Thunder Always Thinking Player Development
Being able to see the forest for the trees is a difficult task during the difficult 82-game NBA season, but the Thunder is able to see the big picture despite being less than three weeks away from the NBA Playoffs.
A key facet of the Thunder as an organization has always been player development. By focusing intently on working hard each and every day with their players on all aspects of the game, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club has emerged from a lottery team in its first season in Oklahoma City to title contending team. With All-Stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, along with emerging young players like Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson, the Thunder has top line talent. The team’s crucial role players, like Nick Collison, Hasheem Thabeet and Kendrick Perkins, however, are also invested in by basketball operations staff.
“KD, Serge, Russell, Reggie- they get a lot of attention with all the improvement they’ve made,” Brooks said. “But Nick, Hash, Perk- we take pride in everybody. We feel that guys can still get better. Sometimes their development is helping the players get better. That’s why you have a team. There are so many important pieces to the puzzle.”
For veterans and rookies alike, learning and adapting to their roles each season is just as much of a developmental challenge as extending the range on their jump-shot or increasing their lateral quickness to become a better defender. The attention the Thunder puts into developing individual talent is in lockstep with the way it learns one another and improves as a unit each and every day.
“We take a lot more pride in team development,” Brooks said. “We have to continue to build our team habits… We have a fairly large number of guys who are new to our team this year. It’s important for them to see what we do every day. There are no days off. That’s our organization’s mentality.”
With that being said, the Thunder has used the first two days of a four-day stretch without a game to not only get better as individuals, but also as a squad. On Monday and Tuesday, Brooks and his staff spent time preparing for two full days of practice and a shoot-around ahead of the Thunder’s Thursday night clash against the San Antonio Spurs, but also looked forward to address areas where the team can improve moving through the rest of the season.
“A lot of thinking, a lot of time figuring out ways to get better for the last two and a half weeks of the season,” Brooks said. “Film, planning ahead. All we’re focusing on is today’s practice and that was really good. We had a lot of scrimmaging and a lot of defensive close-out drills. I thought it was good.”
With the coaching staff hard at work, this break has also been a nice opportunity for the players to find a balance of rest, recovery and re-strengthening. Four straight days without a game is a rarity during an NBA schedule, so veterans like Kevin Martin have helped the Thunder use the time wisely to both get their bodies to full strength for the final two weeks of games and also to improve as a whole.
“Just getting some rest, getting in the weight room and getting our bodies stronger,” Martin said. “We’re going to get better as a team… I think we’re confident in what we do. We have to keep on building as a group.”