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The Drive and Dish | 10.5.23

Vasilije Micić's Other Pro Talent

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com

In this week’s Drive and Dish: Presti’s References, the First Day of Training Camp and more! 

What was going through Lu Dort’s mind when he dove on the floor for that loose ball? How does it feel on the court when Shai hits a game-winner? Why has the Thunder been so stingy on defense lately? 

The Drive and Dish is here to answer those questions that might be going through your head during a Thunder game by providing experienced insight, highlighting aspects of the game you might have missed and pulling you behind the curtain with anecdotes, analysis and stats.   

Here’s what you need to know from as the team starts 2023 training camp:  

Presti’s Perception

When Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti speaks to the media at the beginning and the end of the season, he’s always prepared with well-considered perspective on the state of the team and the NBA. Over the course of his two-hour press conferences, he’s often peppered with questions that lead him to off-the-cuff insight from realms that go beyond the basketball court. Here’s a rundown of some of Presti’s most unexpected references from last Wednesday’s beginning-of-season press conference: 

  • “Values of the Game” by Bill Bradley: A book that Presti said was important to him when he was a student at Emerson College. Bradley played basketball at Princeton and then for the New York Knicks for 12 seasons where he won two titles before pursuing a career in politics and serving as a three-term senator for the state of New Jersey. Many of the timeless lessons from “Values of the Game” apply to the Thunder today. 
  • “Why is Brooks Robinson taking ground balls?”: Presti referenced the Hall of Fame MLB third baseman who recently passed away to highlight an athlete who knew how to activate himself and do the most monotonous part of his job with excellence. Robinson won 16 Gold Gloves but was always the first on the field taking ground balls before each game. Teammates and coaches wondered why such an exceptional defensive player needed to be doing fielding drills, but Presti’s point was that the reason Robinson was so special was because of his commitment to the fundamentals. 
  • “I didn’t know the whole thing was rapped”: Presti’s review of Hamilton, which he saw at the Oklahoma City Civic Center this summer. Going in, Presti knew very little about the musical. After the show, Presti learned that the lead actor on stage who dazzled him was actually the understudy, and it reminded him of being a bench player in the NBA and still finding a way to handle the pressure and expectations and to perform to their capability. 
  • Keith Jarrett’s Cologne concert: Presti told the infamous story about a pianist whose concert was due to be thrown off kilter because the wrong piano was delivered to the venue. A true professional, Jarrett played the performance of his lifetime, improvising much of the show to overcome the unexpected circumstances. Like Jarrett, NBA players must expand their competence zones and tolerate discomfort until they master it. 
  • Back to the Future: Presti cited Marty McFly’s over the top guitar solo that causes the entire band to screech to a halt. It might have been a sensational solo, but when a performer – or a basketball player – instead serves the game within the framework of the group, that’s when it’s possible for every player to do well and for the team to win. 
Vasa Micić – Even More Talented than You Think

The very first question Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault was asked in his press conference on Monday was about 29-year-old Vasilije Micić, and how the former EuroLeague MVP’s versatile talents will fit into the group. Daigneault wisely noted that after the next three weeks of training camp the team will have more information in that regard, but that it’ll continue to be a process of discovery all season long, just like it is with all players entering the organization. 

Micić’s basketball skills are just one aspect of how great of an athlete he is. At Media Day during our interviews for the Thunder Basketball Universe podcast, Vasa revealed that prior to playing basketball he was a two-time skiing champion among all the Balkan countries, and a four-time skiing champion in Serbia. After growing up in a small mountain town where one of his neighbors was none other than tennis legend Novak Djokavic, Micić moved to Belgrade, where the city life led him to basketball and away from the slopes. 

Chet’s Role: Efficient and Impactful (just like the rest of his teammates) 

Unsurprisingly, rookie Chet Holmgren was a big topic of discussion on Media Day – what his role will be, what position he’ll play and how he’ll impact the team. Daigneault had a clear and concise way to put a stamp on what he wants to see from the rookie: efficient, impactful play on both sides of the ball. 

Just like for every player on the team, Daigneault and the coaching staff’s job is to walk alongside Chet to help him find the individual play style that will be effective at the NBA level, and then how that way of playing can be incorporated into the team. Given Holmgren’s versatility, his exact location on the floor and number of minutes will fluctuate depending on the other players who are out there with him, but the way he plays – with tenacity, toughness and intentionality – should remain the same. 

“When you put five guys on the court that are playing styles that are efficient and impactful for them, the output of that is going to look different depending on who's on the court,” Daigneault said after the first day of practice on Tuesday. “What can't be different is the identity of the team, which is we’re a ‘compete together’ team.”

First Day of Camp Energy

There was great energy in the Thunder ION on Tuesday, but as Daigneault said, all 30 teams in the league had a great first day of practice because there’s no struggle or adversity. For the Thunder, the key to a strong training camp is to mentally prepare the team for the challenges of the season. 

In addition to Daigneault, the two players who spoke to the media after the first day of practice were both guys who were on the team last year but didn’t get a chance to participate in training camp. The first was Chet Holmgren, who was thrilled to split up into teams and compete both with and against his teammates in an official practice for the first time. 

“It's a blessing. I didn't have this opportunity last year and now that it’s here, I'm very excited for it,” Holmgren said. 

The other player who spoke to the media on Tuesday was Isaiah Joe, who this time last year wasn’t in Oklahoma City yet. A casualty of a roster squeeze in Philadelphia, Joe joined the Thunder after 2022 training camp had concluded. While he didn’t get to have that experience, he was able to find his footing with the team throughout the season. As he started his first training camp with the Thunder on Tuesday, he felt the continuity and collective growth, given that 15 of the 20 players in camp are returners from last year. 

“Going through some of our sets and actions, we're familiar with them, so we’ve picked up on it really quick,” said Joe. “The chemistry with the guys that were here and with the new guys has been good, especially this being the first day so we’re looking to continue to build and just continue to stack days.”

The Charge Counter Has Begun 

Last season the Thunder was prolific at drawing charges and offensive fouls, leading the league in both categories and igniting a friendly competition inside the locker room as well. Jaylin Williams drew 43 charges, the most in the NBA. Joe took 20, including 9 over the final month of the season to vault him into seventh place in the NBA. 

On the first day of training camp the internal tally started again, but it was none other than defensive ace Lu Dort who took two charges. Dort led the league with 93 offensive fouls drawn last season to add to his tally of a ridiculous 189 drawn over the last three seasons. The vast majority of those come from Dort hustling around illegal screens, so if he adds charge taking to his defensive arsenal this season, watch out. 

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Check back in next week as the Thunder opens its preseason slate against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday Oct. 9 and then makes a trip up to Lu Dort’s hometown Montreal for the first of three meetings this month with the Detroit Pistons.

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