Scotty Brooks has been an excellent coach for the Thunder. But Foreman Scotty faces perhaps his most difficult challenge in his — can you believe it? — sixth season.
Brooks has to be a different coach in 2013-14.
Less attaboys, more listen-up. Fewer pats on the back, more crushed felt tips on the eraseboard. Less exhorting, more demanding.
For this Thunder team to remain the NBA title contender it has been two years running, Brooks is going to have coach up this roster that has taken a step back offensively.
The transition last season from James Harden to Kevin Martin went smoothly. Circle K is a professional scorer. But no way will the transition from Martin to some collection of Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher be as cushy.
The Thunder still has two of the world's best players in Kevin Durant and, soon enough, Russell Westbrook. But gone are the days of rolling the ball out on the court and saying sic ‘em. The NBA's best defenses will more than ever make the Thunder work for points.
“I think we need better execution throughout our offense,” Nick Collison said. “We need to get more shots, more baskets, out of good offense. Not having to create offense.”
Back when the Thunder had Harden to go along with Durant and Westbrook, offense came easy. If a play broke down, who cared? Chances were great that whoever had the ball could take their defender one-on-one in a variety of ways.
Durant and Westbrook still can do that to some degree. But we saw in the Memphis playoff series of 2011, and the NBA Finals of 2012, and particularly in the Memphis series last playoffs sans Westbrook, that it's all hands on deck. And that includes the offensive coordination.
“We're not going to give the ball to Serge (Ibaka) and say, ‘Go score,'” Collison said. “That's not good offense for us. There's very few guys in the league good at that.
“Even Kevin, who's probably the best scorer in the world, we still gotta get him shots out of the offense. We can't say, ‘Here's the ball, go score.' It's too hard.”
Made even more difficult by the Thunder's apparent lack of outside shooting. Martin was the Thunder's most frequent and most accurate 3-point shooter. Durant and Thabo Sefolosha no doubt will remain solid from long range, but who's making up for Martin's void?
That means the Thunder won't be able to stretch the floor as much as in the past, which means narrower driving lanes for Durant, Westbrook and Jackson.
Enter Brooks. He's got to devise schemes that work and get a core of players who always have played open-range ball to more closely follow a script.
Brooks never has been one to admit that the Thunder offense could use some tinkering. “We have a terrific offensive system,” Brooks said.
And the data supports Brooks. The Thunder offense has been the NBA's best over the last three years.
Last season, OKC ranked second in the NBA in offense, 1.102 points per possession. The Heat led the league at 1.103. In 2011-12, the Thunder ranked second at 1.071, behind only the Spurs. In 2010-11, the Thunder was fourth at 1.086, behind Denver, San Antonio and Miami.
Over the three years, the Thunder has averaged 1.086 points per possession, Miami 1.080 and San Antonio 1.079.
But that kind of production is going to be difficult to maintain without a Harden/Martin third wheel. It's going to be impossible to maintain while Westbrook recovers from knee surgery.
The best shot in basketball is an open shot. Lamb shooting an open 15-footer is better than Durant or Westbrook shooting a contested 15-footer (I guess Andre Roberson actually puts this theory to the ultimate test), so Brooks is charged with getting more open 15-footers for his troops.
And Brooks knows it.
“We still want to play good basketball no matter who's out there,” Brooks said. “I think it's important to have multiple playmakers.
“Finishers are not just about Kevin and Russell and Reggie attacking the basket. Finishers are about Thabo getting to the right spot and making his shots. Serge getting to his spots and making his shots. We have a team full of those guys.”
The Thunder has had a team full of those guys for three years and largely disdained manufactured offense. This roster can't afford that mistake. Foreman Scotty has to coach differently in 2013-14.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.