OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder are a team in search of an identity. Ask any of the players, and they’ll tell you that sharing the basketball and communication have been at the forefront of that search.
“Sharing the ball,” Chris Paul said today. “That’s the thing we’ve been doing all week is sharing the ball and moving the ball.”
While the Thunder are significantly worse after the trades of Russell Westbrook and Paul George, there is still talent on this roster. Talent is geared to run a more fluid offense where sharing the ball is paramount.
“It’s going to be the secret of our success — the ball movement,” Danilo Gallinari said on Thursday. “We’ve been moving the ball very well the first two days already, great rhythm. The chemistry is growing, and everybody knows the way that we want to play so it’s been great.”
Sound from Chris Paul and Billy Donovan on the Thunder’s importance of ball movement during camp and the importance of communication. Why it’s difficult for younger players to talk on the floor. pic.twitter.com/SgBkxvkihG
— Brady Trantham (@BradyDoesSports) October 5, 2019
It makes a lot of sense. Paul’s passing has been elite for over a decade now. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a versatile guard/wing combo-player who showed the ability to play team basketball in his rookie season. Gallinari’s a player who excels off of ball movement.
These are things we’ve always heard about what a Billy Donovan offense should be.
At Florida, Donovan’s offenses thrived on making the extra pass. The thought was to bring that philosophy to a Kevin Durant/Westbrook-led team and rid itself of the heavy-isolation basketball. That has yet to happen, but this is Donovan’s first chance without a iso-heavy, foundational star on the roster.
“When you’re playing downhill so you can try to find ways from there,” Donovan said on Tuesday. “Once there’s help, to try to move the ball, make the extra pass and try to generate more opportunities to do that and shoot.”
One thing that makes all this happen is communication. Paul and Steven Adams are masters of being vocal leaders on the floor during games. But OKC will have to rely on a plethora or young, inexperienced players who have yet to play a role with heavy responsibility. This will be the work in progress.
“They hear me talk and try to hear my voice, and that’s the thing that as a young player you don’t really understand,” Paul said today. “You watch the NBA, you see all the games, but you don’t understand the thing that separates the elite teams is the talking and the communication.”
It is easy to apply this to almost any profession. Anytime you are the new guy/gal, you are more inclined to keep your head down, learn quietly and try not to piss anyone off.
“Might be out of your comfort zone,” Paul added. “I’ve been on a lot of teams where you talk in the locker room about everything, but when you get to the court — that’s one of the biggest things I learned as a young player is that you’ve got to talk. Good, bad or indifferent, that communication helps you.”
Donovan mentioned that he tries to put his players in drills that encourage communication. Without talking, the players fail the drill.
“Well if I’m a guard and my back is to the basket and I don’t know who’s coming in to pick and roll or who’s coming into a screening action,” Donovan said. “The only way I’m going to know that is by talking.”
If the Thunder are going to take advantage of their versatile roster, the young guys will have to talk on the floor with confidence. That is asking a lot. Even players like Terrance Ferguson and Andre Roberson who have experience as starters will have to continue to develop. Roberson, more so will have to return back to the confidence he once had after missing 20 months of basketball.
Communication is what will set the Thunder back early on. If they develop and the young guys grow up quickly, OKC could set the foundation for something interesting moving forward.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12. For Sooner fans, you can also listen to the “Inside OU” podcast with John Hoover, Rufus Alexander and Brady. Brady is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma class of 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports