With his team struggling on offense at the outset of the season, Thunder coach Scott Brooks tried to explain what he wanted from his players.
He wanted a minimum of five passes. Those passes should be quick and with purpose. He wanted players cutting sharply.
You might as well have been watching "Hoosiers" because Brooks had suddenly become Gene Hackman.
"All we need to do is add the 'picket fence,' " Brooks deadpanned.
Now, boys, don't get caught watchin' the paint dry.
Hoosiers was released in November 1986, which makes the movie older than eight players on the Thunder roster, but Brooks' message appears to have found the mark.
The Thunder began the season as a pitiful team offensively, shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 19.0 percent from 3-point range while averaging a measly 15.0 assists the first four outings.
Defense also was a concern at the time, but Brooks strived for a major momentum shift offensively. Though Brooks continually preached like Hackman, there was no improved ball movement.
The turnaround finally came when Brooks dangled some bait in front of his players before a Nov. 17 home game against Houston. Hand out 20 assists or more, Brooks said, and there would be no practice before flying to Boston the next day.
The Thunder dished out a season-high 26 assists in a 17-point win against the Rockets and assembled a five-game winning streak during which it averaged 21.0 assists.
"We kind of rolled from there," All-Star forward Kevin Durant said. "Ever since then, we've been trying to put a number on how many assists we're going to have. I guess it helped."
Point guard Russell Westbrook has become quite the dime collector. He has 11 games with double-digit assists and ranks seventh in the league at 8.8 per game.
Teammates also are doing their part. Jeff Green set a career-high with seven assists at Toronto. Durant recently had back-to-back games with six assists.
"If you have only one guy making all the passes, you're not going to have good ball movement," Brooks said. "Everybody has to get involved. It starts with Russell, but the other four guys have to think pass if they don't have good shots."
Durant smiled and added, "Everybody touches the basketball, then everybody's happy. Point blank. Everybody's contributing. We're being unselfish, and that's the great part about it."
To Brooks, basketball becomes a thing of beauty when there's ball movement.
"When we do it, yes, it's pretty," Brooks said. "When teams do it against us, it's not as much fun the watch."
Sometimes the ball inexplicably gets stuck in a player's hands, and a sticky basketball is no good.
"We've got some talented guys who at times feel they can manufacture their own shot," Brooks said. "There are times in a game where that's good. When they have a good matchup, I want them to be aggressive. But the ball sometimes does get sticky, not just with our team but with the league in general. The focus needs to continue to be moving the ball, and yourself, to get a good shot."
The obvious reason the Thunder has more assists is because the team is making more shots. Brooks and his players are adamant they were taking good shots early in the season, they just weren't falling.
"Now guys are stepping into their shots and making them," Brooks said. "That helps everybody's confidence."
The Thunder gradually has climbed from a convincing 30th (last) in the league in assists at 14.4 per game to 24th at 19.1 per game. OKC also has climbed out of the cellar in field-goal percentage to 20th at 45.0 percent. The team remains tied for last in 3-point percentage at 31.9 percent, but is far removed from an arctic shooting percentage previously in the teens.
By the way, Brooks said his team does have a "picket fence" play, but it goes by a different name.
"Maybe I need to call it that," Brooks said with a smile.