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Thunder Sprints Through First Week of Training Camp

By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com

The pace has been lightning fast with the coaches moving quickly from drill to drill to live action, but so far at the Thunder ION, no one is falling behind.

On the very first day, the Thunder practiced for two hours and could have kept going according to Mark Daigneault, meaning everyone came into training camp with their conditioning finely tuned. After that first practice, the Thunder has packed in six more practices this week thanks to two-a-days and will squeeze one more in on Sunday before flying out to Denver for the first game of the preseason on Monday against the Nuggets. Each day, the Thunder has been learning and tightening their crafts in preparation for getting the live game reps it needs to keep growing.

Through the first week of camp, here are the most important takeaways: 

Continuity is Key

There were a lot of familiar faces in the Thunder’s locker room on the first day of Training Camp. In addition to a core group of returners, every single player who stepped onto the practice floor for OKC had participated in either a Thunder practice or a Thunder Summer League practice prior to the start of training camp. This shared knowledge of the Thunder’s key concepts, vocabulary and identity among the group made for a seamless start to the preseason. 

The continuity also led to one of the most player-driven practices Daigneault has experienced at the helm for OKC. Players have been taking initiative and stepping into leadership roles empowered by the experiences that they’ve garnered from previous seasons.  

“Continuity is huge because we're not skipping any steps,” said Daigneault. “We're doing the same things we've always done, but the competence that the players are taking to those things is higher, because they've done them before and they not only have done them before, but they understand the connection to the game and so they understand the purpose of them. There's a sense of purpose to what they're doing as well and so that only makes it more potent for the rookie players that are new.”

Defense-First

Through much of the 2021-22 season, the Thunder’s defensive rating hovered in the top 10 in the entire league, despite the team being the youngest one in NBA history. This year, the Thunder will have the second-youngest team ever but knows that in order to be a strong defensive team again this year it will have to invest from the very outset of the season and not expect that precision to just materialize on its own.

“That's the end we wanted to hang our hats on,” said guard Josh Giddey. “As a younger, less experienced team there's gonna be nights where you're gonna be physically outmatched and have less experience but the one thing you can control is how hard you play in and the effort you put in. When we're at our best defensively, we can cause problems for a lot of teams and that can lead to fast break points and easy stuff in transition.”

That’s why Lu Dort has helped set the tone of picking up full court on defense, and many of his teammates have followed suit. From veterans like Kenrich Williams, second-year players like Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to even rookies like Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams, defense is a staple of the Thunder DNA before players even come to Oklahoma City, and that spirit is refined inside the Thunder ION.

Chet Holmgren Checks In

On Thursday, Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren addressed the media for the first time since sustaining a season-long Lisfranc injury to his right foot in the offseason. The determined and competitive Holmgren discussed his plans for his rehab this season, how he’ll make the most of his opportunities to learn and how he plans to spend the time as both a follower in the footsteps of those who have come before him and a leader in his own way around the team and in the Oklahoma City community.

“It's great to be able to learn and get better,” said Holmgren. “That's what I'm trying to do right now is just kind of soak up all the knowledge of how things are done around here, how they're going to be done going forward, so when I'm ready to get back in there I can just kind of seamlessly plug myself in.”

The Rest of Rookies

While this week marks the first official week of training camp, it’s not the first time that the Thunder rookies have been introduced to the Thunder’s style of play. All of the rookies competed in Summer League and participated in practices in Las Vegas. For Jalen Williams, Jaylin Williams and Ousmane Dieng – this allowed for a head start in grasping the team’s foundational concepts and a smooth integration to the team during Training Camp. 

“They've done a good job,” said Daigneault. “They're all really eager. They're all competitive. None of them look overwhelmed mentally, physically, anything like that. They've paced well with practice. They look like part of the team.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Competitiveness – a cornerstone of the Thunder’s identity – showed up on the very first day of training camp with players picking up full court on their own accord, voices booming all around the gym and scrimmages coming down to the wire. 

Players took advantage of the full offseason and came back having made improvements to their game and their bodies which allowed for increased physicality and conditioning during camp. All of this created an environment where the team could make big strides over a short period by pushing each other to get better. After a week of getting after it against their teammates, the group is itching for the opportunity to unleash that competitiveness on an opponent. 

“It's good to have that competition for training,” said Giddey. “You could feel it in the gym, guys getting after it and competing. While internally we're fighting against each other, it's going to help us going forward when we've got to compete against other teams. So it's a great environment to play in.”

What to Expect on Monday

The Thunder’s first preseason test against Denver will be a perfect encapsulation of what the team will be up against all year in the daunting Western Conference – the youthful upstarts against a veteran-laden, well-oiled machine. Bringing that competitive fight from the outset will be the top objective, but Daigneualt made it clear on Thursday afternoon that the starting lineup on that night, and even throughout the preseason and into the regular season are just that – a starting point, not an end point. What matters most in October is not who, but how the Thunder is playing.

“I feel like we made some progress from the first day to the day we got a competitive group a group of high character guys and high energy guys, so every practice has been great,” said Kenrich Williams.

Throughout the 82-game schedule the Thunder will continue to create the conditions for discovery to happen through different lineups, rotations and player combinations. As this young team continues to grow you never know what might materialize, but the first chance to witness the journey comes at 8 p.m. CT on Monday night, with Thunder-Nuggets streaming live on okcthunder.com and the Thunder Mobile App, as well as WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network.