"Billy Ball" Looks Good So Far

By Randy Renner

Last night after the Thunder clobbered Minnesota 122-99 head coach Billy Donovan thought things went fairly well. Today after studying the film he's still pleased his team has been able to pick up the new system so well and for the most part perform at a high level, but...

"Going back and lookin at the film we had some possessions, I don't wanna say they were wasted possessions but we got a little bit bogged down, the floor didn't move as well as it needed to and that's to be expected," he said. 

Right now, after slightly more than a week of practices, the foundation and the framework of the new system has been installed but there are still a lot of areas that need finishing touches.

"As hard as those guys have worked getting an opportunity to see themselves play against someone else was a good thing."

One thing that really stands out to Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook is how well things tend to flow on offense.

"Moving the ball, just movement of the basketball. I thought we did a really good job of moving the ball and gettin' open shots," Westbrook said.

They hit most of those open looks shooting 55.6 percent overall and right at 50 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

"I think guys passed up good shots for great shots," Westbrook pointed out. "We have players that are willing to do that and be unselfish, especially for the whole season it can create a lot of shots. Good shots and great shots."

"Yeah I think that happened," Donovan agreed. "To Russell's point I think they were really passing the basketball , being unselfish, moving the ball and you know I think 34 assists are a pretty high number."

Higher than in any game last season but Donovan says he doesn't have a particular number in mind he'd like to average.

"Anytime you get a high number of assists it means the ball is going in the basket and there were plays last night where we didn't did credited with an assist because we just missed the shot where there was some really, really nice passes made we just didn't finish the play."

That many assists and the fact that seven players got into double figures underlines even more how much the ball was being shared. Too many times last season Westbrook and his superstar teammate Kevin Durant were forced into situations where they were given the ball and made something happen on their own.

Donovan would prefer not having to always rely to his two superstars to make plays and win games.

"It was great to see them play the way they did along with the rest of the guys. We got a long way to go and we got a lot of things we have to work on but I thought those guys did a really nice job in the first pre-season game."

Defense Still Needs Work

There were times Wednesday night when the Thunder played lockdown defense but that seemed to erode as the lead swelled.

"We just gotta have a killer instinct," Westbrook said. "When we're up a certain amount of points and give leads back, it's not okay to do that. We've got to be strong-willed mentally especially on the road things like that can hurt us and change the game so we just gotta be mindful of that."

Adams Could Return Friday

Center Steven Adams did not play Wednesday night and his been limited in practice due to a sore back but he may be able to return to action against Fenerbahce Ulker.

"I'm hopeful," Donovan said after Thursday's practice. "Obviously the medical staff's gotta make that determination but I think he felt pretty good. He went through everything today and he went through shootaround (Wednesday) so the big thing is just how he feels (Friday)."

Thunder Off To Impressive Start

By Randy Renner

First of all it's really not smart to get too fired up about a win or too disappointed about a loss in the pre-season. Neither team involved is very focused on winning the game, especially early in the pre-season. It's much more about seeing how certain groups and rotations work together, fitting in new players and in the Thunder's case how well a new coach and his system are fitting in.

All that being said the Thunder got off to a very strong start in the Billy Donovan era last night, blowing past the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-99.

OKC scored 42 points in the first quarter on nearly 80 percent shooting. Superstar point guard Russell Westbrook played less than half the game but while he was in there he was totally in control and nearly finished with a triple-double.

Westbrook scored 14 points, handed out 13 assists and pulled down eight rebounds. His superstar teammate, Kevin Durant, appeared to have no problems with his surgically repaired right foot.

“Once I got on the court, I felt right at home,” Durant said after the game.

KD also played slightly more than 22 minutes and finished with 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting while handing our four assists and grabbing a couple of rebounds.

Donovan's offense stresses ball movement to get players open and it seemed to work just as designed. Seven Thunder players scored in double figures and the team shot 55.6 percent and handed out a whopping 34 assists.

