Nuggets from my notebook from Thursday’s practice.
- The most newsworthy thing from today is James Harden has a groin injury and will not play tomorrow night here in Utah. It doesn’t sound like Harden’s groin injury is Kendrick Perkins level so I don’t anticipate him missing much time. Scott Brooks said Harden will be evaluated over the weekend once the team returns to OKC. My guess is he’ll play in the preseason home opener on Tuesday.
- As for some good news, Serge Ibaka will make his debut tomorrow night after being held out of the exhibition opener with what the team called a left quad contusion. It’ll be a great test for Ibaka right off the bat going against Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Al Jefferson. Brooks said earlier this week that Ibaka could play more minutes than other starters so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Serge against all four Utah big men at some point, assuming all of them suit up.
- Speaking of starters. We know four of the five for tomorrow night. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Ibaka and Cole Aldrich. Brooks said he is still undecided on who will start at shooting guard. Come on DeAndre Liggins!
- My apologies for the late post. It was a travel day and the Thunder had a long practice, which last roughly two hours. Rebounding and defense were emphasized today. The 21 offensive rebounds still didn’t sit well with Brooks and he wants to make sure that aspect of the game doesn’t become a bugaboo again this year.
- Brooks on the rebounding: “It’s something that we work on a lot. We’ve made small improvements as the season went on last season. I thought in the playoffs we improved. But 21 offensive rebounds is unacceptable. It’s hard to win a game when you give up that many. We’re a very, very good defensive team but if you want to be a great defensive team you’ve got to rebound the basketball. We put an emphasis on that today in practice. It was very physical. Guys really locked in on that area of that game. I saw some growth.”
- Westbrook on the defense in the opener: “We were trading baskets yesterday, back and forth.”
- The first dress rehearsal wasn’t all gloom and doom in Brooks’ eyes. “I thought the effort was good,” he said. “I thought a lot of good things happened. But sometimes it’s good that things don’t happen well because you can emphasize it and the team has more of a belief that we have to improve in that because some numbers don’t lie and offensive rebounds is a number that’ doesn’t lie.”
- By now you know Westbrook has signed with Jordan Brand. As you might assume, he’s excited. “It’s an amazing brand as everybody knows,” Westbrook said. “But it’s a new beginning for me and I’m looking forward to it.”
- Brooks talked about the Jazz today as one of the most improved teams in the league this offseason. “They’ve made some of the biggest improvements in the league, I think,” Brooks said. “You talk about the Lakers obviously and that improvement is off the charts. But Utah, they just improve internally and coach (Tyrone) Corbin does a good job of getting the team to play better and playing hard every night.”
- Brooks also talked about the expected challenge of the Northwest Division this season and said a third straight division title is not promised. “I think it’s good because you’re not allowed to rest in this league,” Brooks said of the division’s competitiveness. “If you rest teams will put you in your place. We’re not guaranteed to win the division. We have to work for that. Minnesota, Denver, everybody has improved, Utah, down the line. It’s a very tough division. We have to play well and we have to play hard and do a lot of good things every night.”
- Reggie Jackson spoke today about his improving game and how he’s continuously learning. I wrote about his development for Friday’s paper. “I feel slightly more comfortable, (but) not as comfortable as I did in the summer league,” he said. “I want to get to that point. But definitely more comfortable than when I came in last year as a rookie. So I think that’s another progression of my game.”
- Jackson on advancing the ball and initiating the offense better: “Definitely not playing with it as much. Eight seconds is a long time, but last year it wasn’t long enough for me. I had a few eight second calls thinking it was still college. Coach got on me about that last year. But definitely just knowing how to get a defender off you and get up the court and an understanding of what sets we might need to get into I think has helped.”
- I expect Maynor to get the primary backup minutes tomorrow night and Jackson to play the third string role, or second string if Westbrook sits the second half again. Brooks wouldn’t say one way or the other today. But he’s said time and time again that he wants everyone to get a fair shot. That only seems fair.
- Pretty interesting that Jackson told me today that he hasn’t played off the ball at all this training camp. So while it seems like a Maynor-Jackson backcourt could be a strategy Brooks could use to get his best players on the floor and take advantage of Jackson’s development and athleticism, it doesn’t sound likely to happen anytime soon.
- The bright side of keeping Jackson at the point is that it’s helping to build his confidence even more. “They definitely keep preaching to me staying at the 1,” Jackson said. “It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life, but I’m just happy to have coaches that believe definitely now that that’s my permanent position, my primary position…I believe just repetition at the position is really helping and sitting down with coaches and getting an understanding of what Scotty wants and just what we need at certain times or possessions.”
- Lastly, I think this answer from Brooks will give you a good idea of how he envisions the offense working not just this season but for years to come. His quote was in response to my question about whether these preseason games are more about focusing on executing offensive sets drilled in practice or if the players have the green light to freestyle on that end. “As we continue to grow as a group and continue to grow individually with our basketball IQ, you’re going to see a lot of free flowing basketball,” Brooks said. “Guys are in their position, guys are looking to score, guys are looking for their teammates, easy opportunities to score. All the good teams in the league are able to do that, and it comes one day at a time.” So as we all seemingly wait on a more intricate offense, it sounds like it might not come from a system but rather a team-wide awareness of how to generate points by playing off of each other.