Perhaps most notable in the Thunder’s 120-98 preseason victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night was how well OKC players meshed despite being thrown into a ridiculous array of lineups.
Ten Thunder players saw at least 13 minutes of action, which isn’t unusual in the preseason. However, six players from last year’s roster didn’t even play and OKC still managed to finish with 34 assists, shot 64.0 percent from the field (48 for 75) and outrebounded the Bobcats 40-31. Now that is unusual.
Sure, Charlotte stinks. But playing against a bad opponent doesn’t guarantee unselfish play from your team. Teams can still look shabby playing against a shabby opponent. Not so for the Thunder, despite the hodge-podge of combinations on display Tuesday night. OKC played a half-dozen newcomers from a group that had practiced together just two weeks.
“We have guys who get along, first of all,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained. “We have a team full of competitors that get along, and that’s always good. They all want to play. They all push each other in practice and they cheer for each other in the game. First team, second team, I feel comfortable enough to play anybody out there with each other.”
Thunder regulars continually stood and cheered on new teammates. All-Star guard Russell Westbrook didn’t seem surprised by the cohesiveness on a 19-man roster that must be reduced to 15 maximum on Oct. 29.
“Guys came out and did their job and did it at a high level,” Westbrook said of Tuesday’s game. “It’s great to see them out there playing hard. With our team, there’s not much difference (adding) a few other guys. The group that has been here for a while knows what to do. The other guys just have to follow. I don’t think it was that difficult for guys to come in and figure out how we do things around here and relay it to the floor.”
Center Hasheem Thabeet signed with the Thunder as a free agent on July 11. This is his fourth team in four seasons, having made previous stops in Memphis, Houston and Portland.
Asked to explain the “kumbaya” effect with Thunder teammates, Thabeet said: “We trust each other. We come in, we work hard. Once you work hard for your teammate, they see that trust. Everybody’s going at it in practice. We’re teaching each other.”
Is there more trust in OKC than at any of his earlier NBA stops?
“I wouldn’t want to talk about a bad situation, but this is a great situation,” Thabeet said diplomatically. “Guys are pushing each other. It’s all good.”
- John Rohde