“We had really good ball movement and player movement,” Donovan said. “We made the extra pass and had good looks. That was encouraging to see. They played unselfishly.”

“It felt like we were just playing our offense,” Durant explained. “That’s what we’ve been teaching for a week now. Moving, flowing, body movement, passing the ball and making the extra pass. Guys did that.”

Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, like Durant, was playing his first game coming back from surgery and showed no ill effects. He dominated on both ends of the floor scoring 18 points in a little less than 20 minutes on 8-for-12 shooting (2-for-3 on threes) while also providing stout defense at rim.

“He was really focused,” Donovan said. “His defense tonight was really good. He was a presence at the basket, he shot blocked and he ran the floor very well.”

It wasn't all good news, there were some defensive breakdowns in the second quarter when the backups were on the floor. Rookie point guard Cameron Payne seemed to get flustered at certain points and turned the ball over three times.

Center Enes Kanter started the game and was outstanding on offense (16 points on 8-for-10 shooting) but on defense he had problems containing Timberwolves rookie Karl Anthony-Towns who scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting. But Kanter also blocked a couple of shots, altered a couple of others and picked up a steal so he did show signs of getting better.

Again this was a pre-season game against a team that's probably not very good but still the Thunder showed hustle and they showed just how well this new offense can work, providing open looks all over the floor.

The Thunder will practice this afternoon as they get ready for the first home pre-season game coming up Friday night against Fenerbahce Ulker from Turkey. Tipoff will be a little past 7pm inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and like last night there will be no TV broadcast available.



Questions At Shooting Guard And Center For Tonight's Game

By Randy Renner

After a long, looooong summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder are ready to get back on an NBA basketball court and play a real game. Or at least something kinda close to a real game.

The pre-season schedule opens tonight in Minneapolis, the same place where the Thunder ended the 2014-15 regular season back last April.

That night a wounded Thunder team, led by Dion Waiters season-high 33 points, blistered the T-Wolves 138-113. The Thunder were missing both Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, who were continuing to recover from season ending surgeries, but they were playing for their playoff lives. Shortly after OKC dispatched Minnesota the San Antonio Spurs lost to New Orleans giving the Pelicans 8th seed in the playoffs and ending the Thunder's season early.

Tonight Durant and Ibaka are back and both will start along with Russell Westbrook. The rest of the Thunder's starting lineup, especially the shooting guard spot, is up for debate even among the coaches.

"I think we're probably gonna talk a little bit more about that," head coach Billy Donovan told reporters after Tuesday's practice. "I would say there could be different starting lineups coming in and out of the half than what started the game there."

Donovan had Andre Roberson, who started most of last season's games at shooting guard, in that spot on Sunday at the team's annual blue/white scrimmage and with all the talk about setting a defensive identity early in games Roberson would be the obvious choice again. But Dion Waiters showed off more of a desire to pitch in on the defensive end in that scrimmage and more of a willingness to pass to open teammates so don't be surprised if Waiters starts the second half at shooting guard.

The other question is at center where  Steven Adams would likely would start if he's healthy but, he probably won't play tonight because of a sore back. Enes Kanter may get the nod, but Nick Collison, who started for the white team in place of Adams on Sunday could also get the nod tonight.

The Thunder did not include a probable starting lineup in the game notes for tonight's game. The T-Wolves, who are playing this season with assistant coach Sam Mitchell at the helm while Flip Saunders undergoes cancer treatments, has indicated he will start rookie Karl Anthony- Towns at center, Andrew Wiggins and Kevin Garnett at the forward spots Zach LaVine at shooting guard and Ricky Rubio at point guard.

The Thunder starters are expected to play 18 to 22 minutes or so and Donovan says he will probably switch up some of the rotations and perhaps do some experimenting with some guys playing different positions too.

"I think looking at different lineups will be important," Donovan said, "But you know a lot of that stuff with the lineups we're gonna have to come up with different packages for different alignments. If we wanna play D.J. (Augustin) and Russell together at times, if we wanna slide Kevin to the four spot, so there's still things that will evolve as we go forward."

