2021 Training Camp Takeaways

Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter & Digital Editor | okcthunder.com

After completing its preseason slate, the Thunder is reviewing what it has put on film so far and then getting sharper in practice over the final weekend of training camp. Next week, the Thunder will open the season in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz to commence the 2021-22 campaign.

Building an Offensive Identity

Despite the wide array of lineups the Thunder displayed throughout its four preseason games, the style of play on the offensive end remained consistent – playing with pace in transition and moving the ball in the half court. Over the course of Training Camp, the Thunder worked to establish this offensive identity that wouldn't be dependent on one specific lineup or player on the floor. In its final preseason game against Denver, where the Thunder played its rookies and new players heavily, the team dished out 29 assists while also racking up 13 fast break points.

"For the most part, I thought we ran offense really sharp with a lot of pace and the ball really moved," Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said following the matchup. "A lot of stuff was encouraging on the offensive end of the floor. Not only the individual guys but systematically the way that we want to play and the pressure we want to put on defenses with ball movement and with pace."

Rookies Getting Ready

The best way to develop talent in the NBA is to get teenagers and players in their young 20’s plenty of minutes as early as possible in their careers. Learning on the fly is a surefire way to build up the mental and physical muscle memory required to outwit and out-compete the best players in the world throughout an 82-game season.

The Thunder has started investing heavily in its 2021 rookie class right away, as Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins each played in all four of the preseason games. They all have tons to learn about the NBA game and will surely go through ups and downs throughout their first season, but the signs of promise are there for each of them.

Fans will remember Giddey’s stop-and-pop jumper over Nikola Jokić to help keep the Denver Nuggets at bay in a preseason win. The sixth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft averaged 13.5 points on 52.3 percent shooting to go with 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists this preseason. Mann buried some tough step-back 3s, Wiggins came ready to play and shot 7-for-13 from behind the arc and Robinson-Earl worked the pick and pop and was physical on defense.

“They’re willing to come in here and work every day to compete really hard. Their confidence as well – to see that just shine and grow,” said third-year forward Darius Bazley of the rookies. “I want that for them, to be able to feel comfortable and feel like they're fitting right in.”

The Five Spot

In each of the four preseason games the Thunder started a different player at center, mixing it up to get a feel for which of their styles works best with the group. Isaiah Roby, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala all had a chance to get into a rhythm with their teammates. Favors is the most traditional of the bunch, a roll man who plays with physicality down low on the block and the glass. Roby and Robinson-Earl are on the smaller side for centers in the NBA but are versatile and can keep defenders on their toes. Muscala, the leader by example in Oklahoma City, is a pick-and-pop nightmare for opponents.

“That position is pretty unique in that the person that you have in that spot can change the style of your team and the way you're playing,” said head coach Mark Daigneault. “So it's not just competition in a vacuum with those guys, it's trying to evaluate how they impact the rest of the team and how we play when they're out there on the court.”

Consistent Carryover

Following the Thunder's final preseason matchup against Denver, head coach Mark Daigneault pointed out that his team had shown signs of improvement with each game. From the Charlotte matchup to the Milwaukee game, the Thunder took strides forward in ball security, going from 22 turnovers against the Hornets to just nine against the Bucks. Then from the Milwaukee game to the Denver back-to-back, the Thunder's defense demonstrated carryover as it took away the Nuggets' easy looks and options on the offensive end even on the second night of a back-to-back. With a young roster and several new faces, the Thunder proved throughout the preseason that it will soak up the lessons from each contest and prioritize steady improvement from one game to the next.

"I thought he really got better every game," said Daigneault following the Thunder's final preseason game against Denver. "[Wednesday] and [Thursday] I thought were our two best performances in terms of things we can control. It's a great start, we have two hard practices this weekend and then we're off and running into the regular season."

All of the Thunder’s 82 regular season games will be broadcast on TV on Bally Sports Oklahoma and on the Thunder Radio Network at WWLS 98.1 FM The Sports Animal.

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