As just another stepping stone along the path of improvement that is the preseason, the Thunder will use tomorrow’s game to get live action against a new opponent, evaluate its players and continue to figure out what areas of its game need more attention.
“We still want to improve during training camp,” Brooks said. “We use the entire month of October to get better, and I’ve thought the last couple of days have been good. Tomorrow is going to be an opportunity to get better in a game setting and our guys are looking forward to playing someone else.”