The Secret: How the OKC Thunder Grew to become the Coolest Workforce within the NBA

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Right here we’re. Proper now, listed below are our toes. All that issues is correct now. The longer term is simply too far-off to be a thought. And the previous’s affect has led to this group of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams sitting proper subsequent to one another. By skilled scouting and drafting, and one clairvoyant commerce, the sound of thunder is getting louder and louder. 

So, proper now, right here we’re. 

We’re in an empty room within the bowels of the Paycom Middle in downtown Oklahoma Metropolis. Good power is flowing freely. These 5 gamers are in sync with one another. There’s a number of laughter, a number of jokes, a number of compliments and a few wholesome trash speak (Shai swears that none of them have ever crushed him in King of the Court docket). 

Because the core of this squad, these 5 gamers have in some way rapidly discovered invaluable classes in chemistry. They’re very a lot linked. They move one ball forwards and backwards to one another all through our interview. Regardless that Holmgren missed all of final season with a proper foot harm, he was nonetheless with the squad and he simply breaks down why the Thunder click on so properly. 

“That is my first NBA group,” Holmgren says, “however I’d say what separates this group from most NBA groups is most NBA groups obtained a bunch of 30-year-olds and then you definitely’ll have some new dudes are available in each couple years and, like, cycle via that. There’s no actual connection since you obtained the OGs and then you definitely obtained the lil’ bros and it’s like, the lil’ bros gotta carry the luggage, you understand what I imply? It’s, like, a hierarchy. However right here, we’re rattling close to all nonetheless youngsters. So all of us cool.” 

SLAM 247 that includes one of many coolest groups within the League is out now.

Sure, this group is younger. Gilgeous-Alexander is the oldest at 25, adopted by the 24-year-old Dort, the 22-year-old Williams, and Giddey and Holmgren, the pair of 21-year-olds. However final season proved how properly they play excessive IQ basketball collectively, minus Holmgren. Their protection was within the prime half of the League, a powerful accomplishment for a bunch with out years of expertise. Their offense is an ever-evolving organism of dynamic motion, solely attainable via selfless concord.

Mark Daigneault has crafted a system that emphasizes this togetherness. Past the highlights of Gilgeous-Alexander’s scoring outbursts, Williams’ dunks, Giddey’s passes, Dort’s steals and Holmgren’s blocks, a real basis has been constructed. It stands on unity and dedication. They’ve pledged themselves to crisp ball and participant motion and extremely timed switchability. It’s simple to overlook. All 5 of those guys, and plenty of different gamers on the Thunder, are chilly as ice. They play in uncommon sneakers, rock clothes that shows their distinct auras and transfer with a normal ease. However this can be a actual basketball group. They will hoop. 

“I’d say what separates this group from most NBA groups is most NBA groups obtained a bunch of 30-year-olds…However right here, we’re rattling close to all nonetheless youngsters. So all of us cool.” 

– Chet Holmgren

Nothing higher illustrates how equally sensible and properly ready they’re than their robust aspect cuts. It jumps out instantly when watching Giddey’s particular person highlights and Williams’ particular person highlights. The identical performs pop up in each movie research. The rhythm to their offense begins to emerge when Giddey drives to the correct aspect of the ground. Williams usually hits the identical minimize from the correct wing each time Giddey approaches his defender. Time it out subsequent time the Thunder play. Often two or three dribbles from the Melbourne native, JDub finds his angle after which…BOOM. An enormous dunk. JDub already has just a few critical physique baggage. 

“We observe it daily,” Giddey says in regards to the strong-side cuts to the rim. 

Maintain up, although. File scratch. We will’t know that. No one’s presupposed to know that. 

“Reduce that out, bro,” Gilgeous-Alexander jumps in after a seemingly nervous giggle from JDub. “We don’t wanna give away the sauce.” Sitting on the far proper, Gilgeous-Alexander appears to be like over to his teammates and says it once more with a sly smile. “We don’t observe that, bro. We don’t observe that. It simply occurs. They simply determine it out,” he says with one other smile. 

Alright, so Gilgeous-Alexander simply occurred to common 31 factors an evening. And Dort simply occurred to determine find out how to improve his complete factors scored in each season of his profession. And Giddey simply stumbled upon flattening 8 rebounds and dispensing 6.2 assists every sport. And JDub in some way walked into enjoying half-hour per sport as a rook. And Holmgren was the No. 2 general choose by happenstance. Alright, alright, alright. 

There’s no cause for any of it. All of it simply…occurred?

Possibly. However most likely not. As a result of we’re right here proper now within the current, with the previous’s affect being totally felt and the long run too far-off to be a thought, we are able to have a look at every of those gamers in truth. 

There’s the dynamic scorer, the younger huge whose potential is perhaps limitless, the trusted playmaker, the lockdown perimeter defender and the versatile do-everything-forward. To various levels, every of them can dribble, move and discover their very own appears to be like. To various levels, every of them can sink an open shot. To various levels, every of them could make game-defining performs. To the identical diploma, every of them have purchased into Daigneault’s imaginative and prescient. That imaginative and prescient began with persistence. They’ve been biding their time. For now…

Gilgeous-Alexander’s rise within the NBA dates again to his rookie yr. He began for a stunning Clippers squad that caught everybody off guard by taking the dominant Warriors to 6 video games within the 2019 playoffs. He was simply 20 years previous gifting the defending champs with 25 factors in a playoff sport. There was substance to his sport that lots of people didn’t notice. They noticed him, and so they noticed a younger child. He made them see him as an increasing downside. The Thunder noticed him as a licensed answer. They introduced him to Oklahoma Metropolis in July of 2019 (the identical commerce gave OKC the choose that JDub was ultimately chosen with in 2022). Gilgeous-Alexander’s iso sport continued to develop. He’s turn into practically unguardable. Most know him as artful. Only a few know him as a reader. However he’s not studying books. He’s studying defenses like they’re youngsters’s books. He will get to his spots and cashes out. Numerous his injury comes from the…duh-duh-duh…dreaded midrange space.

