Thunder Building Habits Through Drills
If the Thunder’s players are all pieces in a giant puzzle, then Head Coach Scott Brooks is the puzzle master who arranges them all throughout the 82-game regular season schedule.
Fortunately for Brooks and his coaching staff, there is a lot of continuity on the roster, with last year’s starting lineup intact, along with a number of reserves still on the squad. Over the past five years, Brooks has both led the team on a night-to-night basis with in-game strategies and adjustments, but has also been a calming and steady influence as young, high-performing players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have emerged into perennial All-Stars. Balancing his role as coach, teacher, mentor and skill developer is Brooks’ rewarding challenge, and he couldn’t be more excited to start a new season with the group he has in the locker room.
“We’re excited with what we have and the core players coming back,” Brooks said. “We have had a great summer.”
“We have things in our system that we set out and try to improve every year and we want a balanced basketball team,” Brooks continued.
In each of the past four years under Brooks’ tutelage, the Thunder has increased its regular season winning percentage, which is also due in part to the hard work and dedication of the team’s players. Having self-motivated players with great basketball minds helps Brooks orchestrate different combinations, rotations and personnel groupings as he works to put every player on the floor in the best position to succeed. There will be ups and downs during the year, but Brooks’ and the Thunder’s goal is to be playing its best basketball at the end of the season.
“My job is also to find who is the best for us on the floor,” Brooks explained. “The good thing about all of our players is that they understand it is earned minutes and they compete against each other as hard as I have ever seen anybody or any team I have ever been around, including as a player. This team and our training camps are always highly competitive and you have to bring it every day to have a good practice.”
NBA players are creatures of habit. Game day routines are consistent, from sleeping and eating patterns to workout exercises and drills.
All of those tendencies are built each day in practice at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center, and over the past five seasons, the Thunder has developed standards for work ethic that are upheld by old and new players alike. As Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club gears up for its opening night matchup against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City on Oct. 30th, the team is staying true to the type of work that has created success over the past five seasons.
“We work on the fundamentals of basketball,” Brooks said. “We try not to go too far away from the drills that we’ve put in the last so many years. The guys understand what we do and everything is a systematic approach on how we do it. We can build it piece by piece, one player at a time, to two men to a five-man unit. That’s been our process all along.”
Veterans like Kevin Durant and Nick Collison have been team leaders for the Thunder and set the bar for others in practice, the film room and on the floor in games. In addition, those players have committed to working on specific skill development and team-wide drills that can be replicated by every player. As a result, the Thunder has a team full of players who are working on their games with a holistic approach.
A prime example of that has been rookie center Steven Adams, who has been side-by-side with assistant coach Mark Bryant each day and learning from veterans like Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Every day in practice, Adams has learned a bit more by analyzing game tape from the preseason in addition to going through the Thunder’s player-specific development program.
“It’s been good, just going off the games and what we have to work on,” Adams said. “We’re just really picking up on the defense, as usual.”
“All of the (drills) are helpful because I’m still learning the system,” Adams explained. “I’ve just been listening to the coaches. That’s where I’ve gotten my confidence from – the coaches, doing drills and working out each day.”
Focusing on the same drills each day and staying consistent with the routine develops a muscle memory from a physical standpoint but also an innate confidence in the mental side of the game. When faced in the same situation in a game that they’ve practiced thousands of times with the coaching staff, Thunder players will be much more likely to succeed.
Thanks to the team’s continuity and familiarity with one another and the team’s system, Thunder players are in good position to continue improving not just in training camp, but throughout the season as the team tries to play its best basketball at the end of the season. By building habits day-after-day and remaining consistent with its mental approach and physical work, the Thunder will give itself the best opportunity to win each game night.
“We just want to clean up on the execution like we’ve talked about going into camp,” Brooks said. “Also, to get better with all the little details. I think we’re ready to improve on all of those areas. The core unit has been together quite some time now. There’s a lot of Thunder knowledge. We can go from scheme to scheme and understand it pretty well.”
“In basketball in general, the better your habits are, the better team you’re going to have,” Collison echoed.