Thunder Mailbag: Training Camp, Week 2

Thunder fans throughout the Oklahoma City area and around the world are some of the most passionate in professional sports. Whether it's finding out about specific players, asking basketball-related questions or gaining additional insight into the team, Thunder fans are hungry for as much information about their squad as possible.

This season, in an effort to answer some of the questions that are on your mind, Thunder Basketball Writer Nick Gallo will produce a Thunder Mailbag every Wednesday throughout the NBA season.

If you have a question for the team, one of the players, coaches or myself, you can email mailbag@thunder-nba.com or send your question in via Twitter by using the hashtag #thundermailbag. These questions and answers will be featured on THUNDER.NBA.COM and also may be displayed elsewhere such as Game Night programs and Thunder Magazine.

Here are your questions from Week 2 of Training Camp, and responses from your Thunder. The Thunder has had nine days of training camp practices and begins its preseason schedule tonight in Hidalgo, TX against the Houston Rockets. Keep the questions coming and you could be featured in next week's mailbag!

@okcthunder Is there a plan to get the defense better #thundermailbag – @Echeney17

In 2011-12, the Thunder finished third best in the NBA by forcing opponents to shoot a meager 42.7 percent from the floor. In addition, the Thunder ranked first in blocked shots per game, fourth in defensive rebounds per game and ninth in three-point shooting defense. Regardless of all of those positive stats, Head Coach Scott Brooks and one of his young leaders, Russell Westbrook, agreed that during training camp improving the team’s defense is the Thunder’s primary objective.

“Just trying to start the right way, starting defensively,” Westbrook said. “Defense is our main focus, rebounding (too). … I think we can implement a few new things, but you don’t want to do too many new things; just kind of stick with the same program and try to get better.”

Communication on the defensive end, help-side rotations and maintaining solid defensive principles are all areas in which the Thunder can improve moving forward. The solid foundation that the team has set over the past four seasons means that the team doesn’t need to add too many new schemes, but can build upon its core philosophies and simply improve in its execution.

“Every now and then we will add a different scheme to our defense,” Brooks said. “I think as we mature as a group, we can pick up things quicker and retain more of the things that we throw at them.”

What's the biggest goal for this season? #thundermailbag - @mike__35

From Media Day through the first nine days of training camp, the clear consensus for the Thunder’s main goal this season is to carry over the positive work ethic the team has displayed since arriving in Oklahoma City, and to continue improving on a daily basis. Working together as teammates each day in practice, preparing to the best of their abilities during shootarounds and executing on the floor on game nights are the things the Thunder can control, and hope to perform highly at this season.

“That’s the main thing for us is to never be satisfied with what we did,” guard Thabo Sefolosha said. “We don’t like to look back to the success that we had and take things for granted… It’s going to be us as players to motivate one another and to keep our eyes on the main goal.”

As a result, the Thunder’s goals are to work as hard as it possibly can, for the coaching staff to put the players in positions to be successful and for the team to communicate effectively in order to play cohesive, effective basketball. Over the past four seasons, the Thunder has continued to build brick upon brick, implementing new aspects into players’ games like Serge Ibaka’s mid-range jumper and Russell Westbrook’s pull-up jumper from the elbow. From a team perspective, the Thunder will continue working on different aspects of the game while sticking to the principles that brought it success in the past.

“We definitely feel like we have a pretty good base, a pretty good foundation of the system in place,” Brooks said. “Like anything else, we’re always trying to figure out ways to improve it and sometimes we feel like it is good and we keep it with what we’ve done in the past.”

Along the way, the Thunder will have fun and display mutual respect and love for one another as teammates and members of the organization. The team is already a close-knit group, and another season of traveling together on the road, spending time at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center and in the Oklahoma City community together will expand their relationships on and off the court.

“We just have to take it a day at a time,” Durant said. “That’s the approach we’ll bring to this group, to take it one day at a time, enjoy this process.”

#thundermailbag How do you get the strength for 3 pointers Kevin Durant? - ‏ @FurtureIsNBA

NBA three-pointers are extremely difficult shots that take a combination of strength, accuracy and timing. Throughout the course of his career, Durant has taken the time and energy to prepare his body every day and improve his overall strength. Eating healthy foods, lifting weights and training with the Thunder basketball staff are all ways Durant makes sure he’s in prime physical condition when he steps on the floor.

“I make a conscious effort to always eat right, take care of my body and do the things I need to do to keep that weight on,” Durant said.

Coming into training camp this year, Durant, who shot 38.7 percent from the three-point line last season, believes he added some muscle to his frame. Whether it’s the fact that the three-time NBA scoring champion just turned 24 years old or it is an accumulation of the hard work he has put in Durant feels he is in a good position to continue improving his physique.

“I guess I’m just getting older because I’ve been working out the same as I have the last five summers,” Durant said. “I have to keep doing it, I can’t stop during the season as far as weightlifting is concerned. I have to just stick with it and hopefully I’ll just continue to keep getting stronger.”

What do u think that you guys need to improve to become better!?#ThunderMailBag-‏ @kelly_kd35

One area that has stuck out through the first two weeks of the 2012-13 preseason has been that both Coach Brooks and Westbrook mentioned defensive rebounding being a key for the team. When the Thunder forces opponents into such a low shooting percentage as it does (42.7 percent), there are more opportunities for opponents to grab offensive rebounds. As a result, the Thunder will focus even harder on tracking the flight of the ball, finding their man, boxing out and securing the rebound on the defensive end. As Brooks pointed out, the Thunder was a remarkable 31-5 when out-rebounding its opponent in 2011-12.

“You have to be able to rebound in this league to have success,” Brooks said. “Just look at our rebound numbers. Every time we outrebound a team, our record was really, really good. We do so many things well defensively, I think that’s the one area that we really have to get better at.”

Another spot where the Thunder wants to improve is on the offensive end in terms of creating assists. While Brooks’ squad was one of the most efficient scoring teams in the league, averaging 102.3 points per game, finding easier baskets is always a priority. Layups and corner three pointers are the most efficient shooting spots on the court, and usually shots from those locations come from assists. If the Thunder can tack improvement in that area onto its already effective offense, it could pay dividends moving forward.

“At the end of the day, we know how much progress we made this year and what we’re looking forward to as a team,” guard Daequan Cook said. “It’s important for us to continue to get better. Don’t change much, just continue to get better as a team and grow each and every day.”

When do you guys play the Magic? I’m in Florida and that’s the only time I can see you guys live. Thanks :) #thundermailbag - @Emilio997

The Thunder plays in Orlando against the Magic on Wednesday, March 20th. Last season, the Thunder went 2-0 against the Magic, including a Christmas Day victory on opening night and a come-from-behind win in Orlando on March 1st. Click here for the full Thunder schedule.