While most of the focus heading into the early parts of the 2020-2021 Season has been on the development of the young players, (SGA, Bazley, Dort, Poku), Coach Mark Daigneault will be learning and developing, as well. As a young, rookie head coach, this season is as much a year of discovery for him as it is for the players (Sam Presti alluded to this in his introductory press conference). He will build rotations, cultivate relationships, create a playbook, and forge his leadership style for the Organization. Coach Daigneault will absolutely play a pivotal role in the course of this Season.
As a longtime protégé of Billy Donovan, both at the University of Florida and with the Thunder, Coach Daigneault shares similarities in his basketball philosophy. Both Coaches prioritize ball movement, often with a Big helping to facilitate the offense. Spacing in the modern NBA is paramount, as traditional Big Men are becoming marginalized in favor of floor spacing stretch Fours and Fives. Shooting ability is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity at this point.
During Billy Donovan’s tenure as Head Coach of the Thunder, he had to deal with a constantly changing roster, as players would leave in free agency or be traded, leaving Donovan to fine-tune his schemes to fit different rosters each season. The lone season Billy Donovan was able to truly run a team fully versed in his playstyle was last season. Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all fit into the system like a glove, each player having a fantastic season. The ball was constantly moving, trying to find the best available shot or best personnel mismatch to exploit. Another trademark of Donovan was his willingness to mix and match lineups, tinkering with roster rotations throughout the season. While his rotations would shrink dramatically come Playoff time, his approach during the regular season allowed many players to gain valuable playing time and experience.
As there have been only three games played so far this season, it is far too early to grade Coach Daigneault, but the initial impressions are excellent. He appears to have the respect of the team, with players speaking glowingly of him, both as a person and as a Coach. This Thunder team has a clear offensive identity, prioritizing ball movement, spacing, and featuring a grab’ n go mentality, where all five players on the court are comfortable grabbing a rebound and racing down the court to initiate the offense. Defensively, the team hustles and plays hard, competing for the Full 48. While the team is not expected to win many games this season, they appear more than capable of hanging with most teams, keeping the margins close. A year of discovery, development for both the players and Coach will be something interesting to watch, as the Rebuild kicks into full swing.