Setting the Agenda

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Digital Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Monday was fun and games at Media Day. Tuesday was back to business, and the official start of the 2018-19 NBA campaign. This will be a grueling week at the Thunder ION, powered by OU Medicine, for Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club as they charge through a week of practices. As a part of U.S. Cellular Training Camp, the Thunder will focus on installing big picture principles first before diving into more specific details on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

“You have to get the whole in first then you gotta work on the parts and then back to the whole,” Donovan explained. “You have to go at a pace where you’re getting enough in where you feel like in a day or two you can legitimately play five-on-five basketball and they would have at least some structure and fundamentals of how we want to play.”

Donovan puts defense first so it may be tempting for him to go deep in that direction right away to start camp, but on the very first day of practice with relative continuity and only a handful of new faces, the Thunder coaching staff was able to go at a steady pace throughout practice, riding that line of moving along briskly without blowing past any important concepts. Of course, at the very dawn of what will be a long year full of practices, it was more important for Donovan to focus on big picture items like style of play and standards rather than specific coverages or sets.

“The first thing you want to talk about is you want to talk about is, ‘what is your identity on defense?’ What are the things that we’re going to value?’,” Donovan outlined. “And then you’re building out a system from that. The players have got to understand what the responsibilities are to those things. Then you have to stay true to those things to build up the kind of identity that you want. That’s the consistency part.”

Watch: Training Camp - Day One


That word consistency has been a crucial element of all of the Thunder’s planning this offseason, and is something the team will be focusing on sharply all year long. Especially with a group of talented, emerging players in their early to mid-20's running alongside leaders like Russell Westbrook and Paul George, developing the right mindset and focus from the very outset of the season is vital.

“A lot of times, the initial response for young players is ‘I’m going to get out there and show them what I can do.’ Sometimes it’s got nothing to do with showing what you can do,” Donovan noted. “It’s actually being consistent on the things we need to have done. For any young player part of the learning curve for them is going through mistakes. That’s just the reality of it. If they can really think about improvement on mistakes or learning from mistakes, the quicker they can become more reliable.”

For veterans of the Thunder program, much of today’s lesson is already deeply ingrained in how they carry themselves and approach the game. There are, however, a few newcomers - Nerlens Noel, Dennis Schroder, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Abdel Nader and Hamidou Diallo, along with a pair of two-way players and a quartet of camp invitees who needed to take it all in. The coaches were pleased with the progress made in the first session, and a strong impression was made on guys like Noel, who are getting the complete Thunder practice experience for the first time.

“They have their hats on straight,” Noel said. “This team knows what it wants to get done from Day One. You can feel the energy and the vibe once you step in the locker room and the film room.”

News & Notes

-       Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson’s knees will be a constant storyline until they return to action, but Donovan did give an update on both players. The Thunder’s head man said that Westbrook couldn’t participate in practice but was very vocal and engaged in communicating with the team as they went through drills. Roberson was seen shooting after practice but didn’t participate in any of the contact work as he continues to rehab his knee. For now, newcomer Dennis Schroder is getting work in with first unit players like Steven Adams, developing a rhythm in the pick and roll.

  • “Dennis plays with really good tempo and really good pace,” Donovan said. “He plays maybe a little bit differently than Russell does in pick and roll and I think he and Steven, working through that, will be good.”

-       Westbrook’s presence as a leader prompted a question about the Thunder’s first practice ever without Nick Collison on the roster. Donovan noted that no one can “replace” Collison because of his unique abilities and the way he impacted the locker room, but that the team will take collective ownership to maintain the standards set over the past 10 years.

  • “We have a couple of All-Stars on this team - perennial All-Stars that lead by example. The talent is there,” Noel added. “It’s simply just about meshing together, continuing through training camp, this early part of the season to continue to build that.”

-       Noel is an interesting player for the Thunder, one that the team hasn’t exactly had in a backup center role in recent years. With his combination of height, length and leaping ability, the young veteran is capable of playing above the rim on offense while also guarding multiple positions on the defensive end. His growth and understanding of the Thunder’s schemes on both sides of the ball will be vital to providing the Thunder with a potent second unit on offense, and one that can stifle opponents on defense.

  • “Being able to switch out onto the one through five, that poses a threat for the opposing team because this is a three-ball era where guys are switching on screens and firing them up,” Noel explained. “So being able to keep a guy in front of you as a five man is a big thing.”

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