This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.
When the Thunder went into the 2009-10 season, their expectations weren’t that high. They were coming off a 23-win season that saw them change coaches mid-season and continued cultivating the young talent that would eventually become their core. They drafted James Harden with the 3rd pick in that year’s draft and ushered in Serge Ibaka, who was drafted in the previous year’s draft, but stayed in Europe for an extra season of development. With the coaching staff firmly entrenched under Scott Brooks and a full year after the Seattle to Oklahoma City transition, the team was looking for tangible improvements on the floor and in the win column.
Hindsight being what it is, the most important addition to the Thunder that season didn’t even don a jersey. After Scott Brooks took over for PJ Carlismo in late November of the previous season, the team also fired Carlismo’s number one assistant Paul Westhead. On December 31st, probably in response to Brooks’ inexperience as a head coach, the team hired veteran assistant coach Ron Adams, whose specialty was defense. The teachings of Adams didn’t immediately pay dividends as the team saw their opponents’ scoring average go from 102.2 ppg before his arrival to 103.7 after his arrival. But the seeds of his defensive principles started to take root after the team had an entire offseason and training camp with Adams.
The team came out the next season with a defensive mindset that immediately showed results not only in the stat column, but also in the win column. They improved their defensive rating from 20th to 9th in the league, and held opponents to 98.0 ppg, which was a 5 point improvement from the previous season. The continued evolution of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook into All-NBA stewards also helped in the improvement process, as well. The result was a 27 win improvement that netted the Thunder the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Their opponent in wait were the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Run