I’ve been MIA lately, I know. Had to focus my attention on this little nifty thing we do before every season called a special section. I got a little bogged down with that on top of the regular load. But it gives me great pleasure to say that weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and our Thunder special section will hit newsstands and your front porch or driveway this Sunday. So let’s get back into the swing of things here shall we?
TINKERING WITH THE ROTATION
Thunder coach Scott Brooks at this morning’s shootaround sounded like he is done throwing out funky lineups and wacky rotations. I expect Brooks to play what mostly will be his main rotation in tonight’s preseason finale against Sacramento. But Brooks said he and the coaching staff are still trying to figure out who fits best with each other while giving different players an opportunity to adjust to playing with different teammates.
“It’s good for our team,” Brooks said. “It’s good to build chemistry on the floor. You’re going to be put in a position where you have to play with different guys…You try to figure out what a guy does with different guys. The game is impacted by who you’re playing with.”
Rarely in the NBA will a team open the regular season against the same team it ended the preseason against. But that’s the position the Thunder and Kings are in this year. Cleveland and Boston have also managed to pull the scheduling quirk.
Brooks, however, said tonight’s game shouldn’t have any bearing on Wednesday’s season opener. Because of exhaustive scouting departments, he said, NBA teams, don’t have anything left to hide.
“We know what they’re going to run and they know what we’re going to run,” Brooks said. “We have to do a great job of executing it and using effort in our execution.”
Brooks did say Wednesday’s packages will be different than tonight’s because he plans to implement more wrinkles in the final few days of practice before the two teams meet again. He called the next five days of practice “pretty important for us.”
A FRIEND TURNED FOE
Perhaps a more significant advantage than the Kings’ ability to pick up on the Thunder’s strategy early is the presence of former Thunder forward Desmond Mason on Sacramento’s roster. Brooks expects Mason to share secrets with his new teammates. All players do once they change teams. Mike Harris informed Jeff Green of Houston players’ tendencies at the scorer’s table just before tip-off Monday.
“One of the things our coaches do when we have guys that play with other teams is (go over) their personnel’s tendencies,” Brooks admitted. “I think it’s important to listen to the players. They know, they feel it, they see it on the court. They experience it. So you always tap into their knowledge. And I’m sure Sacramento is going to be no different. Desmond knows what Kevin Durant does and how he does it. The bottom line is it takes five guys to make an offense work and it takes the same five guys to make a defense work.”
DEFENDING THE DEEP BALL
For the fourth straight day, 3-point defense was a major talking point. That will happen when a team gives up 55 percent shooting from 3 (11-for-20) one night and a 73.7 percent clip (14-for-19) the very next night.
Much of the problem can be attributed to the team’s “shell” defense, which naturally will give up 3-pointers as the Thunder attempts to protect the paint. The scheme’s strategy puts one player on the ball depending on where the ball is on the court and the other four players creating a shell behind him with all having a foot in the painted area.
“You’re stopping the ball and your four defenders are helping,” Brooks explained. “They’re looking at seeing problems and if there’s a problem they try to figure it out along with the guy that’s guarding the ball.”
There were obviously a lot of problems the past two games. Brooks estimated 10, maybe 11, of the Spurs 3s Tuesday night were the result of missed assignments and late rotations. Still, the strategy is one Brooks is willing to live with so long as better effort is given to closing out faster and rotating better.
“If I had to pick one area, yes, I’d rather guard the basket and do a better job of stopping paint points,” Brooks said. “But we have to do a better job of stopping the corner 3. That’s a 40 percent shot for NBA teams. That’s what really bothered us the last two games.”
KRSTIC EAGER FOR OPENER
Center Nenad Krstic said he “can’t wait for the season to start.
“It’s been a long summer for me and during training camp I got sick,” Krstic said. “So it’s been some ups and downs but right now I feel good and feel ready.”
Krstic, who joined the team in mid-season last year, said a full training camp in Oklahoma City has been extremely beneficial to him.
“It helps me just to get my rhythm back and adjust again to NBA basketball,” he said. “I played almost all summer in a European style of basketball. And just being with the team for a whole training camp has really helped me.”
Krstic said the Thunder is a more talented team than last season with off-season additions and in-house improvement. He praised new post players, Etan Thomas, Serge Ibaka and Byron Mullens for each of their gifts and said all the interior players compliment each other.
“They’re all great energy guys,” Krstic said. “They rebound the ball. They defend really good and they all complete each other.”
Krstic also said he’s developed much more chemistry with Russell Westbrook. He said the second-year point guard has improved his game and is looking for his teammates more.
“I know if I set a good screen and I’m open I’m going to get the ball for sure,” Krstic said. “Last year in the beginning it was not (like that) because we didn’t know each other. Now he knows where I’m going to be and I know he’s going to pass me the ball. So it’s been really good playing with him.”
Krstic did not report any progress with his rebounding, one of the areas he said last season that he wanted to focus on improving. The 7-foot Krstic averaged 5.5 rebounds last season and is averaging just 2.6 in 17.2 minutes per game this preseason. But Krstic said he’s employing the philosophy taught to him by his coaches overseas, which is to focus more on boxing out rather than chasing down rebounds.
“It’s about boxing out my guy and not letting him get the rebound,” Krstic said. “I’m just trying to do that. I’m not focused on getting the rebounds…If you don’t get the rebound somebody else from your team is going to get it. Just don’t let your guy get the rebound.”
ROOKIE FOUL TROUBLE
As if the learning curve for rookies Serge Ibaka and James Harden wasn’t challenging enough, both players are having a hard time this preseason staying on the court whenever they do get to step foot on it. Ibaka is averaging 3.2 fouls in just 15.7 minutes. Harden is averaging four fouls in 27.6 minutes. Ibaka has already fouled out of two games, Monday’s at Houston in only 12 minutes and the preseason home opener Oct. 12 against Phoenix in 25 minutes.
“It’s part of a stage every rookie will go through,” Brooks said. “No one is immune from learning NBA basketball.”
Although he thinks a foul is a “mistake,” Brooks said he’s will not tell Ibaka to cut back on his aggressive play.
“One of the things I mention to him every game is I want him to be aggressive,” Brooks said. “He’s not going to play a ton of minutes at the moment, so he can go out and be really aggressive and if he gets a foul here and there that’s fine. A lot of it is understanding the finer points of the game. You can get away with some things and some things they call. I think that his fouls that he has committed are legitimate fouls. We don’t mind hard fouls that are going to prevent easy buckets. And he has the ability to not only block shots and alter shots but keep guys from even attempting those shots because of his strength and his quickness.”
- Michael Ruffin was waived this morning.
- Brooks said he doesn’t plan to play Ryan Bowen or Mike Harris tonight. When asked if either training camp invite will make the team Brooks responded, “There’s a good chance one of them will be here.” Asked who has the upper hand, Brooks said, “It’s close.”
- Thabo Sefolosha worked with assistant coaches on his perimeter shooting for 15 minutes after shootaround. He went around the arc and drilled on catch-and-shoot techniques.
- Brooks said Nick Collison is still a little sore but everyone is healthy and good to go.
- Jeff Green did a phone interview with the Georgetown student paper following shootaround. If you’re interested in where that conversation went you might want to track The Hoya’s Web site over the next few days.
- One area that has stood out this preseason is deflections, Brooks said. The team charts several categories, but Brooks declined to go into details about how well the Thunder has done in that area. Through the first six games, the Thunder is averaging 10.3 steals. The Thunder averaged 7.4 steals last season.