2019 End-of-Season Interviews

By Nick Gallo | Digital Content Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

The Thunder’s 2018-19 campaign came to a close on Tuesday night in Portland, on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Damian Lillard to conclude a 118-115 loss in Game 5. The season was one filled with ups and downs, typical for an 82-game campaign, as the Thunder showed how effective it could be with wins in 11 of 12 games heading into the All-Star Break. The offense was crisp, Paul George played at an MVP level and the defense was stout and focused.

After the break, however, the Thunder dropped 10 of 14 games due to lax defense, a waning in the shooting numbers and some missed opportunities to pick up some much-needed wins. That inconsistency continued into the postseason, as the Thunder displayed it’s capabilities with a massive 32-8 surge in the second half in Game 5, but allowed a 26-8 response by Portland to end the game, and the series.

On Thursday, the Thunder met with the media to discuss the year on and off the floor as well as the upcoming offseason.

9 a.m. – Head Coach Billy Donovan

In his fourth season as the team’s head coach, Billy Donovan had continuity on the roster for the first time as Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams and Jerami Grant returned to form the base core of the group, with a few newcomers in Dennis Schröder and Nerlens Noel entering the expected rotation. Donovan was thrown some curveballs, like the injury set back to Andre Roberson and the absence of Alex Abrines due to a personal matter.

Despite that, the team won 49 games, including five straight to end the season, to secure the sixth seed in the competitive Western Conference playoff race. In terms of speed of play, the Thunder did what it set out to do at the beginning of the season, finishing the season 6th in pace, 1st in points off turnovers and 5th in fast break points. Despite a 5th-rated defense, the Thunder still has plenty to improve upon heading into the offseason, especially considering what it learned in the postseason.

“It takes what it takes for a team when you’re competing … You go through these struggles, you find out more about what you've got to do to get better and to improve,” Donovan said. “For us, the continuing to build out defensively, we can get better there, playing fast offensively and ball movement. Our assists are way up from where they were the previous year. We made some strides and we got better in some areas.”

Watch: Coach Donovan

11:15 a.m. – Russell Westbrook

For the third-straight season, Russell Westbrook did the unthinkable by averaging a triple-double with averages of 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and a league-leading 10.7 assists. He registered 34 total triple-doubles for a total of 138, tying Magic Johnson for 2nd All-Time in NBA history. Despite his historical milestones, which included just the second 20-point, 20-rebound, 20-assist effort ever, and an eighth All-Star appearance, Westbrook has plenty he wants to improve upon this offseason.

“I know that I’m able to do so much throughout a game to impact the game, impact winning,” Westbrook said. “Leadership is one thing that I’ve taken pride in, figuring out the best way to be able to lead guys into a position where they’re most comfortable with their games, instill confidence in them, finding ways to make other guys better.”

The Thunder point guard shot just 42.8 percent from the field, including 20.8 percent between three and 10 feet and 33.3 percent between 10 and 16 feet, career anomalies in those two ranges. Along with his typical outlook of wholesale improvement in terms of defense, reading defense and leadership, Westbrook aims to come back a better player in 2019-20.

“I’ll just continue doing what I’m doing and finding ways to pick and shot better (threes),” Westbrook said. “That’s up to me.”

Watch: Russell Westbrook

Noon - Paul George

Through the first two-thirds of the NBA season, Paul George was a red-hot, top-billing MVP candidate. The only thing that jarred that slightly was a pair of shoulder injuries late in the year that also caused discomfort into the playoffs. George finished second in the NBA in scoring at a career-best 28.0 points per game while also leading the league in steals (2.2) and registering career-highs in rebounds (8.2), assists (4.1) and made 3-pointers (3.8) per game. More than anything though, George appreciated the bond that was built through the year.

“We showed a lot of great, positive things this year,” George said. “As a group, just my time being here for another season, it was one of the closest teams I’ve been a part of. It’s just a real brotherhood where you enjoy being out there with those guys.”

George spearheaded a defensive effort that helped the Thunder finish first in the league in steals and one of the best in the league at turning defense into offense. He hit four game-winning shots during the year and displayed his prowess as a clutch scorer. As one of the team’s leaders he knows this is an opportunity to take stock of what worked and what didn’t and to attack next season with a focus and concentration on efficient, sustained basketball.

