The Oklahoma City Thunder made a coaching change in the off season after Scott Brooks failed to lead the team to the playoffs last season. That was not the only reason Scott Brooks was fired, though. Brooks’ lack of a true offensive system with the dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook was another reason he was relieved of his coaching duties. The Thunder showed patterns of isolation ball and a heavy reliance of their two superstars rather than play team basketball. Oklahoma City were also riddled with injuries last season, as Kevin Durant only played 27 games and Westbrook played 67. Scott Brooks was unfairly fired as a result of all of this.
Enter Billy Donovan. The former University of Florida‘s basketball coach that brought the Gators to two NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championships was named the Thunder’s new head coach on April 30, 2015. Billy Donovan replaces Scott Brooks in hopes of bringing ball movement and better defense to Oklahoma City. The Thunder were stuck doing the same things and while the were successful, the team showed no promise of winning a NBA title under Scott Brooks. Billy Donovan was the organization’s choice to propel the franchise to where they are expected to be, the NBA Finals.
However, nothing seems to have changed.
Same Offense, Different Head Coach
The Oklahoma City Thunder are 12-8 to start the season under Billy Donovan and with a quarter of the 82-game schedule out of the way, the Thunder are stuck in their old ways. Scott Brooks did not instill a ball movement and with a healthier roster in 2013-14 the Thunder ended with a record of 59-23. This shows that OKC can win relying on the talents of Durant and Westbrook. In that season under Scott Brooks, the Thunder ranked 13th in assists with 21.9 per game. So far in the 2015-16 season under Billy Donovan the Thunder rank 19th in assists with 21.2 per game. In terms of ball movement, nothing is improved by firing Scott Brooks.
A deeper look on the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook show can be displayed by usage rate. The Thunder used Kevin Durant in 33% of the plays in 2013-14, as opposed to 30% this season. Russell Westbrook’s usage rate was 34.4% in 2013-14 and 35.1% this season. Again, Oklahoma City are showing they lean on the services of that tandem a little too much. Their teammates cannot be truly involved in the game and gain rhythm while they are on the court. A Scott Brooks’ Thunder team had a higher offensive rating than this season’s team. In 2013-14, when the Thunder were relatively healthy, Oklahoma City scored 110.5 points per 100 possessions. This season, the Thunder score 109 points per 100 possessions under Billy Donovan. 20 games into the season and the offense has not changed one bit.
Same Defense, Different Head Coach
The defense under Scott Brooks was also a question mark. The Thunder felt this team was capable of ranking among the elite defenses in the NBA and were not with Brooks leading the way. Perhaps hiring Billy Donovan will change the way Oklahoma City plays on that side of the ball.
Let’s take a look at the last time Scott Brooks had a relatively healthy roster in 203-14 and the way Billy Donovan is running the Thunder this season. The defensive rating of the 2013-14 Thunder was 103.9 and the rating this season is 103.6. Oklahoma City’s opponents shot 43.6% against Scott Brooks’ defense and opposing teams shoot 43.4% against Billy Donovan’s defense. Forcing turnovers is a staple for Oklahoma City Thunder because it allows them to score easy points in transition. The Thunder were at their best when they running off of a bad pass from opposing teams. In 2013-14, the Thunder forced opponents into 15.2 turnovers per game. This season the Thunder are making their opponents turn the ball over 14.3 times per game. The defense of Scott Brooks was slightly better at getting into the passing lanes of the opposition and making life difficult for the team to move the ball.
Even on the defensive side of the ball, it seems like nothing has changed for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Thus proving that the firing of Scott Brooks’ was one of panic because this team had no signs of reaching the NBA finals.
Only Time Will Tell
No matter if it is Scott Brooks or Billy Donovan, the coach is responsible for establishing an offensive and defensive system for the players to execute in the game. Scott Brooks was the third-winningest coach in the Sonics/Thunder’s history with a winning percentage of 62%. The players respected what Scott Brooks had taught them and where he led them in their careers. The organization felt it was time to move on from Scott Brooks, but right now that decision is proving to mean nothing. The Oklahoma City Thunder are still playing isolation basketball under Billy Donovan and the defensive numbers are oddly similar as well. Only time will tell if the Thunder can reach new heights with Billy Donovan rather than Scott Brooks, but it is not looking too good.
Sparks Sports Analyst