Shooters Gotta Shoot

Thunder players hadn’t taken their first shots yet during U.S. Cellular Training Camp, but General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti already knew what he wanted this year: better shooting. After last season when many players didn’t hit their normal levels of efficiency shooting the ball, from behind the arc and at the free throw line in particular, Presti came into the 2018-19 campaign insistent that Head Coach Billy Donovan help the team generate higher-percentage shots, and that the guys on the roster step up and deliver when called upon for a jumper.

Donovan himself has evaluated a statistic called expected field goal percentage, which takes a variety of factors into account — like the specific player’s statistical history, shot locations, level of defense and situation. Discovering which types of shots each player on the team hits with the highest efficiency can help Donovan construct offensive sets, actions and concepts that favor his players’ skillsets.

“You want to generate good shots, but even when you generate good shots, you want to be able to have guys shoot the ball with confidence and feel good about the shots they are getting,” Donovan said.

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Through scripting, going through the offense, putting players in game-like situations, Donovan and his staff are creating scenarios that are either likely to occur or incentivize execution. For example, the team has played five-on-five games where the first team to five wins, but in order to seal the win, one player must make a free throw to end it. Other scenarios include five seconds on the clock with a tie score, advancing the ball out of a timeout and other specific time-score combinations.

“You try to create as close to game situations as you can,” Donovan explained. “The making shots part of it is, as much as it is physical and repetition, it’s just as much mental too, building that confidence through working out and putting the time in.”

Once in those positions, as Presti noted last week, Thunder players have to step up and knock down shots with confidence. It’s easier said than done, and every team in the league would shoot 100 percent if they could. But Thunder players are working diligently on their shooting during training camp, both individually in drills, with their position coaches and in full-on scrimmage sessions

“When you have the ball and when you have the opportunity to shoot it, shoot it. That’s the most important thing,” said forward Patrick Patterson, who shot 39.8 percent from the field last season, but 47.5 percent after the All-Star Break. “Shoot it like you know how. If you miss it, who cares? Focus on the next opportunity. That’s what we’re telling everyone."

News & Notes

-        At practice, Andre Roberson was seen shooting alongside Alex Abrines, well after the session had ended for the entire group. The defensive stopper is still rehabbing from a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee, but has been able to participate in individual, non-contact work during this first week of camp. It remains to be seen when exactly Roberson will be back and available to the team, but Donovan feels good about his shooting guard’s progress.

  • “He looks good running, he looks good moving. But I think it’s totally different trying to regain your timing and those kind of things,” Donovan reported. “Like anything else, you want to be able to develop confidence. When you’ve had the type of injury he had, I’m sure starting, stopping, cutting, moving, there’s a confidence that he’s got to build up.” 

-       There was more discussion today of Hamidou Diallo, and how the Thunder front office has always declined to fall victim to any stereotyping that can occur with players. Sometimes when a player has such prodigious athletic gifts as Diallo, it’s easy to pigeon-hole them, but the Thunder has seen that Diallo is multi-talented, tough and intelligent. His shooting is in development, and part of turning Diallo into a high-efficiency shooter will be the way he learns to make reads and decisions.

  • “That’s going to be the No. 1 thing in my opinion, when does he shoot it, drive it, pass it,” Donovan said of the rookie guard.
  • A fellow Kentucky Wildcat, Patterson, gushed about Diallo: “He’s a tremendous athlete, a tremendous player, a tremendous kid. His most important factor is that he’s humble and that he’s willing to learn. He’s out here every single morning, the first one in the gym. He’s working hard. He’s asking questions to every single teammate. He’s asking questions to the coaching staff and he works hard on the court. That’s what you want in your players. With him, he’s extremely talented, extremely gifted and he’s been showcasing his abilities in training camp. There’s no telling how far that kid can go.”

-       Something that Donovan revealed today was that the Thunder’s analysis has shown that after the opposition’s missed shots, the tempo and pace has been really good. Where it falters is after the other team makes a basket. Pulling the ball out of the net will always take an extra bit of time, but the Thunder should still be getting the ball across halfcourt and getting into offense more quickly, as to not compound the problem of allowing a made basket with a poor offensive possession pressed up against the shot clock. So far during camp, coaches have been screaming from the sideline at every opportunity the team has to quicken the pace in attempt to re-build that muscle memory for when the season begins.

  • “We’ve got to play with more tempo,” Donovan said. “That’s first starts with how quickly the ball gets inbounded, then it starts with how quickly a guy like Russell gets it across half court, and how quickly we can get into actions and movements.”
  • Coach has been preaching a faster pace,” Patterson added. “So whether that’s offense, defense, pushing the ball in transition, everything we do has to be a little more fast, with a little more pep in our step.”