So… it’s been about two months since Thunder VP of Human and Player performance; Donnie Strack sprinted across the court at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mere moments before the players for the Thunder and Jazz would get into position for the games opening tip off.
It’s been a long two months, and for some it’s been routine. You’re an essential worker, it’s business as usual for you. Or you’re quarantined in your home working from home, on paid leave, or drawing unemployment. Either way you are having to find new things to do with your time, and your energy.
Some take to TikTok and dance like no one is watching. Others engage in debate on Twitter. Some zone out playing video games. We aren’t alone in that though, as we sit at home bored and restless looking for the next semi-entertaining/mildly-distracting thing to do… NBA players face the same daunting task each day.
Let’s say for this exercise, all of the Thunder players have access to a basketball gym, weight room, player film, etc whatever it is they may need. Each player for the Thunder is going to work on perfecting a new skill, a new weapon in the arsenal, or further strengthen an advantage they already have. So let’s dive in, and see what everyone should do!
Andre Roberson: Just get better man. (Recovery)
If you are familiar with the Thunder you know that Dre was one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire association. You also probably know that he ruptured his patellar tendon when he went up for a lob more than two years ago now. While Dre has never been a threat offensively in terms of shooting (career splits of 48/25/47) his defense is game changing and he was really starting to find his niche on offense in being a smart cutter to make sleeping defenders pay. I don’t know how much of Dre we will get back, but the versatility that he provides defensively would be a huge asset to the second unit.
Mike Muscala: Hit the weight room. (Interior defense)
Rewind to that first night of Free Agency last summer, and news spread like wildfire the GM Sam Presti has personally flown to Minnesota. Thunder fans started dreaming of trading for RoCo to compliment Russ/PG, or the pipe dream of acquiring KAT. Neither of those proved to be true. He was visiting Mike Muscala at his home to recruit him to the Thunder. Could Mike have worked with a Russ/PG team? Sure. He shoots a career 36% from 3 as a 6’10” center. The thing that keeps him off the court is his ability to defend. I’m not asking the dude to come back and be able to hold James Harden. However, if Mike could hold his own on the block alongside Nerlens then we would have a brick wall at the rim…. in our second unit.
Deonte Burton: Work smarter, not harder. (Basketball IQ)
Thunder fans instantly became enamored with Deonte Burton in last years Summer League. Rocking a face mask for a broken nose, he was just playing so much more effort and passion than that of his teammates. He got some chances to shine last year with the Russ/PG team, and many fans believed he should start in place of Terrance Ferguson (more on him later). This year however Burton just hasn’t been able to take advantage of his opportunities. When he gets on the court he drives to the rim without a plan, and seems to shoot the ball with no conscience. In more attempts his splits have actually dropped (40/30/67 to 37/22/50). Take some time to watch some film, and get a better understanding of how to pick your spots and give yourself the best opportunity to stand out amongst the Thunders plethora of young wings.
Hamidou Diallo: Lets get shifty (Perimeter defense)
The Thunder acquires Hami on draft night last season from the Brooklyn Nets. Many question marks going into the season for Hami but he seemingly put an end to it dunking his way into Thunder fans hearts, and SportsCenter top 10 highlights. He won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest with one of the more memorable dunks in recent memory (my opinion is fact), and at the start of this season hit the ground running. Playing with relentless energy on both ends, prior to an injury. Easy answer for Hami (and honestly most of the wings) is better shooting from the perimeter, but Hami has a great frame to be a lockdown defender (7 foot wingspan) and otherworldly athleticism. If he could bear fruit defensively, and keep up his electric play of the offensive end… I could almost care less if he can shoot.
Abdel Nader: Fire away. (Keep improving that three ball)
Nader was an afterthought acquired in an afterthought of a trade. But he surprisingly contributed to the Russ/PG team with his ability to shoot the ball. But wait there’s more, to the surprise of many Nader actually improved his already shocking shooting (32% from 3 to 37% from 3). In fact, Nader’s splits have improved each year he has been in the league. If he can continue whatever work he obviously does in the offseason to hone in on his jumper, Nader can be the knockdown weapon we thought Álex Abrines was. (We miss you S3ñor)
Nerlens Noel: Stay in your lane, literally. (Keep improving your game down low)
Nerlens acquires via Free Agency was brought in to give Steven Adams a much needed rest for the Russ/PG season. During free agency last year he took us on quite the roller coaster. First declining his $1.9 million player option (understandable). Then signing a reported deal with the Thunder. He followed that up by posting question marks on his Instagram story. Thusly, this lead to him asking to Thunder to let him reevaluate his situation. He inevitably signed with the Thunder anyways.
Well, it was all worth it. Nerlens work inside hasn’t gone unnoticed. At 68.5% FG%, and 68.9 2P% he has done the best he has done in his career. Also, it’s by a considerable margin at that (61.1/61.5 previous best). Benefitting from the penetration of the three guard lineup, Nerlens has been a sure thing inside. Whatever you’re doing to make sure that remains the case, keep doing that.
Part 2 coming next week as we get into a position battle, the 6MOY, and the remaining players in the starting lineup.
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