Donovan is comfortable the team knows enough of the new offense and defense to make it through the game without any serious problems but he admits there's still a lot more to get in.

"We've got a good amount of stuff in but there's a lot more we need to do."

Tonight's game will be purely about the Thunder. The staff hasn't really spent any time studying the Timberwolves which is common at this point in the year.

Neither the Thunder nor the Timberwolves are providing a telecast of the game but you can hear it on the Thunder Radio Network. Oklahoma City will host Fenerbahce Ulker from Turkey at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday Night.




Durant Fights Obesity, Helps Kids

By Randy Renner

Thunder superstar Kevin Durant walked out onto a new basketball court that bears his name to the wild cheers of more than a hundred young students at Oklahoma City's North Highland Elementary School Monday morning.

Durant, his foundation and Nike built an outdoor basketball court at the school to give kids another safe place to play the game Durant loves so much.

"I just wanted to teach these kids how I was brought up and the values I learned from being outdoors," Durant said.

When KD was growing up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, there were several outdoor basketball courts. It was a poor area, so the courts weren't always in the best shape but, kids would gather and hoop it up anyway just happy to be outside.

"That's where we all went. We didn't always have access to a gym," he recalled. "Some days we didn't even play basketball we just sat around and talked to each other."

In those days, technology wasn't quite where it is today, and most kids in Durant's neighborhood might not have been able to afford the latest video game anyway, so they always played outside.

"I think we're starting to shy away from that now."

The statistics support Durant’s concerns about the growing lack of youth involvement in outdoor activities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects about 12.7 million children under the age of 19. The rates tend to be especially higher in low-income households.

“Living an active lifestyle, I think that’s something as a community, we’ve gotten away from,” Durant said. “Just having this opportunity to refurbish an outdoor court means a lot to me. I think something like this, even though it’s on a small scale, it can help for years and years to come.”

Anita Jones, the principal at North Highland Elementary agrees.

“I think it is very important,” Jones said. “We live in a society now where a lot of students suffer from obesity and juvenile diabetes because they don’t have those interactive skills. They are not active. They are couch potatoes. So this is a way for them to come out, get involved and be active and just have fun and be kids again.”

The court at North Highland is the first Durant and his team have built in North America but it won't be the last. He hopes to add more courts here in the Oklahoma City area and probably in his old neighborhood back home near D.C.

“Kevin said this community is a lot like the community he grew up in,” Jones said. “A lot of single parents, high poverty area. And he wanted to give back and he wanted the kids to know that he cares. It’s so important when you have celebrities and you have those people that are there that will reach back and try to pull somebody else up.”



Durant Torches Stephen A. Smith on Lakers Rumors

By Randy Renner

Thunder superstar Kevin Durant left no doubt about what he thinks of ESPN's Stephen A. Smith's reporting of sources saying Durant has interest in playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season saying "he's lying" during a post-practice interview session with reporters.

"I don't talk to Stephen A. Smith at all. Nobody in my family, my friends, they don't talk to Stephen A. Smith. So he's lying." 

Earlier this week Smith said on ESPN's First Take, "I'm hearing if Kevin Durant doesn't stay in OKC, LA is his primary objective and landing spot as opposed to South Beach or even his home in Wahington, DC." 

Back in August during an interview session at a USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas, Durant was asked about all the rumors that will be coming out during the season as his free agency gets closer. He said then, "I've got two people that I trust with my life, my agent and my manager who's my best friend as well. I trust them with my life. So if you hear sources or anything, don't believe it if it didn't come from them." 

When asked today about having to answer questions about rumors like the one Smith reported Durant again said, "Like I've said before I have people who I talk to about everything and I know for a fact they didn't talk to (Smith) so he's making up stories." 

(Editor's Note) Durant's full interview session can be heard below. The Stephen A. Smith questions come toward the end of the session.