For most of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s life there has been the same face patrolling the sidelines night after night; The dirty blond hair, oval framed specs, with an indifferent look painted across his face could only be Scott Brooks. Though he may have looked like the average Joe, Brooks was soon as synonymous with OKC as Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Sam Presti.
However, after failing to make the playoffs last year--due mostly to KD’s extended absence--Presti thought that the team has hit its peak under Brooks’ tutelage.
Enter Billy Donovan.
From the moment Brooks was let go it seemed that the job was Donovan’s to lose. An introductory press conference with Donovan and Presti looking like they just got done shooting a buddy cop film did nothing to distance the thought that Donovan was Presti’s guy.
Scott Brooks had an extraordinary run bringing the Thunder from the bottom of the Western Conference to one of the league’s elite teams and perennial title contenders. Now the pressure to keep this team atop the NBA and even elevate their play to a new level. With Kevin Durant an impending free agent this offseason things are even more high-intense in OKC.
With Donovan signed in for the next five years it’s going to be crucial to get to know his tactics and philosophies in order to see just how things have changed since the departure of Brooks.
That’s why I’m starting a feature that will take a look into Donovan’s coaching decisions following a week’s worth of play. As an introduction into what to expect in future pieces we will take a look at what Donovan did on the sidelines with respect to the team’s rotations in the Thunder’s first game post All-Star break against the Indiana Pacers. Each feature will end with an analysis that rate’s Donovan’s choices on a scale of Billy’s. The scale goes: Bad = Billy Zane, Moderate = Billy Baldwin, Exceed Expectations = Billy Mays, Good = Billy Crystal, and outstanding = Billy Joel (and when he does something just genuinely cool that = Billy Dee Williams)
Sticking with the continuity that the Thunder had built before the break Donovan started Westbrook, Dion Waiters, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams. One thing that immediately was noticeable was that Donovan let the team play through a slow start early in the game. As each team controlled the game with their defensive play Donovan didn’t call a timeout early and ultimately the offense for OKC began to pick up.
In terms of substitutions, Enes Kanter checked in for Adams and was the first player off the bench about halfway into the quarter. Next was a slightly surprising choice of Nick Collison--around nine minutes in--who replaced Ibaka. With the Pacers having a solid four-man rotation of big men (Ian Mahinmi, Myles Turner, LaVoy Allen and Jordan HIll) it’s easy to see why Donovan choose to remain big at all times. Finally a double sub of Kyle Singler and Cameron Payne came in for Dion Waiters and Russell Westbrook.
KD played the entire first quarter and was given the reigns to the offense for the final two and a half minutes. As a team the philosophy seemed to be to let Westbrook facilitate for others to start the game (had six assists in the opening quarter) and try to get Durant into a rhythm and let the offense run through him with the subs giving the other starters an opportunity to rest.
The second quarter began with Donovan using an all-bench lineup as Anthony Morrow came on to replace Durant. This lineup only got a little over two minutes of game time and in that time the game remained tied as both teams only score two points.
Adams was the first to check in and we got the Adams-Kanter frontcourt pairing that Donovan has utilized often this year. Westbrook had a six minute rest and was back in with 8:37 left in the second quarter. The Adams-Kanter pairing only got a few minutes before Ibaka returned and replaced Kanter. KD, like Westbrook, got a six minute rest before he was brought back into the game. Lastly, Waiters returned with under five minutes and the starters closed the half and brought a 51-44 lead into the half.
In terms of rotations the third quarter was a mirror of the first. The only change was Donovan took an early timeout in the third. The Pacers started the quarter hot and despite the deficit dropping only from seven to six momentum clearly had flipped to Indiana’s favor.
The fourth was a change as he sent out Payne, Morrow, Singler, Kanter to start, but inserted Adams along with them. KD and Russ both entered the game after a four-minute break this time and it looked like the closing lineup would be Russ, Morrow, KD, Serge and Adams. However, Waiters replaced Morrow in the final five minutes.
All in all the minutes were dished out as follows: Each starter played over 30 minutes as Durant led the team with 38 with Westbrook closely trailing at 37. Ibaka was third with 34 and Adams had 32 while Waiters clocked in at 31. Kanter’s 20 minutes were the most of any bench player and Singler (13), Morrow (12), Payne (11) and Collison (8) rounded out the rest.
Noticeably missing from the game was the newest Thunder player, Randy Foye. Foye who was acquired at the trade deadline for DJ Augustin and Steve Novak came in and took their minutes by the way, those minutes of course being zero. In the future I believe Foye will be taking away minutes from Morrow and Singler. Or in games when a fourth big isn’t necessary he could even replace Collison’s minutes completely.
In the end it was just another regular night for Donovan and the coaching staff.
ANALYSIS: Billy Baldwin. Decent, but nothing spectacular or rememorable.