No one alive can doubt Oklahoma City’s exponential growth in the NBA, ever since Mark Daigneault took over and his front office decided to trust his process. Even though the Thunder only won 46 games in their first two seasons together, this past year his team collected a total of 40 victories and qualified for the Western Conference Play-In Tournament.
The 38-year-old earned himself a second place in the Coach of the Year balloting and immediately raised the stocks for this upcoming season, which Oklahoma City hopes to finally break into some playoff action.
According to Daigneault, the team is only improving, as his young roster is developing even faster than expected. “The offseason for us, especially as young as the team is, is important because these guys are developing very quickly. Especially physically. The five to six months they get of just pure weight-room work and skill work, their growth rate is pretty high. That’s what’s most exciting. And then there’s always moves we made,” he said.
“We’re very excited about our existing young core. And last year was the first example of the power of continuity.” https://t.co/1fNLW7psTh
— OKC Thunder Wire (@The_ThunderWire) September 25, 2023
As the coach is heading into his fourth year at the club’s helm, he said that even Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is young and in constant development. Daigneault expects the Canadian star to achieve his maximum potential in the next couple of years.
“We always look at our guys through the lens of development. As good as he is and as mature as he is, he’s still a young player and he’s still growing,” he said about his point guard. “One of the things that is powerful in development is changing context, changing environment, and this was a completely different environment than he’s been a part of. And it’s a different type of pressure you face when you’re representing your country. It’s a different game, it’s called differently, the styles are different. We had a lot of guys playing – [Davis] Bertans, Lu [Dort], Shai, Jack White and [Josh] Giddey played. That was really valuable experience for those guys.”
The Thunder trainer believes that patience, and not expecting to have immediate results, will be key for a healthier and long-term growth in the league.
“[More attention is] a natural thing, with the exposure the NBA has. And our players deserve it – they’ve worked hard to put themselves in this position,” Daigneault said. “Now our challenge is to continue to take a long view on a young team… We believe, if we keep an eye on the future, we’ll start to check the boxes along the way.”
The Thunder coach believes Chet Holmgren has what it takes to become this season’s Rookie of the Year
There is a long list of rookie players like Blake Griffin who suffered injuries after being drafted to the NBA, weren’t able to compete that campaign, and then came back to win the Rookie of the Year award. Coach Daigneault is convinced that Chet Holmgren has what it takes to be the next player on that prestigious list.
“We’ll see. He’s excited as a competitor and he’s ambitious. He has really high expectations for himself and matches those with his work ethic,” his trainer said. “He’s not just a guy with his head in the clouds – he’s willing to put the work in, And he did so, impressively, in his rehab. That’s a long, dark rehab, and he was consistent and impressive through that.”
The Oklahoma City coach assured that the team kept him close during the process of recovering from his heart-breaking injury.
“Everything he did was in our building. He was around the team in all team settings,” Daigneault shared. “He was in our film sessions. There’s a natural detachment when you’re injured, but we did the best we could to keep him engaged. And the guys did a great job with him… I think everybody is going to be happy for him when he steps in a game for the first time.”