At the beginning of every day at U.S. Cellular Thunder Training camp, Head Coach Billy Donovan meets with the Thunder’s medical personnel to get a reading on the workload that the team, and each player, can do that day in practice. It’s science, helping keep these athletes in tip top shape and away from over-exercise.
On Thursday, the Thunder broke down its defense over the four preseason games it played, and addressed where it could get better heading into next week and the start of the regular season. Today was a more lively, active practice. It was focused on offense, while weaving in some scripting of plays, some shell defensive work and then a chance to get up and down the floor in scrimmages to work in some conditioning.
With an unprecedented eight-day gap between the final preseason clash against the Denver Nuggets and Oct. 19th and the home regular season opener against the New York Knicks, it’s crucial that the Thunder utilizes the time wisely. The team has approached its practices methodically.
“We treat every day like a learning experience. We come in every single day and work on our defense first and foremost because that’s where games are won and lost,” forward Josh Huestis said. “Obviously we have a lot of offensive talent but we have just as much defensive talent. Because of the all the new faces we have to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
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– In the preseason, Thunder forward Josh Huestis was the team’s fifth-leading scorer at 7.5 points per game, shooting 41.2 percent from three and grabbing 5.5 rebounds per game. He also saved the day with blocked shots on back-to-back possessions inside the final 10 seconds against Melbourne United to seal a victory. It’s uncertain what playing time may be available for Huestis moving forward, but he certain showed his potential to be an option for Donovan.
- “Whatever ends up happening in terms of minutes or opportunities, I know that I’ll be ready to step up and I’m confident I’ll make the best of them,” Huestis said.
– Huestis’ journey has been an intriguing one, because he’s been a product of how the game has changed in recent years. During his first three seasons in the NBA and G-League with the Oklahoma City Blue, his development was geared towards making the former collegiate power forward at Stanford University into a small forward and wing. Now, with the changing landscape of the NBA’s small ball era and the Thunder’s own personnel, it seems that Huestis may have more opportunities at power forward or even center. Still, the skills he’s picked up along the way at perimeter spots on the floor will still be useful moving forward. Now, he can be dynamic as a screener – either popping open for a jump shot or rolling to the paint for a finish at the rim.
- “Because of my three-point shooting, popping is something that I try to do. Rolling is something I definitely want to mix in as well,” Huestis said. “The way teams guard us, the way they jump out at guys like Russ, and Paul and Melo, leaves that pocket open on the roll.”
– A veteran that Huestis can look to at his position is Patrick Patterson, who hasn’t gone through full contact in practice with the team yet, but can be seen working with assistant coaches and teammates in drills on the side. Despite not having been fully in the mix, Patterson has wowed Donovan with his professionalism, attention to detail and ability to pick things up from the sideline and film room.
- “(Patterson) knows everything. Paying attention, watching tape, meeting with assistant coaches and staying on top of it,” Donovan recounted. “He’s done his homework on what he needs to be doing.”
- “I’m really looking forward to seeing him out there,” Huestis said of Patterson. “Along with his size, you can tell he’s athletic and can move well. He’s somebody who I would be confident knowing he could guard a five but then also if he was playing to four and we wanted to switch, that I would trust him on the perimeter as a guard as well.”
– The luxury that Donovan has with players like Huestis and Patterson is that he knows they’re always going to be ready to play when he calls their number. Typically in the NBA, rotations get shortened from the 15 (and now 17 thanks to two-way contracts) players on the roster down to 10 or less for each game played. For Donovan though, the actual players who get into the game can vary from night to night. On one night, it could be a guy like Huestis, another it could be Terrance Ferguson or big man Dakari Johnson, depending on matchup and injury situations.
- “I’ve always been a big believer that at some point you’re going to have to utilize your entire roster,” Donovan said. ”A good comfortable number of nine-ten guys is probably the best number. Whoever that tenth person is, maybe on a different night it’s somebody else.”