Practice Report: Notes and Quotes
Nuggets from my notebook from day three of training camp.
- Lots and lots of intriguing tidbits to share today, Thunder heads. Nothing was seen on the court unfortunately. But that’s OK. Tons was learned about the team’s goals and what’s in store for the next three weeks.
- I’ll start with a cool scene that already was in process as the media entered practice today. A family of five was seated just beyond the entrance to the practice courts. It was an unusual sighting. As I turned the corner, I then saw Russell Westbrook seated on the hardwood, knees in his chest and arms draping over his legs, holding court directly in front of them. Westbrook was all smiles, laughing with the family and visibly enjoying their company. Turns out the guests were a 10-year-old boy and his family. The boy is a cancer patient who is getting set to undergo chemotherapy. It was his second time visiting with the Thunder after attending a game last year. But today, before the players walked off the floor, each and every one had walked over to spend some time with the boy and his family, supplying well-wishes and posing for snapshots. Once the players disappeared into the lockeroom, the entire family got to shoot baskets on the practice courts’ goals.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks on the team making time for the family: “It’s part of what our organization believes in. We are a community team, and Zander is a friend of the team…It’s special to see it. (The players) came by and spent a lot of time. Russell spent 15 minutes sitting on the floor just talking to Zander and his family. We’ve got a special group. There’s no question we want to keep improving as a team. But we want to give back to the community.”
- Westbrook on the family: “It’s great. That’s maybe the second or third time I’ve met that kid. He’s been happy and excited to see us every single time. It’s a great opportunity for him to come out before he starts his chemo and things like that so it’s just a good experience.”
- I’ve mentioned that Brooks will sit his main guys for a game this preseason. Brooks, however, also said today that he will start different units. So be prepared to see some funky lineups as Brooks mixes and matches. “I definitely will start different lineups,” Brooks said. “I just want to see guys in different roles and different combinations.”
- Brooks was asked if he’d start his entire second string, but he gave an “I’m not sure about that” as if to say ‘Are you nuts?’ rather politely. But think about it for a second. It’s a great idea. The projected second unit this year will be Eric Maynor, James Harden, Daequan Cook, Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich. Those guys haven’t played together in what seems like forever. And because Aldrich is supplanting Nazr Mohammed after barely playing at all the past two seasons, that unit really hasn’t had much time together at all. What better time to get them familiar with one another than this preseason? Plus, with Kendrick Perkins likely out for the preseason and Thabo Sefolosha’s status in question, as well as Brooks’ stated desire to sit Westbrook, Kevin Durant and possibly Serge Ibaka for at least a game, the team almost will be down to mostly second unit guys anyway on at least one of those nights.
- I’m starting to cringe each time someone praises Perry Jones III. Brooks and Co. are sending expectations for the rook through the roof. It’s my job to report what’s being said so don’t shoot the messenger. But for the third straight day there were plenty of positives said about PJIII. “I thought he had a very good day today,” said Brooks. Said Westbrook: “Perry has definitely impressed me because I knew how good he was coming out of college. He’s getting better. He listens. He learns and he wants to get better.”
- Brooks did go on to say “with Perry, as with all the young players in this league, it takes a while to pick things up.” So there’s that. Brooks also said that the assistants are bringing in the new players earlier to help them understand the offensive sets and defensive schemes.
- Durant looks bigger and hopes his strength will help him play more effectively in the post as a power forward this year.
- I’ll have much more on this in Sunday’s paper, but Westbrook said he didn’t see anything wrong with Durant working out with LeBron James this summer. Westbrook, remember, annually works out in the offseason with his closest counterpart, Chicago guard Derrick Rose. “I’ve been working out with Derrick for four years, with (Kevin) Love for four years, the same guys,” Westbrook said. “It’s just different because we played (Miami) in the Finals and everybody wants to make a big deal out of it. But they’re good friends. They knew each other before this, before the Finals, before each of them were at their level right now. So I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
- On a related note, Brooks said he didn’t care who he worked out with when he played. “There were times, to get an extra workout in, I would play in the fireman league on a Wednesday night,” Brooks said.
- A bit of disclosure to inform some of you of how these practice interviews go and shed light on a part of the reason PJIII is getting so much love. Since we don’t see anything, we’re forced to ask questions about things. So far a lot of questions have been about PJIII. If we did a better job of mixing it up, maybe we’d get more and better answers.
- Today, someone did just that. Mixed it up. Big time. A question was posed to Westbrook about Walker Russell’s defense. It led to one of those classic Westbrook lines, the type where he unleashes his inner Honey Badger. “I mean, he defends,” Westbrook said before carefully choosing his next choice of words. “But as an offensive player, I don’t pay attention to it.” Let me just say I love that about that guy!
- One more from Brooks on PJIII. “He’s a better shooter than I really realized,” Brooks said. “He has a knack for making shots from 15, 16 feet.”
- Good news folks. Rebounding has been a big emphasis in camp thus far. As you probably remember, rebounding (and turnovers) was the team’s bugaboo last year. But it sounds like the focus has been on shoring up that problem right out of the gate. “Most of (camp) is just team rebounding,” said Westbrook. “I think the last two years we lost our games because of rebounding. We got sent home because of rebounding. So that’s a big key for us.” Asked how the team is improving the rebounding, Westbrook said “Just being tougher. Just taking it upon yourself to stop your guy from getting a rebound and going to get the ball.”
- Brooks on rebounding: “You have to be able to rebound in this league to have success. Just look at our rebounding numbers. Anytime we out-rebounded a team our record was really, really good. But we do so many things well defensively that I think that’s the one area that we really have to get better at. We’re in the middle of the pack defensively, and we take pride on the defensive end of the floor. And rebounding the basketball hasn’t been a great strength of ours the last two years.”
- For the record, the Thunder was 31-5 when out-rebounding opponents and 15-12 when getting out-rebounded. OKC was 1-2 when it tied its opponents in rebounding.
- Westbrook talked about working in the post a lot more this year. He joins Durant and Harden as players who’ve mentioned it. I’ll write more about this in the coming days.
- My biggest regret following today’s practice? Not asking Westbrook about flopping. On numerous occasions last year Westbrook grew frustrated with opposing players continuously flopping against him. The home game against Goran Dragic and Houston comes to mind.
- Westbrook, a sneaker free agent, said that he’s not with Nike or adidas. He was wearing Jordan’s today, a different pair than the Thunder colorway Jordan’s he wore to media day Monday. Westbrook could be just testing out the J’s, or it could be a tell-all sign of where he’s headed. After all, Dwyane Wade did recently confirm that he’s leaving the Jordan Brand. Westbrook said he expects to have a new shoe deal done before the start of the regular season.
- Collison, Durant and Westbrook all talked about taking on even more of a leadership role this season. Why? “There’s no more veterans now,” Westbrook said. “We’ve become the guys that’s been here the longest. We set the bar on how things are set around here, how things are done around here and that’s what we want everybody to follow.”
- Lastly, and you’ll like this if you can brave the crowd, Durant is scheduled to appear at Game Stop at Penn Square Mall tomorrow from 7 to 7:45 p.m. He’ll be signing autographs of the recently released NBA 2K13, with which he shares the cover alongside Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose.
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