Thunder Improving Decision Making Each Day
The Thunder has always been about putting the last season, last game and last possession behind it and refocusing to the task at hand. After Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club’s 114-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night, the Thunder gathered on Saturday afternoon for a practice session to prepare for its Sunday night clash against the Indiana Pacers at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Forward Nick Collison said he and his teammates were back on the floor at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center looking forward to its next matchup.
“I think the best thing for us to do is to just try to play the next one,” Collison said. “That’s the best mindset to have. We’re going to be better off this year and every year if we can try to concentrate on what is going on in front of us on each individual possession throughout the game and each game itself. If you string enough of those good possessions together, I think you have a good season.”
That mentality and approach has allowed the Thunder to play freely yet deliberately on the offensive and defensive ends. Getting stops by forcing difficult shots, grabbing rebounds and initiating early offense before the defense is set has been a procedure the Thunder has used countless times during the team’s current seven game win streak and stretch of 11 straight games with 100 or more points.
“We’re playing good basketball on offense and defense,” Brooks said. “We still have things to work on. We still can watch the film and break it down and find areas that we have to get better. I still think our passing can improve, and our spacing can get better. I also have to give the players credit that they’ve done a good job of doing all the things that we’ve asked.”
Naturally the coaching staff and the roster that General Manager Sam Presti has built in Oklahoma City is primarily focused on improving in all aspects of the game, especially when the team has the comforts and resources of its home practice facility. That has been the attitude and standard for the Thunder program ever since it arrived in Oklahoma City five years ago, and Collison, the team’s elder statesman, has seen some key areas of development, particularly on offense. Over time, young, talented athletes like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have evolved into true leaders and great all-around basketball players.
“We’re seeing some growth in our passing and our spacing,” Collison said. “Decisions are easier because the spacing is good. Russell (Westbrook) is really doing a great job. I think it starts with him, and Kevin (Durant) is doing a great job of not forcing difficult shots in a crowd. If they have something they’re being aggressive, if not, they’re passing and we’re getting better shots because of it.”
“I think it’s just the maturity of our younger guys and playing together these years,” Collison continued. “Over the time we’ve put in together, we’ve built a chemistry and we’ve known each other’s games. I think that’s just an accumulative effect over these years.”
All of those decisions that the team’s ball-handlers must make throughout the course of the game have been fine-tuned thanks to hours of dedication and commitment to working in the gym. Even an hour after Saturday’s practice was over, players like Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka were still on the court getting in extra work. While the Thunder, 16-4 on the season, are playing solid basketball, the habits it continues to form now will be the ones it relies upon at the end of the season when the stakes are even higher.
“I think we still have room to get better,” Collison said. “I think we just have to continue to build. That’s really all you can do, is to try to do your work each day… We want to continue to try to get to where we’re playing at a high level, so that when we get to those pressure situations later in the year, later in the playoffs, we’re comfortable with making good decisions and things like that.”
While ensuring that its methods are being prepared for later in the season, those processes are being put to the test each night, on each possession. The Thunder’s next task will be to host a 10-10 Indiana Pacers squad that is the stingiest in the league in terms of field goal percentage allowed at 40.9 percent and only 89.7 points per game. As a result, Collison said that execution on offense and sharing the ball will be paramount because the first option will not always be available.
“They’re a good team,” Brooks said. “George (Hill) is playing at a high level. (David) West has come back and is playing at an All-Star level… They play defense the best in the league. They challenge, they’re physical, they put their bodies on you and they rebound the ball very well.”