The Thunder have been off to a better start compared to where most analysts ranked them prior to the season. The Thunder currently sit at 9-12 and are 13th in the west. The young Thunder squad has been outperforming expectations with a first-year head coach, Mark Daigneault.
Coach Daigneault was the coach for the Thunder G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, prior to becoming a Thunder assistant coach a year ago before replacing Billy Donovan as the head coach of the Thunder this offseason. With the Blue, Coach Daigneault boasted a record of 124-76 and most importantly his ability to develop young talent.
Possibly Coach Daigneault’s greatest strength is his ability to nurture and develop the youth on the Oklahoma City roster. The ability to develop young talent is precisely what the Thunder needed heading into the season with potential young stars throughout the roster. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort have taken major steps under Coach Daigneault this season and that should come as no surprise. Gilgeous-Alexander has played to an all-star caliber level this season scoring 21.8 PPG and grabbing 5.3 rebounds, but what is most impressive about his development is his playmaking. Gilgeous-Alexander has improved his assists per game from 3.3 to 6.3 while playing the same minutes as he did last season. Luguentz Dort has shifted from a defensive player to a two-way guard. Dort improved his three-point percentage by 7% in the offseason and his touch while finishing at the rim has made him an offensive threat compared to last season where he was a liability most games on the offensive end. Possibly the most impressive development Coach Daigneault has done has been with Hamidou Diallo. Diallo, who has been on the Thunder roster for a few years has never been able to live up to his potential with his incredible athleticism, but Coach Daigneault has helped him finally begin to tap into his potential. Diallo has always been a below-average shooter and finisher but has taken massive strides early on in the season. Diallo has had much better control attacking the rim and is knocking down mid-range shots with consistency turning him into the sixth-man the Thunder could only wish for under Billy Donovan.
Rallying the Team
Coach Daigneault is great at rallying his players to play hard no matter what the score is and that has been evident through the first 13 games of the season. In a game against the Bulls, the Thunder found themselves in a 22 point hole while the Bulls were shooting an outstanding 50% from 3 and all odds were in favor of the Thunder leaving with a loss. At one point in the third quarter, the Bulls were given a 99.1% chance to win the game by ESPN, but the Thunder never stopped fighting. The Thunder took the Bulls to overtime where they were able to pull off the comeback and win the game by two points. The Thunder have pulled off a couple of other comebacks as well in the early portion of the season making clear Coach Daigneault’s ability to rally the team in crisis.
Coach Daigneault has many strengths, but one of his biggest weaknesses has been his ability to put together effective lineups in clutch moments. The Thunder played the Pelicans on New Year’s eve earlier in the season and was dominated the entire way. Even though the Pelicans dominated, the Thunder had a pivotal opportunity to come back, but Coach Daigneault failed to seize the opportunity. Zion Williamson was in foul trouble and out of the game in the third and Brandon Ingram had just been ejected after a tough foul on Isaiah Roby. Coach Daigneault chose to send out a lineup of young players and not the starting lineup and that young lineup was unable to seize the opportunity causing the Thunder to lose the game. Coach Daigneault’s rotation is only a minor error and it is not certain that it is a weakness yet, but it is something to keep an eye on moving forward if the Thunder are able to make the playoffs. In other games, Mark Daigneault has done a great job of mixing and matching players to create the best result, like in the previous two games in which OKC found themselves short handed and without their best players.
So far, Coach Daigneault has done a great job as the head coach, but the season is still early to get a full gaze of how good Coach Daigneault truly is. However, games like Friday Night against Minnesota go a long way.