Starters and Bench Producing Together
At any moment in a game, a Thunder player could be called upon to enter the lineup and execute the game plan along with the other four players on the floor.
Thunder players know that minutes will fluctuate throughout the year, particularly with those players coming off the bench. The key, however, for Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team, is that every player from Kevin Durant to Ryan Gomes to Jeremy Lamb, regardless of status within the rotation is comfortable being a part of the team’s offensive and defensive strategies.
As a result, at practices this year, including the one the Thunder held on Saturday after its 119-110 road victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday, Brooks shakes things up. By utilizing various lineups that get players accustomed to not just playing with their normal player group, but with everyone on the team, the Thunder’s overall cohesion can improve.
“In games you have to have a little bit of both of them playing with each other,” Brooks explained. “That’s what we try to do in practice, mix and match some of the lineups and have different guys compete against different players during practice. It kind of helps us get a rhythm with how we play and it helps continue to know each other’s tendencies.”
“We need all of our players,” Brooks continued. “For us to be a good team and to be one of the better teams in this league, you need a team full of guys who are committed to each other.”
Since the return of Russell Westbrook to the starting lineup, players have been able to settle back into new roles, producing both challenges and opportunities. For young players like Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Lamb, there is a sense of security in gradually knowing a bit more specifically what will be asked of them in a given night, but each player also knows that as the season progresses, those demands may change.
Thus far, a variety of players have stepped up, some have been given minutes in every game while others have seen time here and there. As Brooks figures out the best lineups, player groupings and rotation patterns, certain players have having the opportunity to display their skills in different ways. One such player has been Lamb, who is averaging 10.2 points per game thus far, fifth highest on the team, on 48.7 percent shooting, including 43.8 percent from three-point range.
“I feel okay, but I know there is a lot of room for improvement,” Lamb said. “I have to give the credit to my teammates and my coaches. In preseason I missed basically all my shots, but my team still told me to keep shooting, keep working and keep going. The coaching staff still put me in the game and still trusted me. That’s the biggest thing. When you have your teammates behind you and your coaches behind you, you have to credit them.”
With veterans like Nick Collison helping Lamb understand the finer points of their two-man game, Thabo Sefolosha giving him pointers on the defensive end and Durant, Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins there for motivation, Lamb has a bevy of mentors to help him along the way. That dynamic is just one example of the way the Thunder’s cohesive 14-man unit works together. Regardless of whether they are starting and playing 35 minutes or called upon for a four minute stint, each player is an integral part of the team, and is trusted to perform their duties.
“Everybody on the team puts in work, everybody always works hard,” Lamb said. “We were here all summer getting better, doing what we needed to do. I’m not surprised that the bench is playing well or the starters are playing well.”