Even in New Normal, Chemistry and Competitiveness Remain King

By Paris Lawson | Digital Content Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Mandatory individual workouts have officially begun throughout the league but for the insatiable Thunder, the team has already taken advantage of every opportunity to be in the gym. According to Head Coach Billy Donovan, players have been in market and utilizing the practice facility for individual voluntary workouts for quite some time.

“Our guys have been great,” Donovan said. “Guys were in working out. They've been really great about wanting to play. I think all these players are very, very competitive and they love playing the game of basketball, and the opportunity to get back on the court is something I think is important to all of them.”

Chemistry, competitiveness and controlling the controllables have been the Thunder’s M.O. all season long and as the team gears up to restart the season in Orlando, it’s clear that not much has changed. The same chemistry and competitiveness that fostered a captivating product on the floor over three months ago remains on display in the face of a new normal. It was also the driving force behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s eagerness to return to OKC.

“I just wanted to get back, see the guys a little bit, hoop more and just control what I can control,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I'm a hooper. I love to hoop… I just knew I wanted to play basketball, as soon as possible.”

Playing in a five-on-five setting will have to wait as full-team workouts are restricted until training camp in Orlando. As of right now, there hasn’t been much opportunity to see where the team’s on-court chemistry stands after such a long time apart. Gilgeous-Alexander described day-to-day life at the Thunder practice facility: lift for an hour with a strength coach; get up shots for an hour with one coach to rebound and one coach to pass; head home.

“It's not too much hanging around in facility or nothing like that it's just getting in, get your work in and get out,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.

It won’t be until the team gets to Orlando that Coach Donovan will be able to see where the on-court cohesion stands. Until then, Coach Donovan’s main priority is emphasizing the work that needs to be done to get back to where the team was before the break.

“That's got to be the goal for us is to work to get back our chemistry, our timing, our cohesiveness, to get back to guys in specific roles and playing well. All those things I think you're striving and for you're fighting for, but we've got to do those things together,” said Donovan.

The chemistry, Donovan pointed out, will not only be critical to navigate ball screens and off-the-ball split actions, but also to provide support during such an unprecedented time. The NBA is taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of all of its players and coaches and as a result, being in Orlando means being away from families in an environment no one has ever experienced before. To cross these uncharted waters, they’ll need to do it together.

Whether it was garnering a league-leading 19-4 record on the road since December, or staying in touch via Zoom during the hiatus, the Thunder has proven its ability to call upon its chemistry in the face of adversity and thrive against the odds.

“I do have total confidence and belief that there will not be a group that will work harder to get those things back,” said Donovan. “They've done a great job remaining close during this time even though there's been separation.”

“I think with the character guys we have on this team, it’s definitely possible and we can definitely do it,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “We need our chemistry and I think that's what makes us so special and has allowed us to perform the way we have so far.”

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