With team leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, even newcomers feel like family.
At their first day of practice with the Thunder at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center, recently acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb began the process of getting acclimated to new surroundings, teammates and roles. Fortunately for Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks, the duo is not altogether unfamiliar. Brooks coached Martin when he was an assistant with the Sacramento Kings and former Thunder guard Kevin Ollie coached Lamb at the University of Connecticut the past two seasons.
As a result, the Thunder had a great idea of not only the type of players, but the type of people the team was getting, and the pair got started off on the right foot on Monday.
“I thought they both came in with great energy and enthusiasm and they’re excited to be here,” Brooks said. “(Martin) is a great young man. I think what he does, he brings another guy who is a professional, he understands this league, he understands his roles that he’s played in the past. He’s a terrific player. He is definitely somebody that we’re excited about. He brings offense, he brings knowledge, he brings playmaking."
Martin led the Rockets in scoring last season with 17.1 points per game, and has often been his team’s focal point on the offensive end, and an efficient one at that. Along with Dwight Howard, Martin is one of only two active NBA players to average more than 18.0 points per game on 13 or fewer shots per game for his entire career. With that penchant for scoring on a limited number of opportunities, Martin feels like a great fit to join gifted offensive forces like Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, and is willing to sacrifice to be a part of a winning culture.
“I’m coming to an organization and a team that is building a great tradition with a great supporting cast and community,” Martin said. “I just think they have the right makings for any player to want to come play for them.”
Lamb was the 12th overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft, and in helping his Huskies win the national championship in 2011, displayed skill, versatility, length and athleticism. Although it is way too early to determine Lamb’s playing time and production this season, he’ll join fellow rookie Perry Jones in the Thunder’s player development program. One of the core goals of the Thunder as an organization is to develop its young players, and Lamb will get the chance to work with the team’s basketball operations staff to grow on and off the floor.
“It was good news,” Lamb said of learning he was traded to the Thunder. “It’s a great organization, great people. I’ve met the training staff and the coaches. There are great people around me, a great training facility. Everything is just put in order. They’re real professionals out here. The team welcomed me. KD texted me immediately and (Kendrick) Perkins texted me immediately, so I’m feeling good.”
New teammates like Durant and Westbrook are excited about the prospects of two players of this caliber joining the squad. Westbrook said that Martin’s ability to create his own shot, but also work off the ball will helps a lot because gives defenses a different look. Martin’s ability to move without the ball, come off pin-down screens and get to the free throw line can all be assets as Martin works from the second unit, where is slated to begin the season. Durant was also complementary of Martin’s offensive abilities and how Martin and Lamb will rise to the standards Thunder leaders have set over the past four seasons.
“We have two guys in here that are willing to buy in and be a part of the Thunder family and we’re excited about that,” Durant said. “Kevin can fill it up pretty quickly… I know myself, I know I have to do a better job of being more of a leader and helping those guys out as much as I can. Kevin is a guy that is going to come in here and be all about the team, and put some points on the board as well.”
Durant has already shown a knack for leadership, taking rookie Perry Jones under his wing this offseason, and he will be joined by Westbrook, who wants to help Lamb understand what it takes to be an NBA player, and further, a member of the Thunder. Learning the plays and the pace of the NBA game is one thing, but understanding and fully committing to Thunder basketball is something Lamb can learn from watching true professionals like Durant, Westbrook and Nick Collison, among others.
“They’re just coming in and trying to learn the plays, learn the offense, learn how we do things around here and get adjusted,” Westbrook said. “I’m just trying to teach (Lamb) how we do things and what it takes to do what he wants to do in this league.”
While it seems evident that Martin will see action with the second unit, Brooks couldn’t say exactly what Lamb will contribute from the get-go. Understandably, the rookie experience is one that takes time and is a process that doesn’t always pay dividends immediately. With the help of Thunder assistant coaches like Mo Cheeks, Maz Trakh and Rex Kalamian, Lamb will have a bevy of resources to guide him moving forward.
“Jeremy is athletic,” Brooks said. “He has some things (to learn) like all rookies will have – Perry is going through the same thing – it’s a learning curve. He has to understand what we do and how we do it and then eventually those are going to become instincts and we’re going to be able to see what he really brings to the team.”
While it was a productive and positive first day with two new teammates on the roster, the trade certainly was a bit of a shakeup to the roster. Durant, Westbrook and Brooks all wished their former Thunder teammates the best of luck and praised their efforts as members of the Thunder family. However, each noted that players changing teams is a natural part of the life cycle of an NBA team, and one the Thunder has dealt with previously. As always, the Thunder will move forward and control what it can each and every day on the practice floor, in the film room and come game time.
“I believe in (General Manager) Sam (Presti) and what they do and who they bring in,” Brooks said. “They always bring in guys that are motivated, that are driven and guys that we will coach and demand that they play at a high level. That’s what we do and I think we do it as well as any team in this league.”