Thunder Trending in the Right Direction
All around the court at the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center on Tuesday, there were signs of excitement, vigor and positivity.
After a fantastic month of February where the Thunder compiled a Western Conference-best 9-3 record, Head Coach Scott Brooks was named the conference’s Coach of the Month. Heading into the month of March, where the Thunder’s schedule is home-heavy, Brooks feels optimistic about the direction of his team. It helps that Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams are now considered day-to-day with their respective injuries, while Kevin Durant will be re-evaluated in about a week.
“I really believe that it’s always about our team,” Brooks said. “We focus on that. One of the things that happened is that we stayed together, we focused on getting better and we focused on improving. In the month of February, a lot of things came together.”
The Thunder has had success and managed to keep positive momentum even when players of Durant, Westbrook and Adams’ caliber have missed time due to injury. Aside from Brooks’ guidance, one of the major factors has been the readiness of other players on the roster to come in and contribute. The commitment that each one has made to the team and the greater good of the group has paid off, because each player has been called upon at some point this season to be an impact player.
“We have a good team,” Brooks said. “When you have a good team, you have to have guys who sacrifice. There’s no better problem to have than a bunch of good players who are committed to the same common goal. We have to always have that at the forefront.”
A perfect example of that dynamic has come from some of the newcomers to the team – D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler. The former, a heady, quick point guard, came into Oklahoma City with the understanding that he would be the team’s backup point guard behind Westbrook. He’s played that role to a tee thus far, setting up teammates and keeping the pace of play high. Against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, however, he was thrust into the starting lineup, and performed admirably.
“I try to stay in control,” Augustin explained. “Most of the time as the point guard, guys are looking at you for poise and control of the game. I’m not really out there thinking. When you think too much, that’s when you can mess up. I just go out, play freely and play smart.”
Singler is another player who was put into a different-than-expected role right away, with Brooks utilizing him as the team’s starting small forward as Durant recovers from a procedure on his foot. A grinder, Singler keeps his head down and does his part to help the Thunder win on a nightly basis. So far in his time in Oklahoma City, Singler has shot 37 percent from the three-point line and is averaging 5.2 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game while playing tough defense on the other end of the floor.
“I think he has a good role,” Brooks explained. “He really understands his game. A lot of players don’t understand that because they want more and they want to get out of the box. Sometimes when you get out of the box, things don’t work out as well as you want. He can shoot the ball.
“I like how he plays,” Brooks continued. “He moves the ball. He cuts. He sets great screens. He’s just a basketball player. That’s his biggest strength. He knows how to play the game.”
Both of those players, in addition to fellow newcomer Enes Kanter, will be vital in the Thunder rotation heading down the final quarter of the season. As Brooks re-integrates injured players back into the lineup, it remains to be seen how much action each man will get, but the staff knows they have 15 players ready to give their all to the team on every possession.