Back-to-Back Provides Opportunity for Growth
In the NBA, success is often bred by talent and internal drive, but sometimes environmental factors like fit and role can be important as well. For Hasheem Thabeet, the situation in Oklahoma City has been a comfortable one where he has been able to grow and mature within the Thunder’s development system. The supportive culture amongst teammates and staff has been a major reason why Thabeet has enjoyed his time in Oklahoma City.
“I have a great group of guys around me,” Thabeet said. “They tell me to keep it simple and not settle… Nothing is guaranteed. I have to come in and I have to work and be ready when my name is called.”
Knowing that every player is held to the same standards and that expectations are consistent across the board, Thabeet has fit into the Thunder’s system and now with a year under his belt, has a chance to help bring others along. A veteran in the league, Thabeet is continually expanding his understanding of the NBA game and how he can impact it.
“It’s been great trying to get the young guys acclimated to the program,” Thabeet said. “We’ve been working out a lot with the second unit and how we’re going to approach the game going into next year.”
Last season, Thabeet ran with the Thunder’s reserves, seeing playing time depending on matchups and in-game rotation strategy. This year he’ll continue to compete for minutes at the center position, with the goal of staying ready at all times to be at his best when his number is called. Every year for all NBA teams, roles change based on internal improvement, roster attrition and the acquisition of new players. As a result, Thabeet’s role isn’t completely defined yet, but he understands that these training camp practices are a perfect way to find which combinations work best.
“How we played last year is not how we’re going to play this year,” Thabeet said. “The focus is about ourselves and what we can do as a group and just get better. We’re just excited for the season.”
The preseason is a great opportunity for players to exhibit their skills on the floor and showcase what they have improved on in the offseason, but it’s also a chance for the team to get re-acclimated to the NBA schedule.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Thunder will play in its first and only set of back-to-back games this preseason, which is good practice for the 15 sets of back-to-back games it will play this year during the regular season. On Tuesday night the Thunder will play in Phoenix against the Suns before hopping right on a plane for Wichita, where it will host the Chicago Bulls for its final preseason tilt.
These are the last two dress rehearsals for the Thunder before the regular season starts on Oct. 30th, which is why the team’s goals heading into the game are identical to the ones it has once the games count in the standings. In fact, guard Reggie Jackson had a one word response when asked what the Thunder hopes to get out of the upcoming back-to-back.
“Wins,” Jackson said.
Of course Jackson did go on to say that the Thunder will continue to hone it’s defense over the coming days, particularly with regards to each man taking pride in stopping their individual assignment. The core tenets by which the Thunder plays basketball doesn’t change based on opponent or circumstance, which is why every day of training camp thus far has been planned and purposeful. Because each drill, scrimmage and film session has been thought out with a specific goal in mind, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team feels good about simply continuing on the same track, gradually improving each day.
“We’re focused on just playing with the intensity that we have to play at to compete at this level,” Brooks said. “Today’s practice was another good practice.”
“We’ll just keep building on some of the things we’ve talked about since the first few days of training camp,” Brooks explained. “We’ve always had the philosophy that the things we work on in training camp mean a lot to us. We will go back to those things all season long. We feel that we don’t want to waste time. We want to be efficient on everything we do and every drill we put in. we want to see that carry over for the last two games.”
These last two preseason games will be great opportunities for Thunder players to get game experience with one another and for Brooks and his coaching staff to tinker with lineups, combinations and rotations. That on-court time against an external opponent is crucial to the squad’s development, but the team is even more excited about the week’s worth of time it will have to work in practice with one another after the back-to-back set.
“We still have six or seven more days of practice before our first game,” Brooks said. “Our practice rhythm is more important for us, when we can really fine tune things and get our rotations down and get the guys playing the bulk of the minutes together on the practice floor.”
During training camp and in the regular season, the Thunder relies on a major asset, its practice facility, on a daily basis. The INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center is a first class facility that has all of the amenities and modalities necessary for the team to get better.
“It’s a great facility,” Brooks said. “Our guys love coming into our facility to get better. This is our workplace. This is business every day.”
“This facility is second to none,” Jackson echoed. “It’s one of the best facilities I’ve ever run into… They believe in us and have given us the best of the best.”
As both Brooks and Jackson noted, however, it’s the people inside the facility that make the biggest impact. Players are self motivated to get something out of every workout and staffers are there at all times to help facilitate the improvement process for every player. With the regular season right around the corner, the Thunder wants to take advantage of every chance it gets to utilize both its facility and its human talent to be completely prepared.