Hard Work Fuels Thunder

Long after practice had already ended on Sunday afternoon, Serge Ibaka was still going through a grueling workout. Thunder assistant coach Mark Bryant was feeding Ibaka passes all over the floor, and the forward showed no signs of slowing down.

It wasn’t just the fourth-year forward who was on the floor at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center getting in some extra work. Players like Thabo Sefolosha, Ronnie Brewer and Derek Fisher were all attacking different aspects of their games, pushing themselves to make improvements. Despite only being two regular season games away from the start of the postseason, the Thunder showed that instead of getting complacent, the team would work that much harder.

“Everybody knows their body,” Sefolosha said. “If they need the rest, they definitely take the rest, but we pride ourselves on working hard and getting better. That’s what you see guys doing today just like every day.”

Over the past five years since the team arrived in Oklahoma City, the players on this roster led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have established the standards for work ethic. Their teammates have upheld them, and that work is the team’s lifeblood. Players like Ibaka thrive off those extra sessions, coming into the facility late at night, over the summer and on optional days. That type of dedication is no surprise to Head Coach Scott Brooks, but it is a remarkable phenomenon for such a young squad.

“That’s what we’ve built here- that’s normal,” Brooks said. “This team is built on effort. It’s built on getting better every day... We do the same things over and over every day so we can get better at it and it becomes second nature.”

Working on individual skills is a part of the process that ensures the Thunder steadily improves on a day-to-day basis, but it’s in the full-team sessions where Brooks’ club makes even larger strides. Over the years the Thunder has developed and matured with the understanding that each nuance of the game it can master brings it one step closer to being a well-rounded team. Whether it’s playing an up-tempo pace, slogging through a half-court battle or matching up with different types of opponents, the Thunder is confident it can compete in any game.

“The good teams in the league have to play against different styles of teams,” Brooks said. “You have to do what you do well and try to do it as consistently as you can do it for 48 minutes, but you have to play different ways.”

An example of the Thunder’s versatility came just this past week, when the team won three-straight road games against three different types of opponents. Against the Utah Jazz the Thunder had to contend with a physical, interior battle. At Golden State against the Warriors, the Thunder found itself facing a fast paced, three-point shooting squad. On Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers, Brooks’ club took care of business against a team with a potent point guard and an All-Star power forward.

In all three cases the Thunder imposed its will and played to its strengths, but at the same time negotiated the different challenges each team presented with poise and flexibility. As the team approaches the Playoffs, it’s those types of efforts, particularly on the defensive end, that will be crucial to success.

“It was definitely a positive road trip and good for the spirit of the team,” Sefolosha said. “It’s totally on us. If we put our minds into it and communicate the right way on the defensive end like we’ve been doing, I think we’re a very tough team to beat.”