Excitement Abound as Season Opener Approaches

Like a right-off-the-shelf novel, tonight the Thunder opens the cover and starts the first chapter of the 2012-13 season.

With core characters like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison along with critical players like Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, Thunder fans know what to expect from the team. Under the tutelage of Head Coach Scott Brooks, new pieces to the Thunder’s story will be woven into the narrative, as rookies Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb find their places and newcomers Kevin Martin and Hasheem Thabeet take on roles in the rotation.

“It’s exciting, it’s the great part of the job, always trying to figure out ways to get better,” Brooks said of starting the new season with a mix of familiar and new all at once. “A lot of times you have to improvise on the fly. We’re a no excuse team… When they step on the floor tomorrow night, I expect them to play at a high level and know everything we do.”

For Jones, the Baylor product the Thunder selected with the 28th pick in the NBA Draft, spending the summer and training camp with a mentor like Kevin Durant has been an ideal setting to learn the Thunder’s offensive and defensive philosophies. Heading into the season, Jones and his teammates are settling into roles and trying to find their niches within the rotation.

“Right now we’re just getting some chemistry with our teammates,” Jones said. “It’s all going well. They’re learning pretty fast, so it’s looking like it’s going to be a good season for us… I’m really excited, I just can’t wait to get out there and compete with these guys and see the hard work we went through and see it unfold.”

On Saturday night the Thunder acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb from the Houston Rockets, and on Wednesday, recalled center Daniel Orton from the Tulsa 66ers. Orton spent training camp with the Thunder and Martin played under Brooks when both were with the Sacramento Kings, while Lamb is a pupil of former Thunder guard Kevin Ollie. Needless to say, General Manager Sam Presti and Brooks can trust that the players the Thunder has introduced to the family will be positive.

“These guys that we brought in are chemistry guys,” Brooks said. “They understand what it is to make a successful team. Everybody has to sacrifice. Those are guys that have done that in the past, and they’re going to have to do that with us.”

While Martin’s veteran savvy lends itself to being able to pick up the Thunder’s offensive and defensive schemes pretty quickly, Lamb, the 12th overall selection in the 2012 Draft, is set to join his fellow rookie Jones in the Thunder’s player development program. Learning each day and finding ways to improve every aspect of their game is what Lamb, Jones, Orton and every Thunder player does diligently and tirelessly.

For Orton, the fact that he spent training camp with the Thunder and understands what the coaching and basketball operations staffs expect from him is comforting.

“Being here and being with the guys, developing a level of comfort with the team more-so is big,” Orton said. “Having that, then coming back into that knowing most of the guys here. That’s big… The playmakers and decision-makers are really good about passing the ball. It’s just about being in the right place and finishing in the end.”

Heading into Thursday night’s season opener on the road against the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder wants to stick to its core principles, the exact ones new players have been picking up over the past few days. At its core, the Thunder is a defensive team that also tries to be as efficient as possible on the offensive end. As a result, Brooks has instilled a defense-first mentality in each player that the team hopes will carry over into the season, starting tomorrow night.

“We have to always have that defensive mindset, our guys believe it,” Brooks said. “It’s something that we have to do every night. Some nights are going to be better than others, that’s part of the gig, but I like what we do and it’s defensive-minded basketball.”