The Emergence of the Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder has been one of the biggest surprises thus far in the NBA this season. They are currently the sixth seed in the Western Conference with a record of 37-23 behind the Phoenix Suns. This time last year, the Thunder are 20-50 and on their way to yet another last place finish. What a difference a year makes! Kevin Durant’s improvement on defense and their improved road record are two of the biggest factors this year along with the emergence of a bunch of young players with raw talent playing team basketball. The crazy thing is that these young guys have not yet developed to their full potential as players. Their days of enjoying flying under the radar and being overlooked are simply gone. The Oklahoma City Thunder are now getting the respect they deserve and they now find themselves in the middle of a playoff hunt. Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti joined The Sports Animal in OKC to talk about whether he felt they could win as many games as they will win this year before the season, whether he knew what type of coach Scotty Brooks was when he hired him, and whether he is satisfied with whom he has on his squad or if he feels he is another player or two away from being a great team.
On the last three games on the road:
“Well you know the road is a great place for any team regardless of age or experience to continue to learn about themselves and where they are, especially at this time of the year. Because you have got teams playing for all different types of reasons. I think you saw us play some good basketball. Some of our basketball wasn’t as good as we would like it to be obviously. Scott and I talk about this a lot; anytime you get on the road it is really kind of a group mentality that takes shape with your team and an opportunity to improve and really learn about who you are at that point in time.”
Whether he felt they could win as many games as they will win this year before the season:
“Realistically coming into the year there was a lot of unknowns about our team specifically because there just hasn’t been that much continuity to the group. I get asked that question a lot. The thing that I always say is that I am around our guys everyday and I see the kind of work that they put in and I see the kind of time and the commitment that they have made to each other and the organization. I definitely will not underestimate them. At the same time, what I like about them is that they understand and they far from arrived. We have a long way to go, but when you are around them every day I think you certainly, it is easy to pull for this group and it’s exciting to be a part of them and support them.”
Whether he knew what type of coach Scotty Brooks was when he hired him:
“Well I think one of the things about Scott that I have learned over the years and have continued to learn each day that we work together, is he is incredibly consistent. This is not the type of person that is going to change with the weather. When you go through some adversity with someone, as we did last season, and you learn a lot about them and there are certain times where you know things weren’t going well for us. We were not playing well or catching some bad breaks. He is a consistent guy. He is a character guy. He is passionate and I think those are things that we want to be about and I am really pleased to be able to be able to go to work with him and learn each day how he conducts himself and how he feels about our organization and our vision.”
What he saw in Russell Westbrook that he thought he could be a good point guard that everyone didn’t see:
“Well I don’t think it is a matter of seeing things that other people don’t. I am not trying to be cliché with you. We don’t have all of the answers by any stretch… Russell was really a guy we looked at for a couple of reasons and not just because we thought that he could grow into that position. First of all, I think we wanted to continue to layer the team with hard workers, with guys who had real fibers to them. Competitors but also people and a guy that we felt like could grow in our environment, that kind of environment that we were trying to create. We thought that he would be not only important for him to grow that way but we thought that he could really help us with the guys that we had. The other thing is that if you look at the league and kind of how it is going, the rules changes and all of the different things that have kind of come about. There is a huge premium on speed. There is a huge premium on dribble-penetration and if you contain that on one end and keep it on the other I think it does give you an advantage and Russell at his size can do those things, but as the case of the other players we have, he is still an unfinished product. He is still working to get better and one of the things that I really do appreciate about him and has stayed consistent is he really has a hunger to get better and he is going to keep working at it and I think his best basketball is in front of him.”
Whether he is satisfied with whom he has on his squad or if he feels he is another player or two away from being a great team:
“Well my job is always to try to make the team better. To your point, sometimes that is going out and looking to acquire somebody via trade or through the draft or free agency. Then there is other ways where you may sit back and look at your teams and say that we need to learn more about it. This is not a finished product and before we go make additions or huge changes, we need to learn about what we have. But I think we have got to look and see how we do finish, how we play during meaningful games that like we have obviously this is the most important on hand is San Antonio. When you have a young team you are always learning about them, you really are. We will sit down at the end of the season and try to map out what we think is best for the franchise. We do feel that we have some guys in place now that are going to keep improving and I think there is value in those guys playing together and learning each other. It is not going to seamless. There is going to be plenty of bumps along the road, but you have just got to determine what is best for long term and stick with that.