“That’s something we are all trying to work on internally to figure out what we can do,” George said. “This is a team that can go far. We have pieces in place to have a long postseason run.”

Watch: Paul George

12:30 p.m. - Raymond Felton 

Earlier in his career, Raymond Felton would have been furious about being out of the rotation. Over the years, his perspective has changed. The veteran point guard, as he said, “truly became a man.” Felton played in just 33 games this season, but played in the final seven games of the regular season and all five playoff contests. Staying ready is a part of being a professional, and for the 34-year-old, that’s what this season was all about.

“I've grown from being a young man into a man, and just staying professional, staying ready, and just understanding what my role was and understanding what was needed from me for this team this year, whatever I needed to do,” Felton said. “I had to make sure I stay ready no matter what at all times because my number could be called.”

Watch: Raymond Felton

12:45 p.m. - Steven Adams

Ever the student of the game, Steven Adams is always looking over the Thunder bench, chatting with Donovan or assistant coach Mark Bryant, to figure out the best way to attack his job possession after possession. Throughout the 2018-19 campaign Adams did just that, and put together another solid season with averages of 13.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 steals, all career-highs, while shooting 59.5 percent from the field.  

“I’ve always been like that because the perspective of what I’m seeing is a lot different from what you guys are watching,” Adams said. “I’m always trying to get their advice and see what (our coaches) are seeing.”

The approach of checking in with the coaching staff and being on the same page from the top down is Adams’ attitude as well when it comes to the offseason. He recognizes, now heading into his seventh NBA season, that the Thunder can’t be satisfied with its playoff appearance and exit after one series.

“The whole objective right from the get go is to win a championship. Anything short of that is hard to be like, ‘oh, we did okay,'” Adams said. “You always have to go in there and try to figure out a solution. Everyone is trying to do the right thing. That’s what good with the type of players we have. Good locker room guys.”

Watch: Steven Adams

1:15 p.m. - Dennis Schröder

“First off, I want to thank the organization for giving me this opportunity,” said a thoughtful and grateful Dennis Schröder as he began his final media availability of the 2018-19 season. Schröder was a new and major addition to the Thunder rotation after coming over in a trade last offseason. A true professional, Schröder was utilized as a starter, off the bench and as a secondary ballhandler in lineups with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Through it all, Schröder remained a positive influence.

“Coming here, that helped me. How people think about me, being a good teammate, doing everything I can to help my team win. I achieved that individually. Even what I did on the court for my team, I think it helped the team and the organization to win games, so I'm really satisfied with what happened this year,” Schröder said. “But I think it's way too early for this organization to be out.”

The German point guard was also productive, scoring 15.5 points and dishing out 4.1 assists per game. Lightning quick with the ball in his hands and on the perimeter defensively, Schröder made plays for this Thunder group and was a constant threat in the second halves of games when fatigue set in for the opposition’s starters. One area where Schröder wants to improve, however, is with his shooting from behind the 3-point line. He shot 34.1 percent from behind the arc this year, including 28.7 percent off the dribble. As the Thunder saw against the Blazers, shooting off the dribble is a crucial skill in today’s NBA.

“That's the main key for my game. I'm so fast getting to the basket, but I think when I use the screen and they've got to go over the screen, got to be aggressive and got to be up, I think it's going to take my game to the next level,” Schröder said. “I'm going to work on it and going to be strong and better next season.”

Watch: Dennis Schröder

1:40 p.m. - Andre Roberson 

Compared to the rest of his teammates, there was only one player that had a more unique perspective of the 2018-19 season than guard Andre Roberson. He spent the entirety of it out of uniform, rehabbing a ruptured patellar tendon sustained in January 2018 and then a setback in November. On the final day of the Thunder season year, Roberson was pleased to announce that he is on track to return for training camp this fall.

“It definitely took me a little bit of time to accept it, but now I'm in a great place,” Roberson said. “I'm at peace with myself and just kind of taking it for what it is. I'm in a great spot to kind of return fully and healthy, ready to go next season. That's all I can wish for at this point.”

Even if he couldn’t be out there physically during the year, Roberson served as an additional coach for some of the younger players like Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo. By running film sessions, Roberson suddenly became mentor rather than mentee, as he once was under Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha in his rookie year.

