Many of the failures of the Oklahoma City Thunder were previously pinned on former coach Scott Brooks. Fair or not, people criticized his failure to implement an offense outside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, questioned some of his in-game coaching techniques, as well as loathed some of the lineups he often trotted out.
Those reasons, among others, helped the OKC front office come to the decision to fire Brooks. That, despite a 338-207 overall record, it was time to move on to someone else.
Enter the newer, shiner, once already an NBA coach (kinda): Billy Donovan.
Donovan made his bones with the Florida Gators. He won two national titles there, once had a roster which had more NBA players on it in 2007 than the Philadelphia 76ers do now (hehe) and was once hired to coach the Orlando Magic before backing out. He is/was highly thought of from those in the college realm.
Questions heading into this season remained, however. Perception being that most college coaches don’t fare well transitioning to the NBA game. Egos, most directly by forcing their system upon players and/or being given the power to operate player personnel, has led to the downfall of many a college coaches going to the NBA. Some guys with better college track records than Donovan.
Success of Donovan with the Thunder wasn’t a guarantee by any means.
Well, so far so good it seems. At least from the standpoint of not having the bridge collapse under his watch. To be honest, though, it wasn’t as if Donovan was taking over a dumpster fire. He has two legitimate superstars to work with, one of the better assembled rosters in all of the NBA, and whether it’s his doing or not, Kevin Durant might be having the best season of his career.
While acknowledging that Oklahoma City is no longer a team whose successes will be judged by regular-season success, the only thing we have to go on for now — until the playoffs — is the differences between the Brooks and Donovan eras in the regular season.
And, really, it’s only the offense which has improved under Donovan. If we were to be even more truthful about it, it hasn’t exactly improved drastically, either.
Last season saw OKC score 104 points per game, with an offensive rating of 107.8, while having the seventh-quickest pace in the league (95.7), per Basketball-Reference.com. Those numbers, by any standards, are solid. Clearly, we should also note that Brooks was without Durant for the majority of the season.
It’s more of the same this season under Donovan, yet slightly more improved, as they’re scoring 108.4 points per game (only behind Golden State), an offensive rating of 110.3 (again, only behind Golden State), while quickening the pace a wee-bit as they’re currently moving along with a pace of 97.4. With the luxury of having Durant healthy (for the most part, as he has missed a handful of games) afforded to Donovan, this helps explain the increase in production.
Moreover, Donovan often still relies upon isolation-heavy offense in the fourth quarter. The same type of lack of creative sets on offense which helped cost Brooks his job. The more you think about it, the more things seem more or less the same.
So what has, if anything, been the difference in the Billy Donovan era with the franchise? Well, it’s really hard to point out. At least right now. As already alluded to, we’re going to judge their success based off postseason runs…or the lack thereof.
Possibly the only clear difference as far as statistical comparisons go is that the distribution of minutes vary between the two coaches. Most notably, Donovan isn’t using Enes Kanter nearly as often, as he’s averaging 10 minutes less per game this season. He’s also done away with the Mitch McGary project, allowed Andre Roberson to have a tiny bit more of a green light and seems to be relying a slightly bit more on a smaller rotation than Brooks, but still somehow managing his star players’ minutes as to not burden them from being burned out down the road.
The only clear and obvious example of it potentially being so is the fact that unlike Scott Brooks, who often seemed married to lineups, Donovan has spent much the season tinkering with starting rotations, giving different guys minutes at different times and allowing for the Thunder to remain playing small(er-ish) ball towards the ends of games. The latter being something Brooks would do during portions of games, but revert to traditional lineups to close them out.
All of that, as I attempted to acknowledge with many different ways of saying the word “slight,” is like splitting hairs, though. There hasn’t been that much of a startling difference between the two other than a slightly improved offense. Then again, Donovan didn’t take a team who couldn’t score into one that could.
Honestly, it’s too hard to tell if Oklahoma City is tangibly better under Donovan yet. Like everything else, only time will allow us to find out such things. As per today’s social media and other rules, demanding immediacy of knowledge and information, if anyone else is telling you “for sure” only 22 games into his tenure, then they’re lying.
Good day, friends.