Consecutive Days in OKC Providing Chance for Team Growth

Maybe it’s not as clear as the cartoon lightbulb suddenly flashing on above a players’ head, or a magical moment where everything goes perfectly, but there are small moments in each Thunder practice where it is clear that the team is developing a deeper understanding of what they must do on the floor.

With three full days of practice in between home games, the Thunder is in the midst of a wonderful opportunity to make strides forward. As much as possible, Head Coach Billy Donovan is trying to put the players in real, game-like situations to stretch and push the limits of the team’s reactions to on-court stresses.

“When you’re playing in games and things are happening so quickly on any giving possession, there’s things that they’ve got to go through to understand better,” Donovan explained.

“Getting an opportunity to work on things throughout practice that translate to the game is important,” point guard Russell Westbrook added.

The major focus for the Thunder coming out of the loss to the Sacramento Kings was in pick and roll defense, where repeatedly Kings forwards and centers rolled towards the rim and were able to finish at the bucket. Guards manipulated screens and found openings for shots and passes, and the Thunder didn’t play with enough force or precision to get stops.

Through Monday’s film session and an active day on the court Tuesday, the Thunder made two steps forward in assessing why those problems cropped up, and how they can be remedied on Thursday against the Boston Celtics.

“We did a better job of creating the clarity of the communication of what the guard needs to do, what the big needs to do, what the other three guys off the ball need to do, how we have to help, what happens in certain situations,” Donovan listed out. “You have to be able to make those decisions very quickly, so you try and create those situations in practice and work on them.”

It would be easy to look at the 131 points given up and the 30 three-pointers missed against the Kings and decide that the only thing that matter for the Thunder, and in the NBA, is making and missing shots. To a degree, that’s true. But it’s a tiny fraction of what a player is required to do on the floor. In 30 minutes of playing time, a player may spend 30 seconds actually shooting the basketball. Seeing the forest for the trees and recognizing what must happen in the other 29 minutes and 30 seconds, is vital for every Thunder player.

“in the game of basketball, shooting, scoring, making shots cures a multitude of sins,” Donovan noted. “When you don’t do that, a lot of things stand out and become a lot more glaring.

“They can’t become so isolated on shooting that they forget to do their job, because 95 percent of their job has got to do with them not shooting the ball,” he continued.  

Focusing on the overall job doesn’t mean the Thunder is hand-waving the shooting struggles early in the season. Shots simply have not gone down at a high enough clip from two-point range, behind the three-point arc and at the free throw line. Instead of crushing confidence or benching players, the Thunder is trusting in its guys to be determined and prove that their worth comes through their work, as it always has in Oklahoma City.

“You find out a lot about people, in my opinion, in adversity,” Donovan said. “You find out who wants to fight and who wants to flee.”

Everybody on the roster has chosen the former option. Tim Luwawu-Cabarrot was in the Thunder ION on Sunday night working on his craft just minutes after the game ended. Patrick Patterson spent extra time with an assistant coach working on his shooting stroke, and Hamidou Diallo and Terrance Ferguson were the last two players on the floor on Tuesday, sweating through their practice jerseys.

“You have a gym, you have a job,” Westbrook quipped. “Best job in the world: you come in, you get paid to do something you like to do. You should want to get better at it, and those guys do that consistently, which is good.”

Watch: Practice Recap - 10/23

News & Notes

-       Alex Abrines did not practice with the Thunder on Tuesday after sustaining what was determined to be an eye injury in Sunday’s game against the Kings. Abrines is not in the concussion protocol. Further update on Abrines will be provided on Wednesday at practice.

-       Jerami Grant has undergone yet another transformation, beyond undoing his braids on Tuesday and letting his hair breathe a little bit more. As it has nearly every season of his career, Grant’s had a bit of a position-change, despite knowing that at his core he’s a position-less player, capable of transitioning to roles all over the floor. This year, with the addition of Nerlens Noel, Grant has picked up more minutes at the power forward spot and fewer at center. Still, Donovan believes that there are opportunities within the offense for Grant to still have a presence in the paint and at the rim, which the coaching staff is helping him identify and capitalize upon in practice.

  • “He can be cutting and diving and moving and setting screens and doing a little bit more,” Donovan said of Grant. “When he does that, it gets his playmaking into it. He’s a really unselfish player and a really good passer. The more he’s on the move, the better it is for our team.”