Summer Search for Consistency – Donovan Challenges Himself in the Offseason

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

In his early years in the collegiate ranks, Billy Donovan would come to the end of a season and like so many young coaches look at other teams still playing for a championship and think the past season was all for naught. The perspective of time has given Donovan the requisite wisdom to see each campaign for more than just whether it ended with a trophy in hand.

As the Thunder’s head man turns the page towards his preparation for the 2018-19 season, Donovan will keep that in mind as he evaluates what he and his staff learned from the past 12 months and how it can apply moving forward.

“Every year as a coach, you're always trying to evaluate areas that you can help your team get better and improve, and I will always evaluate things I can try to do better,” Donovan said. “I've done that my whole entire career. I feel a strong sense of always wanting to improve and get better individually but also finding ways to help our group improve and get better.”

When Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti hired Donovan back in the summer of 2015, there were three core areas that he identified as the two-time National Champion’s greatest assets. The first was that Donovan proved he could adapt, evolve and tactically play several different ways with a variety of personnel. So far in Donovan’s career, that particular skill has been tested significantly.

With three very, very different teams in each of his first three NBA seasons, Donovan has managed to compile a 150-96 (.610) regular season record three playoff appearances, including a run to the 7th game of the Western Conference Finals against a 73-win Golden State Warriors team in 2016. That squad had continuity, two generational superstars and elite role players that fit.

A year later that continuity was gone, and yet Donovan still pushed an extremely young, bruising group to 47 wins and the 6th seed in 2017. This past year everything changed again for Donovan, with Paul George, Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton all coming over in the summer, then on the eve of the start of training camp, the Thunder traded for Carmelo Anthony. All of that chaos, not to mention the devastating injury to Andre Roberson, could have sunk other coaches, but Donovan helped keep everyone in the boat and the Thunder captured the 4th seed in the highly competitive Western Conference.

According to Presti, the second and third prized attributes of Donovan were as much about who he is as a human being as his coaching prowess. Donovan’s alignment with the organization, his values and vision for the direction of the Thunder have been clearly shown since he arrived in Oklahoma City. So was his tenacity and relentlessness as a worker. Donovan has displayed curiosity, adaptability, humility, work capacity, and resilience over these past three years, and that’s what gives Presti confidence in his ability to keep charging forward into next season. With good fortune, Donovan might even have some continuity to work with as he prepares his preseason plan.

“With respect to his qualities as a human being and as a worker, I think you see that every single day,” Presti said.


Watch: Donovan Moves Forward


Donovan has continually earned the confidence and trust of the front office, but just as importantly he’s developed relationships with the core players on the team to maintain open lines of communication year-round. Forward Paul George said that Donovan was instrumental to his comfort in Oklahoma City and with the team as he made the transition this past offseason, while Russell Westbrook noted that he is constantly talking with Donovan about the game to make sure they’re on the same page.

“Billy did an amazing job. My relationship with him has gotten better and better,” Westbrook said. “He's done a good job of just playing the cards that he's been dealt, making sure that we have a chance to win and giving us the sets and the defensive schemes to make sure that we go out there to succeed.”

As he does every summer, Donovan will evaluate his own strategy and decision-making, as well as monitoring league trends. But a core part of his offseason focus will be on the pesky factor that marked the Thunder’s entire season: consistency. There were bouts of sluggish play, times when the ball got stuck on offense and defensive rotations broke down on defense.

Yet there were also soaring bursts of elite performance like the stretch of 12 wins in 15 games in December or the 8-game winning streak Donovan’s team ripped off in January where the club showed how dominant it could be when clicking. The lack of consistency was not about the x’s and o’s, lineups or rotations, but rather the focus, attention to detail and ability to repeatedly commit to the same tasks on a possession-by-possession basis for all 48 minutes. Some nights the Thunder had it. Others it didn’t. This summer, that’s a problem Donovan is going to take charge on trying to solve.

“The consistency part of stuff that we've all got to put our heads together. That will be my focus in the off-season. How do we get better being a consistent team?” Donovan said. “It doesn't mean you're going to be perfect or not have a bad night, but we can be consistent on what I consider the controllables.”

“My job is to constantly put those things in front of those guys to have a level of the accountability, to be able to show them on film when we're at our best and when we're not at our best, things that we need to do,” Donovan continued. “We've got to be able to see those things, look at those things, accept those things, and understand that that's a challenge for us that we've got to overcome as a team.”