“For those who have a look at it, essentially the most prolific scorers within the NBA and over time have shot midranges,” Gilgeous-Alexander says. “Kevin Durant, T-Mac, Kobe, Devin Booker proper now, Bradley Beal, Jimmy Butler. On the finish of the day, you simply make pictures. The place it comes from is your selection, however so long as you make them, you’ll be alright.”

Gilgeous-Alexander performs at his personal tempo. He’s methodical with the ball in his hand. The Thunder, as a squad, play quick, thanks partially to Giddey. He’s a pure level guard who stands 6-8, blessed with sightlines excessive above defenses. Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams sing his praises proper after we’re sworn to secrecy about these robust aspect cuts that positively don’t get practiced daily. 

“I’m gonna provide the reply proper now—it’s Josh Giddey,” Gilgeous-Alexander says. “When you’ve gotten a passer like that, it’s inevitable.”

“It makes you progress,” Williams joins in. 

“It’s a must to minimize, it’s important to transfer,” Gilgeous-Alexander continues. “And he’ll discover you.”

“There’s just one group on this planet with a Josh Giddey,” Holmgren provides. 

“I’m being useless critical,” Gilgeous-Alexander emphasizes. “Numerous it’s Josh. He’ll discover you should you’re open. So get open.”

“Vanilla Magic,” Holmgren says. 

Giddey silently sits in between his teammates. He’s not boisterous. He’s simply efficient. Very efficient. 

“It feels good to make different [teammates] really feel good,” he says. 

One of many teammates that’s constantly on the opposite finish of Giddey’s dimes is Williams. They have been undeniably aligned with one another. Giddey likes to provoke the offense from beneath the three-point line. He finds JDub as a result of JDub by no means stops shifting. It looks as if JDub has echolocation on for gaps within the protection. However the rook additionally demonstrated superior means with the rock in his hand. He’s already environment friendly within the pick-and-roll, which he credit to spending three years in school at Santa Clara. Whether or not he’s obtained the ball or is setting the display screen and diving to the rim, he is aware of find out how to do it much better than most gamers his age. He performed virtually each place and position at Santa Clara. His time in school served as a firstclass training in hoops. Like Gilgeous-Alexander, JDub reads the protection and takes what he’s being given. 

“Particularly since I obtained into the NBA, a number of it has been tailor-made towards enjoying off of who’s on the courtroom,” Williams says. “If I’m on the market with them, a number of it’s studying stuff,” he says about his high-profile teammates. “The place am I going to chop from or the place I’m going to get open pictures from? Apart from that, it’s simply form of, like, going downhill.”

The Thunder do certainly play quick and so they drive to the tin lots. Loads. There are already a handful of names in Dub’s graveyard. These questions on his lack of athleticism going into the draft have been disproven time and again. Not solely do these downhill assaults produce Jalen Williams dunks—in addition they produce Lu Dort threes. Dort has labored extraordinarily exhausting on his jumper since coming into the League again in 2019. His status as a defensive stopper is in fact very true. Dort’s footwork whereas evading on-ball picks must be taught to each child within the nation.

Dort’s revamped jumper hides a novel and sometimes ignored element. Shooters are taught to increase and maintain their follow-throughs. It actually does assist within the shot’s chance of dropping, particularly when taking pictures from over 24 toes away. Dort, nevertheless, not often holds his follow-through. More often than not, his proper hand retreats. He doesn’t maintain it up. 

Taken abruptly when it’s identified, Dort exhibits how his proper wrist has a hitch in it.

“My wrist is tousled, you understand what I imply? So once I do it, I’m not doing it on goal,” he says.

The reveal makes Gilgeous-Alexander gasp. It makes Giddey grin. It makes Holmgren stare. 

“Oh my God, I’m studying a lot,” JDub says. “Wow, I didn’t know that.”

It’s a cushty and pure response for him. And it’s labored. His shot has constantly gotten higher all through his profession, whereas his defensive prowess has grown, too. He has tons of lockdown data to share with Holmgren. Final season, the Thunder’s defensive ideas have been particularly designed to mitigate their lack of measurement on the inside. That every one adjustments with the return of the 7-1 rookie. Holmgren is gonna rating. OKC’s offense will get him open appears to be like. However he’s gonna make his title on the opposite aspect of the ball. He has switchability within the pick-and-roll, so he’ll be tasked with guarding smalls in area. He has weak aspect swats on lock because of his 7-6 wingspan. Plus, he’s far more aggressive than he appears to be like. Individuals have been attempting him for years now. He all the time responds.

“I actually simply discovered how good the expertise degree is within the NBA,” Holmgren says about his one yr away from the courtroom. “You may play nice protection and actually not make a mistake and nonetheless hand over three factors. There’s nice gamers on this League and nice gamers make performs. Generally it’s simply good protection, higher offense.”

He’s prepared for the problem. 

However that’s wanting simply forward to the long run. It’s nonetheless slightly far-off. 

Proper now, these 5 guys obtained just a few extra issues to do. They gotta throw on some jewellery. They gotta take some images. They gotta giggle some extra. They usually gotta totally be the place their toes are, down right here within the basement of the Paycom Middle, all eyes on the approaching season.


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Portraits by Marcus Stevens.





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