Ever since the Thunder arrived in Oklahoma City five years ago, performing up to its own standards has always been its prime focus.
The organization continues to live by the principles it established in its first year each and every day, and sticking to those core tenets helps keep players, coaches and staff steady. Hard work, consistency and synergy throughout the organization are ways the Thunder has been successful in the past. That is the model for the team moving forward, and under General Manager Sam Presti, the mindset has always been to take a process-based approach to find sustainable success.
By increasing its winning percentage in each of the past four seasons, the Thunder has risen into a contender over a short span of time. The team is coming off its first 60-win season and the number one seed in the Western Conference, but Thunder is never satisfied with nor does it measure itself by results on the scoreboard. Instead, it derives its worth from the work it puts in, concentrating on making positive strides in the present and the future.
“We’re building a franchise and not just a team,” Presti said. “The cement is certainly not dry on the identity of the Thunder.”
“It’s one thing to win in the NBA, and it’s another thing to win under varying conditions over a long period of time,” Presti continued. “Obviously, the goal of our organization is to be good for a long period of time.”
Helmed by Head Coach Scott Brooks, the Thunder’s defense made the most combined steals and blocks per game of any team while holding opponents to just 42.5 percent shooting, which was good for second best in the entire league. Overall, the Thunder had a league-best plus-9.2 point differential. On the other end of the floor the Thunder plays an up-tempo, exciting brand of offense that relies on sharing the ball and players understanding their roles. In 2012-13, the Thunder ranked second in the NBA by shooting 48.1 percent from the field as a team and third in points per game with 105.7.
With a core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, all of whom are under the age of 25, the Thunder has a vibrant, talented trio that is aligned with savvy veterans like Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins. Under the guidance of Brooks and the ever-expanding leadership of Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder is growing, maturing and evolving with each practice and game.
"We have a bright future," Brooks said. "We have a good team that is going to get better."
Westbrook, the Thunder’s engine on offense and the ball hawk at the head of the defense, is paired with the extremely efficient Durant, whose scoring arsenal multiplies each summer as he dedicates time to his craft. Ibaka’s impact on the defensive end is intimidating to opponents, as his penchant for shot-blocking deters opponents from entering the lane. The Congolese forward has also become one of the league’s premier mid-range catch-and-shoot players, helping him average a career-best 13.2 points per game last year. Off the bench, up-and-coming third-year guard Reggie Jackson provides an explosive punch to complement the two-way stability that Collison provides.
Each of those players have been drafted by the organization and cultivated as players and people under the tutelage of Thunder coaches and staff. Their gradual improvement over the course of their careers has been due to the meticulous approach the coaches, players and basketball operations staff takes every day. For the Thunder, the internal development of its players has been and continues to be paramount to success this year and in the future. Not only does it take talented players, coaches and staff, but also people who are self-starters and motivated from within to be better than they were the day before.
“We expect those players on our roster to continue to grow and evolve, and that’s reason why we’ve chosen to take the path of building a team in this way and having it constituted,” Presti explained. “Because we feel like by staying true to that process we’ll continue to grow and be able to absorb some things along the way.”
The unpredictability of an NBA season along with the emotional peaks and valleys can be avoided by the steady approach that the Thunder takes each day at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center. As the players transition from summer workouts to training camp, the habits that have been built over the years will be maintained. The consistency with which players, coaches and staff operate during the offseason and then into the season creates a seamless transition into training camp, preseason and then the regular season.
The caretakers of the Thunder organization since its creation have been Presti, Brooks, Durant, Westbrook and Collison, and having that stability fosters easy transitions throughout the year. While Presti sets the tone organizationally and Brooks manages it on the court, players are responsible to one another to uphold the standards set forth by team leaders. The aforementioned Thunder stalwarts help younger players who enter the system understand the team’s processes and guide them into life as a member of the Thunder program.
“The thing that has really been our engine for our improvement on a year to year basis has been the internal development of our players and that is accredited to our coaching staff,” Presti explained. “Everybody has things they want to work on year after year, and that’s one of the benefits of having a group of guys that we feel like are driven internally to try to get better.”
With 2013 first round draft picks Steven Adams and Andre Roberson joining second-year men Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones, the Thunder still has plenty of young talent to be brought along in their development by staff and teammates. Each player on the Thunder roster will be counted on in some respect throughout the year – be it in practice, shoot-around or in a game. At any moment, every player must be ready to contribute, which is why each man’s intensity and diligence will be crucial in 2013-14.