Back Home, Thunder Assesses and Works to Improve

Over the course of 82 games there are peaks and valleys, and while that is a certainty of the league, the variable is how teams respond to each of those.

With the Thunder, its response is always in its work in practice and at shoot-around. Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club has lost three straight games for only the first time this season, and still holds the league’s third-best overall record. Regardless, the standards are high in Oklahoma City, and as a result the team went to work in practice to self-assess and iron out a few wrinkles on both sides of the floor.

“You have to figure out ways to get your team better,” Brooks said. “Today, I thought, was an opportunity for guys to come together and improve. Tomorrow we’ll have a shoot-around and film and we’ll try to get better for tomorrow night.”

Fortunately for the Thunder, the look of the team’s practice is the same regardless of whether the team lost or won the night before. The team takes the same, consistent approach into each session, working individually to develop certain skills while translating them into the team concept. It’s a complicated process with a straightforward mentality. Veterans help the squad find those minute, detailed areas where they can gain advantages all with the mindset of improving both individually and as a unit.

“We have to take whatever time we have to improve,” guard Thabo Sefolosha said. “We did that today just by coming in and getting some work done. It’s good. We have a lot of time. There’s no need to panic or anything, we just have to see what we need to improve on.”

During the course of the season, as the longest-tenured Thunder member Nick Collison often describes, there is a natural slippage in technique, fundamentals and precision. The grueling nature of the schedule, long flights and the fact that there are 82 games lends the NBA season to one of imperfection. The key for the Thunder, however, has been to recognize that slippage when it is occurring and make the proper adjustments to get back on track.

“The NBA is a long season, but it’s an exciting season,” Brooks said. “You have opportunities to figure out some of your areas that you need to work on through the course of the season.”

The defensive end of the floor is where the Thunder concentrates the most, and that’s often where most of that slippage can occur. One wrong angle taken on a pick-and-roll defensive play, a heavy step closing out on three-point shooters and late rotations are occupational hazards for every player on every NBA team. The Thunder prides itself, however, on limiting those mental and tactical mistakes to the best of its ability.

“It’s a combination of the mental part of it and also the technical part of it,” Brooks said. “It’s being on the same (page) and everybody understanding their role and assignment every time down court. That has been a strength of our team.”

The way the Thunder’s self-aware attitude manifests itself on the court is perhaps the best part of the entire organization finds ways to improve its internal processes. There is a distinct Thunder way of operating both on and off the basketball floor, and that identity won’t change. Part of that Thunder mentality, however, is built on being able to make individual and team-wide improvements on a day-to-day basis to get better. That’s the pervasive mentality, and as team leader Russell Westbrook explained, it’s just a matter of playing the Thunder’s style the best, most focused way that it can, starting Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Just play our game,” Westbrook said. “Play a good defensive game and hopefully that can get us a win… I think if we all do our job and do our roles, I think we’ll be alright.”