Preseason Tilt vs. Jazz to Help Thunder Develop Toughness

SALT LAKE CITY - Under Head Coach Scott Brooks, the Thunder has always defined itself by its toughness.

By playing lock-down defense on the perimeter, communicating sharply and staying mentally strong during difficult times, the Thunder sticks together and plays a confident, physical style. While this is ingrained in the DNA of the players on the roster that General Manager Sam Presti has brought into the fold, it’s something the coaching staff emphasizes consistently.

“It’s who we are,” Brooks said. “We are a tough-minded, defensive mentality type of team. It’s what we work on every day. You have to do your job every day and that has to consist of being physically and mentally tough. Our guys do a great job of pushing each other, do a great job of breaking through some of the barriers that we will have from time to time, either the physical or the mental.”

The old saying, “you are what you put on tape” is a belief among the players on this Thunder squad, led at the forefront by veterans like Nick Collison. While the team has shown its toughness over the last few years by consistently improving and developing, the longest-tenured member of the organization believes that the effort to become a team defined by toughness must be displayed at every practice, every shootaround and in every game.

“I think your identity is who you are every day,” Collison said. “Just because we were one thing in the past doesn’t mean we’re going to be it today. We have to go out and do it today. That’s been a really good formula for us, to do the work every day, and it hasn’t changed.”

During the rigors of a season, with long road trips, back-to-back games and the pressure to perform on a nightly basis, the possibility of slippage exists. Sometimes that can manifest itself through mechanics, in timing or in execution. As the Thunder continues to improve as a unit, it is important, according to Collison, to be wary of any slippage in that attitude of toughness and to address it immediately.

“When you become something that you’re not, that’s when you begin to struggle, when you’re not true to who you want to be,” Collison said. “You have to be able to do it every day. That’s why we still compete every day and that’s something we have to guard against though with success is to make sure we don’t have slippage in how hard we’re playing and the toughness we play with.”

In terms of tonight’s match-up against the Utah Jazz, the Thunder’s second preseason game of the year, Collison and his teammates are concentrating deeply on its own tactics. There will be plenty of time during the season to break down opposition film, game plan for opposing offensive sets and defensive tendencies, but for now, this is an opportunity for the Thunder to get better on its own terms in a game setting.

“Now we’re just trying to concentrate on us,” Collison said. “I think that’s how most of the teams do it. These games are similar to practice in terms of what we’re trying to get out of it. We’re trying to get better. The games are good because it gives something different than practice because you’re not ready for their sets so you have to be able to communicate and get your coverages right. It’s more intense playing against different players. It’s good for us.”

While Coach Brooks and his staff are most focused on the players on their own squad, the Jazz present an interesting matchup with physical post players like Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Tonight’s game is a great chance for the Thunder to test its toughness on the block and improve its rebounding skills.

“It’s going to be a big test on our defense,” Brooks said. “They have some of the best bigs in the league. Those four big guys, they can score down on the block, and their guards are really good. They have some veteran players that really know and understand the game. They’ve made some of the biggest improvements in the league, I think.”

Most of all, the Thunder wants to put its best effort on the floor tonight and continue the development process that started during training camp and has continued throughout the preseason. Some of the young, new players on the roster will get more opportunities to show their skills, improve certain aspects of their games and simply get up and down the floor in a live setting, which will provide Brooks with plenty to work with to help them develop moving forward.

“We want to see good basketball,” Brooks said. “We want to see execution on both ends, we want to see different lineups, different guys mixing it up with different players and it’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to seeing how the guys respond.”