Thunder Back Home and Back to Work
When opponents manage to enter the lane against the Thunder’s defense, there’s always a slight hesitation before the shot goes up. In the back of their mind, they’re worried about one man- Serge Ibaka.
The league’s leader in blocked shots per game each of the past three seasons comes into his fifth NBA year with the same driven mindset that brought him out of the Congo, into the professional ranks in Spain and eventually to the Thunder. His prowess is on the defensive end, which is why he wants to perfect his craft in a multitude of ways. With his leadership on that side of the floor, Ibaka hopes to elevate the defense as a whole.
“I want to talk about defensive rebounding,” Ibaka explained. “I’m sure we need to improve that. It’s something we need to focus on this year, and also playing one-on-one in the post. That’s something we’ll try to really be focused on too.”
Ibaka has also been working hard this summer to improve his all-around game and become a complete player. By refining his ball-handling skills, his basketball IQ and shooting touch from various parts of the floor, Ibaka wants to continue his offensive ascent.
“I’ve been working my game to create my shot,” Ibaka said. “I’ve been working on putting the ball on the floor with post moves. I’m sure I will be better than last year because I put in a lot of work this summer.”
As a core member of the Thunder, Ibaka has an investment in the organization’s overall success. From representing the team abroad with Basketball Without Borders to immediately visiting those affected by the May tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area, Ibaka always tries to give back. After battling through his own difficult journey, Ibaka has an appreciation for citizens like those in Oklahoma who persevere despite challenges and obstacles.
“I always think about where I come from,” Ibaka said. “I always think about how those people are living with those problems. That’s why I go whenever I get a chance to help them, because I know how it feels. I enjoy doing it.”
As much as a person can with sweat pouring down their face, Steven Adams strolled over to the address the media looking fresh and vibrant. After a week-long trip to Europe and a well-deserved day off on Wednesday, the Thunder got to work again at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center on Thursday with a long practice.
Refreshed and determined, the Thunder has made a pretty seamless transition within its training camp thus far. From the first four days through the trip to Istanbul to Manchester and then into Thursday’s session, the Thunder has been sharp and focusing on maintaining its principles. It was thanks to Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team’s “great focus” in Europe that effort levels remained at the team’s high standards. There was also minimal slippage in performance, resulting in a smooth practice tempo throughout the two weeks of camp thus far.
“(In Europe) we had three great practices and a great shoot-around,” Brooks said. “We got better on our trip. We bonded, obviously, being around the guys and seeing the guys. I enjoyed watching that part of our improvement. We improved as a basketball team by working and taking advantage of the time that we had.”
“It’s good to be back home and we’re excited to get back,” Brooks continued. “Training camp doesn’t stop now. It’s still going on and we use the entire month to still get better.”
Since late September when the Thunder began official practices for the 2013-14 season, the coaching staff and veterans have been helping bring along the younger players in addition to focusing on improving their own individual games.
Each player has specific aspects of their game that they are working on, and from a grander standpoint, all of their development processes are holistic in nature. Especially for a young and talented big man like Adams, training camp practices are a wonderful time to work on a variety of skills. Thus far, his mindset has been directed towards the area the Thunder hangs its hat on – defense.
“All I’m focusing on is the defensive coverages and talking,” Adams explained. “I slow myself down and work on the defensive stuff before anything else.”
Those coverages that Adams is learning are aspects of the Thunder’s defensive scheme that everyone on the team is sharpening day-by-day. Help-side rotations, communication and technique when defending different offensive sets are all examples of the minute details of the game that Thunder defenders are analyzing and attacking each day. On offense, spacing, movement off the ball and tempo are all points of emphasis for the team.
“We’re just focusing on all the weaknesses that we have to get stronger with,” Adams said. “We’re also still critiquing everything else.”
There is a seriousness with which the Thunder approaches every minute of time it gets on the court. With twenty days remaining before the Thunder’s first regular season action and a scrimmage and five preseason games in between, the team is using all of the little moments to grow and teach one another. On the trip overseas, the team bonded and developed chemistry, making those hours spent trying to get better collectively not only hard work, but also extremely enjoyable.
“It’s always fun just to be out here with these guys,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “It’s fun to always get back in here and get things going and work on some things, especially with the season approaching so quickly.”