Speak Up, Thunder!
Noted basketball analyst Jay Bilas once witnessed an unusual tactic employed by legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson. For an entire practice, Jackson did not allow his players to utter a single word. Suffice to say, he made his point in illustrating the significance of communication on the basketball court.
“It’s so important to be a team that communicates,” Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks told HOOPSWORLD. “And that’s every team I’ve been on from every level, every coach, they’ve always stressed that and very rarely do you get it.
“We are still not where we have to be,” he added.
“We’re very quiet. A very quiet bunch,” Thunder rookie Reggie Jackson shared. “It’s kind of weird, because a lot of us are talking off the court, but then not on the court. I’m more shy off the court, but very vocal on court.”
Both Brooks and Jackson agree there’s one particular player on this roster who excels in on-court communication; that would be center Kendrick Perkins.
“Last year I think that’s why they acquired him,” speculated Jackson. “We had the flash but really not the toughness (and) not on screen plays. He’s a very vocal leader.”
“Perk is a very good communicator, and that’s good,” Brooks said. “We have to have that. It’s a combination of guys listening and guys communicating. I think we have some good listeners; the communication part needs to continue to build. We need to build that part of our defensive schemes.
“Sometimes he communicates in a very boisterous (way) and (with an) intimidating look about him, but he’s about the team,” continued Brooks.
That description brings to mind words contained within respected coach Mike Krzyzewski’s book, Beyond Basketball, wherein he states this: “In the heat of a game, a basketball team speaks a different language; it is not a language based on long sentences, but it is a language nonetheless. When you talk, your body reacts, your hands get ready, and your mind becomes prepared to respond, even under pressure.”
“I love how he plays,” said Brooks about Perkins. “I never look at his stats. I look at his body language. I look at his effort. He gives us good body language, and he gives us great positive energy every night on the defensive end.”
Jackson said Perkins is ”always getting us motivated for the game and getting us ready when we go.”
While the coach and rookie may believe there’s room for improvement for the team as a whole, other players noted considerable growth in communication this season.
“Guys like myself, Russell (Westbrook), James (Harden) and Perk of course, we’ve all been vocal,” Thunder superstar Kevin Durant told us. “Our coaches always say ‘every coach, be quiet and let the players play.’ Especially on the defensive end. So that’s what we do, and we’re getting better at it.
“It’s all about us learning each other and getting better with each other.”
Durant knows Brooks identifies on-floor communication as a major weakness of his squad.
“They’re not real vocal on the court,” Brooks said just prior to the start of the 2011-12 season. “And to be a good team both ends of the floor, you need to communicate and help each other out with your words and not just your actions.”
“Oh, I definitely think so,” answered Cole Aldrich when we asked him if communication has improved during their first 18 games of the season. “I think going from training camp, that was one of our major points. One of the things that we needed to get better at. You hear a lot…and now guys are continuing to talk.
“And that’s the biggest thing for us to continue to be successful is just to talk and to communicate if you’ve got a pick or different things like that,” Aldrich added.
During the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Team USA head coach Krzyzewski summed it up succinctly when he said basketball is “a game of being connected, and you’re connected primarily when you’re talking to one another.”
Striving for optimum communication is not only limited to the defensive side; it matters greatly on the offensive end as well.
“Even offensively, there’s times where one or two guys don’t know the set,” Brooks said. “It’s not always on the point guard. It’s on the whole team to understand where we are. Communication is a very important part.”
“Calling plays, reiterating everything and just talking and seeing what you see on the floor,” agreed Aldrich.
Jackson can already tell how much Perkins is influencing starting point guard Westbrook.
“Perkins is comfortable (helping); especially for Russell, being the floor general. His vocal leadership teaches us ways to kind of talk to each other, so it’s really helpful for our communication on both sides of the ball.”
“We’ve got a lot of guys that demand people to talk now,” Durant pointed out.
Aldrich, 6’11”, weighed in with infectious youthful enthusiasm when explaining what the taller players provide for this team.
“A lot of the times you get the big guys, your centers, your forwards, that are in the back and can see everything. If you can say ‘hey, watch the pick coming,’ this or that, it really helps a lot. You stay in the back and you can see everything.
“It’s amazing,” Aldrich said smiling.
With the Thunder off to an impressive start – sitting atop the Western Conference standings at a 15-3 record, along with the league’s leading winning percentage of .833 – it would appear they aren’t lacking in many areas.
“We’re just putting all types of pieces and intangibles together and try to make a great team,” noted Jackson.
Vocal contribution on the court by all Thunder players would undoubtedly go a long way in making the team even stronger.