The new captain at the helm of the Thunder’s locker room will have a transition to go through this summer and fall, but when it’s time to tip off on opening night, Billy Donovan and his squad will be as one, ready for all challenges.
Thunder fans may know Donovan from his 19-year career and two National Championships at the University of Florida, but when the 2015-16 season begins, the team will start implementing his basketball philosophy, with which fans may have less familiarity.
Not only are the locals and Thunder followers around the world interested to see how the team plays next season, but so are the players, assistant coaches and staff.
“The first and most important part to me is that I want to develop a relationship with them,” Donovan said. “It’s not really about my voice, it’s not my voice. This is what can I do to help them? It’s about them and it’s about the players.”
Donovan will be the new man at the center of Thunder huddles this season, guiding the team in practices and in games. However, his philosophy and approach to how he works in collaboration with players is based off of a level of mutual trust and cohesion only created by excellent communication and cooperation, along with physical, mental and emotional commitment.
“It’s not about me coming in here and them hearing my voice,” Donovan explained. “It’s about me coming and trying to develop a close relationship with them where there is a trust built up and where they feel like I’m genuinely and sincerely trying to help them grow and develop.”
While Donovan’s relationships with the players will be crucial, his strategies will be a huge part of the team’s success in the 2015-16 season and beyond. That starts on the defensive end, where Donovan hopes to tap into the physical gifts that the players on the Thunder roster possess to make the team elite on that can wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
“We need to be a disciplined team on defense,” Donovan said. “With the length, the size and athleticism, we need to be a good defensive team so we can generate missed shots to put these guys out on the break and let them do what they do best: which is run, fill, open and space the floor. This has to be a team that buys into the fact of their defensive identity being good, so they can get out in transition.”
On the other end of the floor, Donovan believes in spacing, passing and putting pressure on the defense to make difficult decisions. Selflessness on the offensive end is critical for any NBA team in order to create advantage situations and mismatches. Donovan also wants the Thunder to play with pace and let its floor generals initiate offense without calling a set when possible.
“If you have a shot and someone’s got a better one, move the ball,” Donovan said. “It’s creating multiple actions on different sides of the floor, keeping the floor moving, keeping it spaced and the ball continuing to move. Playing fast, moving and playing into a flow on offense.”
“Playing out of concepts, not trying to stop the game and trying to call a play every time, but let those guys create and make plays inside the framework of that vision of player movement, ball movement, making the extra pass and being unselfish,” Donovan continued.
Offense is an area where Donovan’s philosophy of cohesion and communication will come into play. With dynamic scorers and playmakers like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the roster, in addition to a bevy of other talented finishers, Donovan has a collection of men to converse with about what works and how the team can be more effective.
“For all the players, I want to talk to them and hear from them because I think they’ve got to be a part of kind of what I think vision-wise,” Donovan said. “But I’ve always been a ball movement, player movement and extra pass team and coach. That’s what I really believe in, ball movement, player movement, extra pass.”
At his core, it is Donovan’s belief in a shared ownership of what is tried and accomplished on the basketball floor that helps shape how he approaches the job. It’s not only on the court, however, where Donovan hopes to build a bond. To the Thunder’s new man at the helm, it’s fostering relationships off of it that also impacts success.
“It’s my responsibility as the head coach to work to facilitate a really good relationship with those guys,” Donovan said. “It has to be a deep and honest relationship. It has to be as a coach to hold them accountable, not in a bad way, but accountability in terms of, if we’re going to be the best team we’re going to be, these are the things we have to eliminate and these are things we have to get better at. The most important thing with me going forward is developing those relationships, not only with players but also inside the organization.”