Kevin Durant has improved his passing and has routinely flirted with having a triple-double; improving his passing, forsaken the ISO-heavy play that resulted in a plethora of turnovers while improving his already efficient scoring. Where as Durant has flirted with the triple-double, Russell Westbrook has become the definition of the statistic.
Add into the equation that the Thunder’s role players in Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter and friends have all similarly raised their games and you have the Oklahoma City fans expected during the preseason. The key in all of this however lies with the head man, Billy Donovan.
Throughout the season, there have been times when the disconnect between the players and Donovan’s philosophy he was trying to sell them was visible. Nights like blowing a 22-point lead in Los Angeles against the Clippers. A Sunday afternoon dud against LeBron James and the Cavaliers or a complete head scratcher against Minnesota. Not to mention the Thunder’s rivals in Golden State and San Antonio are playing at a historic NBA pace above them.
All of this made quite the recipe for Thunder Nation impatience.
Routinely throughout these blown leads and embarrassing losses, Donovan remained true and never wavered.
“There have been times where we haven’t finished well but still made enough plays to eek out a win, because of that the light wasn’t shining on the things we needed to improve on,” Donovan said after the aforementioned loss to the Clippers earlier in March. “I think the best thing for this team is adversity. It needs adversity.”
At the time, many fans thought this was a silly thing to say. It is easy to be caught in the moment and rely heavily on the latest game instead of seeing the 82 game season as a whole. Donovan knew all along this team could sneeze its way to a 50-plus win season. What he wanted was improvement on the tendencies that got the Thunder beat in the past – iso-heavy play, turnovers, defensive lapses, etc.
Earlier this morning, Donovan appeared on the Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix. In it he reaffirmed his stance and philosophy as the head coach of the Thunder.
“I really enjoy being apart of something bigger than myself,” Donovan told Mannix. “I’m going to be consistent, I’m going to be myself and I’m going to coach the way I coach.”
Donovan’s humility shines through in his interviews. His attitude and optimistic outlook during the low points of the season have helped steer Oklahoma City towards peaking at possibly the best time.
Donovan’s self-described “democratic,” view on the Thunder may bring Oklahoma City to heights not seen before. From the staggering of Durant and Westbrook “At the beginning of the season, Kevin was comfortable playing the first 12 minutes, we had some problems, and finally Kevin said ‘Coach let’s try it.’” to remaining true to himself and his message after numerous let-downs this year, Donovan has remained a constant for the Thunder.
Of course, the NBA post-season is a different animal and will present a challenge to the rookie head coach. After nearly one season of experience, Donovan has shown adaptability, a desire to improve upon negative traits and had a democratic relationship with his two star players and team. These are three things any NBA fan would want in their head coach.
In recent seasons, the Thunder has suffered through inconsistency. Not so much in the results on the floor but mainly with untimely injuries, a coaching change and constant shake-ups in the roster or rotations. As we head closer to the playoffs, Donovan’s humility and attitude are beginning to show themselves more frequently. With players like Durant and Westbrook, a voice and mind like Donovan’s can work wonders possibly for OKC.
If you would like to listen to the Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix interview with Donovan you can find it here. The Vertical with Chris Mannix feat. Billy Donovan.