Brooks Helps Thunder Grow

Throughout his NBA career as a player, Scott Brooks had to dig deep and give his all for everything he got. One-year contracts, roster spots and playing time were all earned by, not given to the 5-foot-11 point guard, but year after year Brooks managed to make his presence felt on contenders.

Now, in his fifth season with the Oklahoma City Thunder as the team’s head coach, Brooks has created a stable environment for his young, emerging Thunder squad. Being an NBA Champion with the Houston Rockets in 1994 and creating a ten-year NBA career for himself, Brooks approaches his job as a coach from a position of understanding what it’s like to be a player.

That’s why it is his philosophy to always defer credit for the Thunder’s rise into a contender over the past five seasons. While All-Stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were elite talents coming out of college, Coach Brooks has helped mold them and the others on the roster into a cohesive unit.

“He’s the most humble guy I’ve ever been around,” Durant said. “He’s a great role model, first off. He may have a great defensive scheme or a great offensive strategy and he gives us all the credit.”

At the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center, it often seems that praise flies around the room deflecting off those who receive it in order to heap it on teammates, coaches or others within the organization. Every member of the Thunder operation understands that without one another’s assistance and teamwork, the unit would not be as strong.

As a result, for all of the times Brooks gushes about his players’ hard work and dedication, his players turn around and remind those outside the facility’s walls that Brooks and his coaching staff have been instrumental in the process. To grow under-20 players like Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka into high-level contributors who fit together within a team concept in just a matter of years is a remarkable accomplishment for Brooks and company.

“He’s putting us in great positions,” Durant said. “He and the coaching staff do such a great job with us in game time and practice time and development as well.”

Not only has Brooks helped the Thunder players work on their individual skills and develop them as players, he’s also made sure to help them understand team concepts at a higher level as the seasons go by. Primarily Brooks is focused on assisting his unit problem-solve on the defensive end of the floor.

With the highest scoring offense in the NBA, Brooks knows he’s developed his players’ offensive talents. Thanks to the assistance of veteran, defensive-minded players like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, Brooks has been able to effectively emphasize that end of the floor more and more each practice, each game and each season. With his players’ focus devoted to the defensive end, Brooks allows his players freedom on offense.

“If you work on your game and you work on your jump-shot, he never complains about offense,” Perkins said. “I guess that’s why we’re one of the league leaders. He’s been great at out of time outs, drawing up plays and defensive schemes. One thing about Scotty that you have to love is that he gives you the freedom to go out and play on the offensive end.”

Sometimes NBA games are perceived in terms of a single player going against another player, primarily on the offensive end, but Brooks understands the chess match involved on both ends of the floor, among all five players. This season the 47-year old head coach has shown off some crafty in-bounds plays, unique offensive sets and smart defensive strategies that have helped put Thunder players in the best position possible to succeed.

“It’s hard,” Perkins said. “(A coach has) to watch the match-ups; you have to put guys in the right position on the court to know what is going to work. Everything is done for a reason.”

It’s easy to understand how young players like Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka, along with rookies Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are still developing with each month of the season. It’s more nuanced, however, to contemplate the ways in which Brooks himself is still growing and improving as a head coach.

Brooks helps make sure no one in the Thunder organization sees themselves as a finished product, but rather a gradually maturing person finding ways to help the team. No one falls outside of that philosophy of perpetual improvement and dedication to process, particularly not the head coach himself.

“He’s learning along with us,” Durant said. “He is a young coach but he doesn’t use that as an excuse… He’s one of the great young coaches in this league, and I’m looking forward to growing with him.”