Process of Adapting Already Underway
They felt for their ailing brother, but when the news broke that Kevin Durant had suffered a Jones Fracture in his foot, there were no hanging heads in the Thunder locker room.
Behind the leadership of General Manager Sam Presti, Head Coach Scott Brooks and veterans like Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison, the Thunder immediately got to work on how it would find the opportunity to adapt from this bout of adversity.
Managing the lineups, rotations and strategies will be a tall task in Durant’s absence. However, Brooks and his staff are already investigating, discovering and testing ways to utilize its core tenets of intense defense and selfless offense to be effective as a unit.
“The process is ongoing and it will continue to be ongoing,” Brooks said. “The first part of that process is not making an excuse. If you can all come to grips with that, then you have a better chance to have success. We’ve always done that as an organization. Whatever is thrown at us, we’re going to control what we can and not worry about the things that we can’t.”
With a pair of practices, a shootaround and a preseason win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the shorthanded Thunder just rolled on. Each man in the organization from, Westbrook to younger players like Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb, has confidence in one another to be able to solve the new challenges that lay ahead.
The same professionalism, focus and precision that have been a hallmark for the team over the years has been on display these last few days.
“I’ve learned consistency from these guys,” Lamb said. “Coach is consistent. Russ is consistent. Everybody on the team is consistent so we’re just trying to stay with it, doing what we always do.”
As a result, the assessment from the Thunder’s 117-107 victory over Memphis on Tuesday was viewed with the same constructive, critical approach as any other game would be. Early in the contest, the Thunder’s defense wasn’t up to its normal standards, as the Grizzlies got loose for 32 points in the first quarter. The team allowed ten offensive rebounds on the night, which Brooks wants to shore up in the coming days, but overall, the team played hard and well as a unit, which was the biggest positive takeaway from the night.
“I saw a lot of good things on both ends of the floor,” Brooks explained. “Still, you can tell that we still need a lot of work to do on areas where we want to get better like guarding the basketball, closing out on shooters.”
“Rebounding is still an area where we can improve on,” the seventh-year head coach continued. “There was a lot of good passing, a lot of good help-side defense which is an area, as this preseason goes on, that we want to continue to improve on.”
The man who helped ensure the team got on the right track was none other than Westbrook, who as selected to three-straight All-Star games prior to last season. He dictated the flow and pace of play first on the defensive end with his ball pressure, but then with the ball in his hands on offense.
Prying, investigative dribbles around the elbows and into the paint provided Westbrook with chances to dump off passes to Steven Adams or kick-out to shooters. The way Westbrook at times manipulated the defense to his choosing was mesmerizing to see, but something that Brooks has come to expect.
“He has a calming influence with the way he plays,” Brooks said of his dynamic point guard. “He allows a lot of open shots to take place because of his ability to get around players and create offense with his speed, his attack and his ability to manipulate pick-and-rolls.”
“He’s the leader of our team,” Brooks further explained. “We expect him to continue to lead us and put us in a position to have success every night.”