Thunder Mailbag: Training Camp, Week 4

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 4 of Training Camp, and responses from your Thunder. The Thunder has finished its preseason slate and is getting ready for the start of the regular season, which begins on November 1st in San Antonio against the Spurs. Keep the questions coming and you could be featured in next week's mailbag!

@okcthunder #thundermailbag how is Perry Jones meshing with the rest of the team? - @DaveRizzle

While still a rookie with much to learn moving forward, Perry Jones has had a successful start to his time in Oklahoma City. Before the season even began, Jones was contacted by Kevin Durant just after he was drafted. The Thunder’s three-time All-NBA Team selection has been a mentor to Jones so far during summer workouts and during training camp. On and off the court, Jones is meshing with his teammates quite well.

“Everybody is family,” Jones said. “Everybody takes everybody under their wing. After a workout, after practice, everybody goes to the same house. Everybody hangs out together. It’s really a close-knit family here.”

His production on the court has been impressive thus far as well. Despite minutes being difficult to come by during the season thanks to the depth the Thunder has already, Jones showed through his first five preseason games that he can be an effective jump shooter and has the athleticism to be competitive in the NBA. Against Utah, Charlotte and Chicago, all games in which he played 20 or more minutes, Jones scored in double figures. For the preseason he is averaging 11.4 points on an efficient 60.0 percent shooting from the floor.

“I’m having fun, but it is real competitive out there,” Jones said. “(I need to) stay aggressive, shoot the open shot and space out (the floor).”

How does Russell Westbrook look after playing with Team USA and his workouts this summer? – Ben from Tulsa (via e-mail)

Westbrook, a two-time All-NBA team selection and two-time All-Star, came back this summer in his usual great shape and has shown his typically sensational athleticism on the floor. One area in which Westbrook has been better so far this preseason is in ball distribution and in being a floor general.

In his first four preseason games, Westbrook averaged 7.0 assists, including 12 against Phoenix and nine against Denver. In both games, Westbrook played no more than 28 minutes, and for the preseason, has kept his turnover average below three per game. In addition, Westbrook averaged 14.8 points per game during those first four preseason games, on an efficient 47.7 percent shooting from the field and 60.0 percent shooting from the three-point stripe.

@coach brooks what are your plan for there upcoming season?#thundermailbag - @MPGlory13

The biggest goal for the Thunder and Head Coach Scott Brooks heading into the regular season is for his team to display its typical, extremely high level of effort and energy night-in and night-out. Brooks knows that General Manager Sam Presti has filled the roster with players who love the game of basketball, and that those players have set the standard for practicing hard and playing an aggressive, hustle-based style on the floor during games.

“You only win in this league with extra effort,” Brooks said. “If you don’t have extra effort, you’re not going to win consistently. It can’t be just certain players having to play hard… That should happen all the time, it doesn’t matter who it is, they have to do that.”

The key to Brooks’ main goal is what the Thunder does on the defensive end of the floor. Over the past few years the team’s offensive game has developed into one of the premier units in the NBA, and it is Brooks’ goal for his team to continue developing its defense to the point where it can be in the same class. Whether it is locking up men in one-on-one defense, helping out in defensive rotations or boxing out strong for a rebound, Brooks wants to see improvement on defense every day.

“Defensively, we talk about it every day, every meeting, every timeout, every halftime,” Brooks said. “We are a defensive team, we have to really continue to build on that part of our game. We’ve added some different things defensively that I think the players have done a good job of picking things up on the fly.”

@okcthunder I really want to know who is pushing their hardest over everyone else - @kevinbeonfire2

On some teams it might be easy to tell which players are going full tilt and which players are not giving 100 percent effort, but with the Thunder, it is different. Each man on the roster has diligently been working on his craft since even before the team assembled for its first training camp practice at the beginning of October. For the Thunder coaching staff, it is a joy to see players already in regular season form pushing one another to get better.

“Our guys have always done a good job on the practice floor,” Brooks said. “It makes it enjoyable because you know the guys are going to give you great effort. The film and the things that we work on always carry over to the practice floor.”

Players are being challenged all over the floor, both because of the players’ effort but also developing skill. Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson and Eric Maynor are all going after one another hard at the point guard position, while others like Lazar Hayward, Perry Jones and DeAndre Liggins have been playing tough on the wing.

Does the Thunder send the new players left after the selection to the Tulsa 66ers, trade them, or release them? It appears they have picked up players that are "THUNDER MENTALITY." Sure would hate to lose them but I trust Presti and the Thunder organization to do what's best for "OUR THUNDER!!" GOOOOO THUNDER!! – Melinda Douglas (via e-mail)

As a result of the competitive nature of the NBA, the collective bargaining agreement, salary cap and roster limits, it is difficult to say exactly what will happen to players who do not make the 15-man roster. It is very possible some of the players who don’t make the final cuts for the Thunder before Monday’s deadline could end up in Tulsa with the 66ers. For now, it is clear that training camp invitees DeAndre Liggins, Andy Rautins, Hollis Thompson and Daniel Orton have enjoyed their time in Oklahoma City and have picked up how to play “Thunder Basketball”.

“First class,” Liggins said of the Thunder organization. “First class means that everybody gets treated the same way, no matter if you’re DeAndre Liggins, Russell (Westbrook) or Kevin Durant. Everybody gets treated the same way. Everybody is accountable, and that’s what I like about the organization.”

The Thunder’s relationship with the 66ers is an extremely important one which is mutually beneficial. Players see the benefits that time in Tulsa has paid for players like Cole Aldrich and understand that because of the strong bond between the Thunder and the 66ers, the standards and methods are extremely similar. Needless to say, any current Thunder player would be able to enhance their game while playing with the 66ers.

“It’s a really close knit organization,” Rautins said. “Top to bottom everything is run extremely well. Everybody is in sync and there’s a lot of synergy. Guys get along like family.”