As the NBA draws closer to the season resuming on July 30th, teams have conducted press conferences with members of the media. The Oklahoma City Thunder chose to hold their conference yesterday; Billy Donovan and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander were the two people who were made available to answer questions from the media.
There were a few interesting takeaways from the presser on a number of different topics. The safe return of basketball, Andre Roberson and the team’s preparation were all areas that were covered in the conference call.
Donovan: "The biggest thing for me is putting on our players' brains is we've gotta work hard to get back to where we were ... that's got to be the goal for us to get back to our chemistry, to get back our timing, to get back our cohesiveness."— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 1, 2020
Before the season stopped, Oklahoma City won seven out of the team’s last ten games. It was an impressive run of form and it is indicative of the Thunder’s performance levels during the second half of the season. Oklahoma City have only lost nine games since the turn of year; the Thunder have been very good on a nightly basis over the last few months.
The success since the new year has come from the team hitting a groove and playing brilliant, winning basketball. There was a lot of roster turnover in the offseason and it took time for players to build chemistry with each other. Once that chemistry was established, Oklahoma City started winning games frequently.
It will be really important for the Thunder to find that rhythm again as the team prepares for the playoffs. Playoff basketball is a cauldron of pressure; weak links will be tested and weaknesses will be exploited. Oklahoma City will have to play well every single night to have any chance at advancing in the playoffs.
SGA said he had no second thoughts of playing in Orlando: "I'm a hooper."— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) July 1, 2020
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about players travelling to Orlando and finishing the season. Players such as Avery Bradley have made the choice to sit out so that he can dedicate time to campaigning against racism. There have been others such as Trevor Ariza who have sat out for family reasons.
There was no hesitancy from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai wants to play basketball and he does not share the same reservations that a fair few players around the league have.
The hiatus period has given Shai time to rest and recuperate. Gilgeous-Alexander is seventh in total minutes played this season. I expect SGA to be very good in Orlando after a few months rest.
Billy Donovan is on a conference call!— Erik Horne (@ErikkHorne) July 1, 2020
Donovan on voluntary workouts, said all Thunder players have come in to work out, including Andre Roberson: "In my conversations with Andre, he feels really good and he feels like he’s made really significant progress."
The return of Andre Roberson has been much discussed over the last two years. Roberson was such an integral piece to the Thunder and there is a lot of anticipation regarding his return. Oklahoma City lack an elite stopper on the wing; Roberson was that player before his injury.
Billy Donovan’s comments are optimistic and that optimism suggests that a return to basketball is fairly close for Roberson. However, I would temper your enthusiasm in this example. We have been down this road before with Andre.
At the Thunder’s media day before the start of the season, Roberson said that he was good to go. Andre Roberson did not play a single minute in the regular season games before the season went on hiatus. Roberson is a really positive person and it is entirely possible that he is being too optimistic about his physical condition.
After two years of injury and various setbacks, it is difficult to believe Andre Roberson will play minutes in Orlando for the Thunder. At this point, I will believe that Andre Roberson is finally ready to play games when I see it with my own eyes.
Billy Donovan says there’s been a lot of talks with the players 1 on 1. Doesn’t know if the entire team will be together until they fly to Disney.— Brandon Rahbar (@BrandonRahbar) July 1, 2020
The logistics of teams travelling to Orlando safely has been much discussed in the media over the last few weeks. Safety has been a talking point ever since teams opened up practice facilities to players. The comments from Billy Donovan indicate the Thunder’s approach to COVID.
The Thunder seem to be exercising caution when it comes to the uncertainty that the coronavirus presents. The decision to keep the entire team apart until when it is absolutely necessary will limit the contact between players to a minimal level.
There is one distinct drawback associated with the cautious approach. To this date, the roster has not been in the gym together for a full practice. This will mean that the first team practice will be in the bubble in Orlando. Oklahoma City will have a three to four week period to get players up to speed physically and mentally.
It is a really short timeframe to prepare players and establish chemistry among players again. I do worry that the lack of time will mean that the Oklahoma City players will not be in full game shape until the first week of August.
According to Thunder PR, every team’s media team (for OKC: Michael Cage, Chris Fisher, Matt Pinto, etc) will not be in Orlando and will cover the games remotely.— Brandon Rahbar (@BrandonRahbar) July 1, 2020
The league restarting in Orlando posed a lot of questions for the team’s media members. The style of broadcast would be very different to the usual broadcast that teams conduct during the regular season. There was a lot of questions about the team’s announcers being on site in Orlando.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have taken the decision to cover the games remotely. This will mean that Michael Cage and Chris Fisher will be commentating on the games away from Orlando. It seems likely that the Thunder will have the announcers and analysts in a studio in Oklahoma City covering the game.
The Thunder have made an excellent decision in regard to the media team. It seems pointless to bring people into the bubble unnecessarily especially if they can do their job from elsewhere. More people being inside the bubble increase the risk of coronavirus spreading amongst teams even with water-tight protection protocols.
SGA isn't worried about coming to America to work as a Canadian: "When I go out, I wear a mask. I take the necessary precautions."— Brady Trantham (@BradyDoesSports) July 1, 2020
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander wants you all to wear a mask.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made a salient point about stopping the spread of COVID. SGA chooses to wear a mask to protect himself and other people. This is an approach that everybody should adopt to have any chance at beating the coronavirus.