Spacing and ball movement have been Brooks’ biggest points of emphasis, which has presented the Thunder with better looks and explains the boost in assists and field-goal percentage. Carlesimo — who admittedly didn’t have many offensive sets in the playbook at the start of the regular season — often had only a couple of options each trip down the court. The vanilla play-calling frequently led the Thunder’s offense to stall and cause players to force bad shots late in the shot clock.
But Brooks’ philosophy has helped the Thunder cut down on turnovers, going from a league-worst 17 per game under Carlesimo to a 14.9-turnover average with Brooks.
Defensively is where the Thunder has gotten worse under Brooks. Opponent scoring, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage have increased over the past 13 games, as the Thunder’s smaller lineup has backfired at the other end.
Players are also adapting to a new defensive philosophy under Brooks after applying a complete opposite approach throughout October and much of November.
In Brooks’ system, the Thunder is relying more on packing the lane and help defense than denying the ball on the perimeter. It’s a pick-your-poison philosophy in which the goal is to force teams to score from the perimeter rather than at the rim.
"I even still catch myself doing some stuff that I was doing the first 13 games as opposed to the stuff I should be doing now that we’re trying to incorporate,” Mason said.
By all accounts, the Thunder’s next step is learning how to close out games. Oklahoma City has done it only once under Brooks, on Nov. 29 at Memphis, and can count eight other games that could have gone the other way had it played better down the stretch.
But what’s most encouraging is the Thunder is at least now drawing up plays during last-minute timeouts rather than contemplating dinner plans.
"(Finishing games) comes with our young guys learning and us as a team learning how to finish games off the right way,” Mason said. "We’ve put ourselves in a position to win. Now it’s just a matter of closing the game out.”