“Initially it was kind of weird, just kind of being in that position,” Roberson said. “But at the same time, like I was in their shoes, Perk leading film session for me or Thabo leading the film session for me and me passing on kind of the knowledge, and that's what this game is all about. That's what life is all about.”

Watch: Andre Roberson

2 p.m. - Nerlens Noel 

Inside of his role, Nerlens Noel was a very effective player for the Thunder in his first year with the team, playing 77 minutes and getting two starts throughout the course of the season. For the season he shot 58.7 percent and also was one of the top players in the league in terms of deflections, steals and blocks per-36 minutes. More than anything, this stop was crucial for Noel in terms of continued career development and his ability to make an impact for a playoff-level squad.

“It's going to be a major summer for me, especially just being around this, like I said, and the playoff hunger. After you lose in the Playoffs, there is definitely a new hunger that builds inside of you, a bad taste in your mouth,” Noel said. “But I definitely want to have a very, very big summer, regardless, working on a lot of my weaknesses, and try to become that much better over the summer, have no weaknesses when I come back, build up my body, and just try to come back a monster.”

Watch: Nerlens Noel

2:20 p.m. - Markieff Morris 

A late-season addition, Markieff Morris played in all 24 games after the All-Star Break, playing 16.1 minutes per game in a swing role off the bench between the power forward and center positions. He shot 33.9 percent from three, almost precisely his career average and quickly bonded with his teammates.

“I definitely had a great time here. They have an A-1 organization, players, training staff, Sam (Presti), coaches,” Morris said.

Morris also had an interesting outlook on the direction that the game is heading. As the Thunder just saw in the playoffs, guards who can manipulate screens and hit jump shots off the dribble are very potent weapons in the league today. Centers and forwards who can keep those guards in front or get a good contest on them will be crucial moving into the future.

“The centers are not going to be as big a couple years from now,” Morris said. “You're in position to do more, play multiple positions, guard multiple positions, and that's going to continue to be the league unless somebody else takes over and they bring the dinosaurs back.”

Watch: Markieff Morris

2:40 p.m. - Jerami Grant

Three years ago, Jerami Grant’s career outlook was uncertain. He was on a second-round pick’s rookie contract with the Philadelphia 76ers and his place in the rotation wasn’t solidified. Fast forward to his upcoming offseason, and Grant is under contract long-term and was one of the most vital players on the Thunder roster – a Swiss army knife that the Thunder coaching staff utilized in various positions and situations all year long.

“It's one of the best things that could have happened to my career, just getting traded here from Philly,” Grant said. “The opportunity here to play on a great team, play in a great organization like this, it was -- I think it was huge for me and my career, just in my development. I've gotten so much better since I got here.” 

Grant also became a volume three-point shooter for the Thunder, taking 3.7 threes per game, over double the 1.4 per contest he took in 2017-18. With that responsibility, Grant thrived and hit 39.2 percent of his 3-pointers, a skill he’ll look to take advantage of further in the future.

Watch: Jerami Grant

3 p.m. - Patrick Patterson

For many ballclubs it could have been awkward, painful even. Patrick Patterson ensured that the addition of Markieff Morris and the subsequent change in the rotation did not become a distraction. Patterson was a second unit forward for the Thunder for most of the season, but when Morris came on board he was out of the rotation. Patterson’s reaction, or lack thereof, was a quintessential Thunder moment of togetherness, sacrifice and selflenssness that persosnified the whole season.

“Coach (Donovan) brought that information to me ahead of time, and he kept me in the loop. So I was well aware of what was going to happen,” Patterson said. I understood the decision was made to acquire Kieff. Only thing that could ruin the team was me acting negatively about it. So I tried my best to just remain a true professional.”

“We stick together no matter what. We understand now that during that period of time after All-Star, we didn’t perform the way we wanted to perform,” Patterson added. “It didn’t necessarily go according to plan. No one pointed fingers at the other guy.”

Watch: Patrick Patterson

3:20 p.m. - Terrance Ferguson

The pressure is on, or at least according to Terrance Ferguson’s teammates like Paul George and Raymond Felton. Ferguson played nearly triple the minutes in his second year as he did in his first, holding down the fort at the shooting guard position and getting thrown into the fire. George and Felton have been on top of Ferguson, whom they see as equipped with enormous potential, to put in a ton of work this summer to become a more complete cog in the Thunder’s wheel next year.

