Thunder Mailbag: Training Camp, Week 3

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 3 of Training Camp, and responses from your Thunder. The Thunder has played three preseason games thus far and is gearing up for an exciting, basketball-filled weekend with the Blue and White Scrimmage in Bixby, OK on Thursday and preseason games on Friday and Sunday. Keep the questions coming and you could be featured in next week's mailbag!

#thundermailbag how’s the thunder’s rookies looking? – @Nauny_2Times

While seven of the 19 players in training camp are new to the team, only two are actually playing their first NBA minutes – 2012 first round draft pick Perry Jones, and undrafted free agent guard Hollis Thompson. Both have acquitted themselves nicely thus far during varying amounts of playing time.

Thompson, known for his shooting ability coming out of Georgetown, pitched in six points and three rebounds in 20 minutes against the Utah Jazz and scored two points with two rebounds in five minutes of action against the Bobcats. Jones, the Baylor product, scored eight points and pulled in five rebounds in 18 minutes against Houston, led the team with 14 points in 30 minutes against Utah and filled the stat sheet with 17 points, five assists and four rebounds in 30 minutes against the Bobcats.

Other young Thunder players like DeAndre Liggins, Daniel Orton and Andy Rautins have also performed well in the early going and teammates like Russell Westbrook have noticed.

“It’s great to see them out there playing hard,” Westbrook said. “With our team, there’s not much difference (adding) a few other guys. The group that has been here for a while knows what to do. The other guys just have to follow. I don’t think it was that difficult for guys to come in and figure out how we do things around here and relay it to the floor.”

Who's going to fill the Thunder's 15th roster spot? #thundermailbag - @boomSHACKalocka

The aforementioned Thompson, Liggins, Orton and Rautins are all certainly involved in the competition for the 15th and final roster spot, along with veteran guard Walker Russell. While the Thunder by rule doesn’t necessarily have to fill the 15th spot, all of the players it has in training camp have acquitted themselves well so far.

Walker is a smart, battle-tested pure point guard who saw quite a bit of action for the Detroit Pistons last season, while Thompson and Rautins have been billed as shooters who have deep NBA range. Orton, the Oklahoma City native and Bishop McGuinness product, is a banger down low, who scored 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting while grabbing three rebounds against the Bobcats. His communication and awareness was solid. Liggins is also an intriguing player because of his length, tenacity and toughness. In the preseason opener against Houston, the rangy forward was particularly effective on the defensive end and he showed his ability to disrupt plays again on Tuesday night.

Needless to say, all five players are giving Head Coach Scott Brooks and the basketball operations staff plenty to think about, but there are still four preseason games, plus the Blue and White Scrimmage left on the schedule to evaluate the talent before it’s time to make a decision.

“I think these guys are really good,” Brooks said. “They’re making it so hard and are competitive in practice. That’s what we like, that’s how we get better. Our guys are pushing them, it’s both ways. It’s going to be a tough decision to make, but it’s part of the job… You do your best as a player and you give it everything you have and that’s the only thing you can do. ”

Is the team’s main objective in preseason to get the starters tuned up for the regular season or to evaluate young players? - ‏ Terry in Newcastle (via e-mail)

While both preparing the main rotation of players for the regular season is an important factor during training camp in the preseason, it is also a critical time for the coaching staff to look at every player on the roster and determine strengths, weaknesses and areas for development.

With 19 players on the roster, games are just one of many areas in which the Thunder and its players can improve heading into the season. Practices and shootarounds are probably the most essential parts of training camp for players and coaches alike, because the team is not limited by the 240 total possible playing minutes during a game setting.

Preseason games are, of course, a valuable tool in getting players back in the flow of a true game setting, but considering the Thunder does get after one another frequently in scrimmage situations during practice, it is really those sessions at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center that mar most crucial.

“I just think that we work with our guys,” Brooks said. “There are a lot of guys in camp, so minutes are tough to get. That’s why practices are so competitive and guys are trying to fight for those minutes in the practice. That’s what you want as a coach. You want guys practicing hard because they know if they do well and play good minutes in practice, they get playing time.”

@okcthunder how does hasheem thabeet and perry jones look? Will they be in the rotation? #thundermailbag-‏ @bsmithers81

Jones entered the Thunder program after being selected with the 28th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and brought with him a reputation for being a player who could mesh well with other talented players around him. So far, Jones has done a good job of what he’s been asked to do, which is rebound, defend with his feet and length, and play confidently on the offensive end of the floor.

He is currently slated as the backup to Kevin Durant and for rookies in the NBA, playing time is hard to come by, but thus far Jones seems to be picking up on the Thunder basketball philosophy, communicating well and been effective on the floor, like he was when he scored 17 points, handed out five assists and grabbed four rebounds against Charlotte.

“He’s played like that all training camp,” Brooks said. “I thought he really has picked things up fairly quickly and that’s not always easy to do as a rookie… He’s a great listener and he’s a worker.”

As for Thabeet, he’s also performed in the manner the Thunder has asked of him. Against Houston he played 14 minutes and scored ten points while grabbing three rebounds, and against the Jazz he had seven points and five rebounds in 16 minutes. His aggressiveness and physicality around the basket are important moving forward, but mostly his continued adjustment to and development within the Thunder system are the top priorities.

“It’s going pretty good,” Thabeet said. “I like the situation over here, work hard, you get pushed a lot. You’re learning new stuff every day. It’s pretty good and it’s going great so far.”

@okcthunder #thundermailbag say all the teams in the league had "B" teams, (bench players) where would you rank the thunder? - @Toonchi_Man

Last season the Thunder had one of the most effective second units in the NBA, led by James Harden, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook. This year, Jones, Eric Maynor, Reggie Jackson, Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward, Thabeet and one of the newcomers may get an opportunity to impact the team when the starters are not on the floor, in addition to times when players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook join them on the court.

During the preseason, Brooks has been playing with various combinations of players and lineups, finding ways to put his guys in advantageous positions while also testing them. Since it’s still only three weeks into training camp, it’s hard to say at this point where the second unit might “rank” in terms of the rest of the league, but it’s safe to say Brooks will hold the players who come off the bench to the same standard to which he holds his starters.

As the regular season approaches, roles, lineups and rotations will become clearer, but for now all 19 Thunder players will continue to compete against one another daily to ensure collective improvement.

“We have guys that get along first of all,” Brooks said. “We have a team full of competitors who get along and that’s always good. They all want to play, they all push each other in practice and they cheer for each other in the games. That’s the first thing that we do as a unit. First team, second team, I feel comfortable enough to play anybody out there with each other.”