Thunder Relies on Leadership, Hard Work

As Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said on Sunday night, his team has never shied away from putting in work.

On Monday morning after the Thunder dropped one at home to the Atlanta Hawks, Brooks and his squad went right back to work with a focused film session and a practice afterwards. Forward and team leader Kevin Durant said that film study focused on areas that the Thunder needs to address like defensive intensity and ball security, and his head coach said it was a productive session.

“We addressed some of the issues that were correctable and we addressed some of the issues that are about mindset,” Brooks said. “Starting the game with a defensive mindset and getting in a simple defensive stance, understanding that that presentation is just as important.”

An effective practice day is seemingly always augmented by players staying late after practice to continue to work on their skills. From Hasheem Thabeet working with assistant coach Mark Bryant to rookies Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb getting in extra two-on-two work, it was clear that Brooks’ practices continue to inspire players to work even harder after practice.

“In practice, (we) just (did) a lot of one-on-one defense and a little bit of a transition offense,” Brooks said. “It was a good day, we’ve always relied on the fundamentals of the game and coming back to work. We believe in our habits, and the habits have to be worked on every day.”

One reason the Thunder comes prepare to work and correct mistakes each day in practice regardless of wins and losses is because of the internal standards the players have set over the past few years since the organization arrived in Oklahoma City. Veteran players like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, who is the longest tenured member of the organization and Durant and Russell Westbrook, two cornerstone players who have been with the Thunder since Day 1 are catalysts for the club. On days like today when the Thunder has to bounce back with fantastic effort, Coach Brooks can rely on his core guys.

“They’re our leaders,” Brooks said. “They have to bring it every night, they have to bring it every day, those are the players that our guys look up to and they’ve done a great job of leading this team and it’s not changing, it’s not going to change. That’s who they are as men.”

As an intangible force, leadership is often hard to nail down, quantify or even identify. With young players on the roster and new faces in the building this fall, the quartet of Thunder leaders knows which buttons to press and how to represent themselves to the coaching staff and their teammates. When multi-year All-NBA Team selections like Durant and Westbrook or wise veterans act a certain way, new players and younger guys are sure to follow. Durant said the biggest key is energy.

“Guys are looking at us, especially young guys,” Durant said. “We can’t come in slacking off in practice or not focused. Every minute we have to be focused. Nick, Russ and Perk know that. Every time we step on this floor, we have to set a good example.”

One of the many great aspects of the NBA is that there is no time to get too high or too low after wins and losses. The Thunder had practice today and shootaround tomorrow to right some wrongs and get ready to take on its next opponent. With cleared minds and a dedicated approach, the Thunder will be prepared for its Tuesday night clash with the Toronto Raptors thanks to its instructive film and practice session.

“It was a good day for us and hopefully we transfer it over to Toronto tomorrow,” Durant concluded.