The Oklahoma City Thunder dealt with a ton of adversity on Wednesday Night against the Houston Rockets. Not only did the Rockets outright embarrass the Thunder on Monday night in Oklahoma City. The two teams got back together on Wednesday, only this time without OKC’s best player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. With SGA out, and the Thunder sending four players to the G-League bubble, OKC entered Wednesday with ten active players.
Midway through the first quarter, Lu Dort left the game with an injury leaving the Thunder with nine players and without 3-of-their-4 best players (SGA, Dort, George Hill) after being blown out by this same team a couple of nights earlier. This is another game where it is totally acceptable if the Thunder packed it in. Nobody would have crucified this team if they just lacked energy and were deflated after losing their top players.
Instead, this team did what they have all season, they battled. They fought, clawed, and bought into Mark Daigneault’s system. As a rookie head coach, that is extremely impressive, especially when you factor in Mark Daigneault’s rookie year obstacles.
He got hired a few weeks before training camp open, dealt with a shortened training camp, and only had four preseason games. Yet still, he has the respect and effort levels from every player on this roster. Player’s from all different NBA backstories have rallied around him. Long-Term NBA vets, first-round picks, the Face of this franchise, undrafted finds, and fringe NBAers, they all compete the same for Mark.
You have to admire Mark Daigneault’s offense which is the first real offensive system we have seen in Oklahoma City. The ball-movement is sensational, and it generates a ton of open looks. His out of timeout plays are hands-down the best of any of the 3 other Thunder coaches in OKC history.
What impressed me the most beyond the buy-in factor Wednesday night, was the rotation. Dealt a bad hand of only 9 players, and without three of his five starters, Mark Daigneault did a fantastic job of always keeping a steady hand on the floor for the most part. Mark Daigneault coached circles around Rockets head man Stephen Silas.
On the floor, Kenrich Williams stepped up in a big way. Not only did he give his typical high energy and do all the dirty work, an effort level only seen by Nick Collison before (as someone who wrote about Nick Collison needing to be in the Hall of Fame, that is high praise from me), but Williams also contributed a ton offensively. Kenny Hustle went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, and a season-high 19 points.
No matter what side of the tanking conversation you fall on, you have to smile thinking about and watching that Wednesday Rockets game. The effort and coaching that was put on display is something extremely valuable long-term.
I know coaches make their bread and butter in the postseason, so that is where Mark Daigneault will be put under the microscope whenever this team reaches the postseason in his tenure. However, he has already laid the foundation for what his culture will be. In my opinion, he is the best coach in Thunder history. Admittedly, not a high bar to clear.