“It was a very different role, but I took the mindset it was business. I had to step up to the job and do it to the best I could,” Ferguson said. “Having those things under my belt, going into year three, it's always a different mindset and always a different summer. So I'll just work my butt off this summer, add to my game, add to whatever I did this year, watch film, see what I can do better, and come to year three with the mindset of I want to take off.”

Ferguson doubled his scoring output, shot better from the field and shot 36.6 percent from the 3-point line in his second season while also doing a better job of positioning on defense. He still can improve on that side of the ball, particularly by getting stronger and building up his body, but he also wants to be more of a threat off the dribble.

Watch: Terrance Ferguson

3:30 p.m. - Abdel Nader

Coming into the season, not much was known about Abdel Nader and his ability to contribute to the Thunder right away. Through a confluence of events, not only did he have to but he performed admirably in his minutes. The second-year forward recovered from injury throughout training camp so he didn’t get off to a running start, but starting on Christmas Day, he entered the rotation. Nader played in 61 games and improved his shooting percentage by nearly nine-percentage points compared to his rookie season.  

“Physically, it was just getting myself in shape and continue doing the work on the court,” Nader said. “Mentally, just not getting deterred and allowing yourself to stay in it mentally and keep doing the work that you know you need to do.”

Watch: Abdel Nader

3:45 p.m. - Hamidou Diallo

From the very outset of the season, the Thunder’s identity was predicated on turning defensive stops into offense by being disruptive, getting into the passing lanes and getting out into transition. One of the players who helped shape that early on was rookie guard Hamidou Diallo, who saw action in 51 games and even got three starts.

Diallo still aims to improve as a shooter and as an all-around guard, but he did manage to shoot 58.3 percent at the rim while also racking up 1.4 steals per 36 minutes. Diallo will participate in Summer League despite undergoing an elbow scope during the playoffs, and is excited about the opportunity to get better.

“Just going out there defending the best player every night and showing that I'm capable to do that at a high level, and just showing what I've been working on for the summer, and that's -- if it's ball handling, shooting, I'm going to work on everything in the summer, so just display a full evaluation of where I'm at I would say after all of the work that I put in in the summer.”

Watch: Hamidou Diallo

4 p.m. - Deonte Burton

What a journey it has been for Deonte Burton, who a year ago was in South Korea and just a few months ago was a two-way player competing mostly for the Oklahoma City Blue. Burton is now on a full-time contract with the Thunder, rewarded for the spark he showed not just in energy but with toughness, skill level and shooting at the power forward position. Like many young players, putting the ball on the floor and making plays at the NBA level is a challenge, but Burton is ready to work at it all summer.

“A little bit of everything, my shot, defense. Probably focus a lot more on defense this summer,” Burton said. “I can make better decisions with the ball. Yeah, and I think it'll get better once I get more experience with it.”

Watch: Deonte Burton

4:15 p.m. - Jawun Evans

A late season Two-Way addition utilized mostly as a practice and scout team player, the former Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Juwan Evans was welcomed with open arms to the Thunder. Getting to go through an NBA Playoffs experience was rewarding and valuable, something Evans will take with him moving forward.

“Just being around the team, being able to just watch them just be in the Playoffs, being able to learn. It's been a good two weeks for me,” Evans said. “You learn stuff from being involved in that from a defensive perspective and offense, and so it's just a learning experience, so I take it as that.”

Watch: Jawun Evans and Donte Grantham

4:30 p.m. Donte Grantham

The Thunder’s other Two-Way player, Donte Grantham, was a key fixture for the Oklahoma City Blue under the direction of coach Mark Daigneault. The Blue made a playoff run, and Grantham was a productive piece at the stretch forward spot. Despite the fact that he was coming off of a season-ending knee injury during his final year at Clemson, Grantham scored 10.8 points on 37.2 percent 3-point shooting during his 33-game season with the Blue.

“Just the experience of learning how to play under Mark (Daigneault) and one year of basketball, playing professional, coming off of injury was huge for me,” Grantham said.

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