Trust a Crucial Part of the Thunder’s Success

NBA players don’t have eyes in the back of their heads. It’s fortunate, then, that Thunder players have teammates that have their back at all times.

Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club prides itself on a number of things each time it steps on the court. Some of those things can be measured, like assist-to-turnover ratio and opponent field goal percentage. One area that can only be identified by feel and by watching tape, however, is how well the Thunder trusts one another on a nightly basis. As the Thunder hosts the Orlando Magic this evening at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the trust it displays between players and to Brooks’ offensive and defensive systems will be clear by its play on the court.

“Trusting is such a critical component to everybody’s success,” Brooks said. “If you don’t trust a guy that you’re playing with, you’re not going to have success. Defensive and offensive trust is so important because if you break down every play, everybody has to do their job. Everybody has to do their part for it to work.”

Since it’s not a quantifiable statistic, the Thunder looks at game film and intuitively understands what adjustments need to be made in order to ensure everyone is aware of helping one another on each play. Thanks to leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and veterans like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, the communication of where teammates need to be and what they need to do is done in a constructive, beneficial way. Particularly on the defensive end, that communication and trust is critical, as help-side rotations and second efforts make a huge difference.

“It is good communication and chemistry that we have as a group,” Durant said. “It’s just the defensive end and how we trust each other… That goes for everybody on the team. I think we’re doing a really good job of trusting each other.”

When the Thunder makes those extra efforts to get out to shooters, to double team the post or trap a pick-and-roll, it can be overwhelming to an opponent. Those are some of the many reasons why the Thunder forces opponents into shooting the second lowest field goal percentage in the league. Brooks and company base their evaluation of how they play each night by the way the team defends, which is something the Thunder will look to do at a high level not only tonight, but consistently every night.

“It takes confidence away from them and I think for us it builds our confidence on the offensive end, knowing that we can get a stop any time and knowing that we can score with some of the best in the league,” Durant said. We have to be disciplined. We look at ourselves as one of the top teams in the league. We have to do it night in and night out.”

Sometimes during an NBA season, finding that defensive consistency can be a challenge, particularly in a unique situation like the one tonight against the Magic. Despite being halfway through March, this is the first time the Thunder has faced Orlando all year. With the many changes Orlando has made as an organization over the past year, the Thunder will be facing an unfamiliar unit tonight, that despite being led by Magic stalwart Jameer Nelson, is mostly full of new faces. Fortunately, the Thunder’s scouting staff is well prepared for any situation the rigorous NBA schedule throws at them.

“Our staff does a good job of scouting and preparing,” Brooks said. “We know what they do well. We know their personnel, their tendencies and team tendencies… It’s always better to play a team and get a good feel for in-game, live action. But our guys are ready. It’s going to be a good opportunity for us to keep improving on our things that we’ve talked about the last couple of weeks.”

During the course of a game, those scouting tips and opponent-specific points of emphasis will be key, but in truth the Thunder mostly focuses on improving itself each night. Building that trust and communication every day is one way the Thunder continues to develop as the season moves along, all while making sure to work together on both the offensive and defensive ends to become the best possible team it can be.

“We’re building our habits here and I think tonight is a good game to show them,” Durant said. “No matter what the team’s record is, we never play their record. We know they have some really good players who have been playing well lately. We have to come out with that sense of urgency.”