Newcastle High School hosted the Thunder's eighth annual Blue and White Scrimmage.
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Competitiveness, Depth on Display at Blue and White Scrimmage

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

The intensity was high, Thunder teammates getting after one another on the floor. Playing with aggression, focus and determination, the fans at Newcastle High School must have thought they were in the midst of an NBA Playoff game, when in reality they were witnessing the Thunder’s eighth annual Blue and White Scrimmage.

It was a hotly contested battle between the two squads, and quite the show for the over 2,000 people in attendance. For Head Coach Billy Donovan, the coaching staff and every player on the team, the competitiveness was not surprising in the least.

“What you saw here today, even though it was in front of fans, they’re like that when the doors are closed,” Donovan said. “They get after it like that all the time. As a coach, you’re in a position where you can get a lot better growth-wise when guys are like that. Certainly it starts with the veteran, older guys who have established such an incredible work ethic.”

“Every day,” guard Dion Waiters said when asked if practices during U.S. Cellular Thunder Training Camp are that enthusiastic. “You play with a passion and fight. It’s the love for the game.”

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Andre Roberson led the White team, but the scrimmage showed just how potent the Thunder’s depth could be this season. In a back-and-forth clash over the final few minutes, the Blue Team earned a 69-66 victory thanks to a buzzer-beating three-pointer by sharpshooter Steve Novak, off of a dish from rookie point guard Cameron Payne.

“For us to come out here and have a close game like that, it was good for everybody to see a competitive ending,” Novak said while downplaying his shot. “I’m definitely glad the shot went in but it was more important that we played well, kept it close at the end and made it a good show.”

“That’s a big time shot he hit whether it’s a scrimmage or in real life,” Waiters said. “He’s preparing himself now just in case there is an in-game situation like that and he’s open.”

The leading scorer in the 30-minutes of scrimmage time was Durant, who played in front of Thunder fans for the first time since last season. Thanks to his work in practice and at the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center, Durant was right in rhythm, scoring 28 points on 10-for-17 shooting.

“He’s happy to be out there. KD is KD,” guard Anthony Morrow said. “I took a lot of pleasure in going out there and competing against him. We’ve been competing a lot against each other in practice.”

“We’re just trying to put him in situations where he can be effective and productive,” Donovan said. “He did a lot of really good things today.”

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Waiters a Playmaker

Perhaps the most impressive player on the floor, regardless of point scored, was Waiters. The fourth-year guard was assertive, patient and precise with the ball in his hands, racking up eight assists as one of the main ball-handlers for the Blue team.

Driving to the paint and attacking in transition and off of screens, Waiters was able to draw extra defenders then dish to the perimeter for open shooters. That’s an integral part of Waiters’ game moving forward, in order for him to be effective within the team concept.

“One thing I feel like in watching film on Dion that is underrated is his passing,” Donovan explained. “He’s a really, really good passer. I think when he gets into the paint, he does a really good job of knowing where the ball needs to go.”

“It’s my job to go out there and make plays for myself and others,” Waiters said. “Anytime the defense collapses, I’m able to kick it out and find guys like A-Mo and everybody else. It makes my job easier when I can do that and guys are knocking down shots.”

Waiters also added seven rebounds and 12 points, showing off his ability to get north-and-south, generating a number of points through attacks to the rim. In fact, Waiters converted two and-one layups and managed to get to the rim on a few other occasions, utilizing his dribbling skills and quickness to get into the paint.

“He’s understanding when he gets into the lane and gets fouled and gets to the free throw line and takes advantage of shooting threes, he becomes a much more efficient offensive player,” Donovan said.

“He passed up some shots that he could have taken today,” Morrow said. “He’s finding guys, making plays and getting to the rim. That’s when he’s at his best.”

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Payne Makes Impact

This was the first chance Thunder fans had an opportunity to see the rookie point guard Payne, who showed his unique skill set throughout the course of the game in addition to the game-winning assist to Novak. His passing in transition, ability to find rollers around the rim and unique pace in the paint allowed him to be effective, scoring 10 points and adding six assists.

“He’s very crafty, shifty in pick-and-roll, can see the floor and can make plays,” Donovan said. “He’s a good enough player in the paint to make floaters and runners in there and he knocked down a couple of threes today.”

“He’s a special talent, the way he changes speed and ability to see the court while doing that,” Novak said.

Payne still has plenty of work ahead of him, but he’s already been taken under the wing by his fellow point guards Westbrook and D.J. Augustin. With two vastly different styles, the veteran Thunder guards have a variety of different experiences and a wealth of knowledge to impart on Payne, which Donovan pointed to as a reason for his rookie’s strong play.

“I think he has a great leader in front of him in Russell and in D.J., being a veteran guy, another really bright guy,” Donovan explained. “He has two veteran point guards that he can learn from each day. One of Cameron’s strengths is not only how hard he competes, but how cerebral he is.” 

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