Thunder Leadership Has Developed for Years

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

In a family, each sibling has their own personality, ideas and communication style. Some are older, some younger, but each has something to offer to the whole.

For the Thunder, the four longest-tenured members of the team – Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka - serve as the older brothers, with key veterans like Anthony Morrow, Steve Novak and D.J. Augustin providing guidance as well. For Ibaka and Steven Adams, having nearly two-dozen siblings is ironically not too foreign of a concept considering their childhoods, but for NBA teams, just like families of that size, it can be an interesting dynamic to get all of those people on the same page.   

Billy Donovan, the Thunder’s leader on the sideline, has witnessed the team’s leadership dynamic first hand since joining the team five months ago. The quartet of long-time Thunder veterans weren’t simply anointed as leaders. In fact, in Oklahoma City, that is the type of thing that gradually develops over time and Donovan has seen and learned about the growth marks.

“You have four guys in Serge, Nick, Kevin and Russell who have been here for a long, long time,” Donovan said. “They have a lot invested in the organization. From a leadership standpoint, those things happen organically.”

Collison leads by his relentless attention to detail and the sacrifices he makes on and off the floor each night. Ibaka sets the tone by example, through his tireless training and focus on perfecting his craft on both sides of the ball. Durant and Westbrook, for their part, form a complementary duo that helps guide younger Thunder players through new situations, both with their words on the floor and their time bonding off of it.

“The one thing I really admire about Russell and Kevin is that they’re vocal,” Donovan said. “They do talk to the team and they do create a presence out there every day. They do say really good things to the guys in terms of helping our team get better.”

Just because the Thunder’s elder statesmen have arisen as the standard bearers of the organization doesn’t mean that the other players on the roster aren’t involved in assisting the group or other individuals.

Novak can be seen working with Andre Roberson on his shooting stroke while Steven Adams took in Mitch McGary early on to help him with defensive coverages. Those are just two of many examples of how the Thunder family sticks together and invests on all of the relationships, which is something the team must continue to cultivate all year long.

“You don’t always have to be the best player to be the leader,” Durant said. “We take input from everybody. That’s how basketball is supposed to be played. There’s not just one guy that we look at and just expect him to say everything.” 

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Keeping the Bigs Involved Late in the Shot Clock

As the Thunder continues to improve as a unit and install more of what it hopes to do on both ends of the floor over the course of the season, there will be moments where it struggles and has to problem solve together. In its win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, the Thunder recognized an area for growth, especially late in the shot clock. If teams take away the initial shot opportunities when the floor moves the on the opening action of the possession, all five men on the floor must be of one mind when creating secondary scoring chances.

“They have to work together offensively and have to play off of each other,” Donovan explained. “The one thing I love about our frontcourt is that they’re unselfish and team guys. As a coach, I have to help them to help our team because they’re really willing to do that.” 

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