Grading Scott Brooks' Season for the OKC Thunder so Far
Scott Brooks takes a strange amount of flak considering that the Oklahoma City Thunder's record has improved every single year he's been there.
A lot of the criticism of Brooks stems from the Thunder's 2011-12 Finals appearance, during which his reliance on Kendrick Perkins (among other things) spawned a stream of columns that all read similar to this.
Almost all of what was written was deserved, but that series took place a long time ago. And like the players he coaches, Brooks has grown since then.
Brooks hasn't had the easiest job this season—the Western Conference is brutally hard, and OKC was without one of its best players for months. Still, the Thunder have a lot of talent, and it's time to get a good sense of how well Brooks is using it.
All statistics accurate as of 3/2/2014 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless specifically stated otherwise.
Scott Brooks' rotations are a big pet peeve for most Thunder fans, but overall, Brooks has been much-improved with his rotations this year and has given his young players ample opportunity to shine.
The biggest problem fans seem to have with Brooks is that he plays veterans like Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins at the expense of younger players like Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb. But objectively, it's hard to disagree with those decisions right now.
Lamb has fallen into a serious rut this month (just 44 percent true shooting), whereas Fisher has caught fire. Fisher has hit 45 percent from three since January, and the Thunder are killing teams when he's on the court, per 82games.com.
And yet, despite all that, Lamb is still getting more minutes than Fisher. So if anything, it might be right to criticize Brooks for not playing Fisher enough (I'm serious, guys).
It's a similar story with Adams, who's going to see a lot more of the court with Perkins now injured.
Perkins is not a good player, but he still is a plus defender. Although Adams brings a lot to the table in terms of offensive rebounding, OKC is getting scorched defensively when he's on the court, per 82games.com.
Brooks' rotations aren't perfect, obviously. He should almost definitely be playing Nick Collison more, especially in tandem with Serge Ibaka. It'd also be nice to see more small ball, particularly more lineups involving Perry Jones (a versatile on-ball defender and a fan-favorite for stuff like this).
On the whole though, Brooks' rotation decisions have been sound. There are nits to pick, but not a ton of them.
This is probably Scott Brooks' weakest area.
Not all great coaches are Rick Carlisle-esque tacticians, but it sometimes feels as though Brooks could exploit in-game matchups a bit more. He's gotten better at drawing up plays out of timeouts in the last few years, but he's still too traditional when it comes to making lineup adjustments.
Brooks adjusts to other team's lineups rather than forcing those teams to adjust to the Thunder.
OKC's recent game against the Memphis Grizzlies is a great example. The Grizzlies are a big team, and because of that, the Thunder matched them with their own big lineups, bringing Hasheem Thabeet in off the bench for nearly 20 minutes.
The result wasn't terrible. The Thunder won the game, and for the most part, Thabeet played well. But the strategy was indicative of Brooks' general approach—play big against big teams and play small against small teams.
Rather than play Thabeet, wouldn't it have made more sense to move Durant to the 4 for stretches? Sure, he'd have had to bang with Zach Randolph defensively, but Randolph would have had much bigger problems trying to guard Durant 30 feet from the basket.
When Brooks goes small, it's always reactionary—he never does it to attack mismatches in opposing lineups. Hopefully that's something that comes with time, but it's just not there at the moment.
Scott Brooks comes off as a pretty bland coach in huddles and to the media. But, to be fair, it's hard to glean much from snippets like that, and whatever he's doing is certainly working. The Thunder play hard on both ends of the floor every night.
What's been particularly impressive about Brooks and his coaching staff over the years is the way that they've gotten such a young core to buy into defense.
The Thunder have been one of the league's 10 best defensive teams in each of the past two years, and they sit at sixth overall now, even after a string of poor games.
That's commendable not just because the Thunder are young, but because their brand of defense requires them to put up an exhausting level of activity. As was recently outlined by SB Nation's Mike Prada, the Thunder defense is based around walling off the paint and using sheer athleticism and length to contest any perimeter shots that may result.
Few teams ask their players to expend the sheer energy that the Thunder do (especially the wings), and the fact that Brooks has gotten his young players to fly around the court with crazy rotations like these is a testament to his coaching.
With the Media
As was mentioned earlier, Scott Brooks is pretty monotonous with the media.
He's not bad—he's actually a pretty funny guy as The Oklahoman's John Rohde outlined last year—but he repeats a lot of the same mantras over and over again. Like how the Thunder are a defensive-minded team, how important rebounding the ball is, how they still have a lot of work to do...you get the gist.
The Thunder have always been a pretty tight-lipped organization, and Brooks is no different. He just doesn't supply much insight in terms of schemes or overall strategy with the media (though that's probably for the best).
To Brooks' credit though, he introduced the world to a radical new method of rebounding the ball last year.
Scott Brooks: "Rebound with your heart." Not sure what that means.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) March 30, 2012
Grade: A++ (for the quote)
Dealing with Adversity
This is a big one. Historically, the Thunder haven't run into that much adversity in terms of injuries, but they have this season, and Scott Brooks has led them through it without a hitch.
Russell Westbrook has missed half of OKC's games at this point in the season, and yet the team still sits at the top of the Western Conference. Sure, a lot of that is thanks to the sheer individual brilliance of Kevin Durant, but Brooks deserves a lot of credit as well.
With Westbrook out, the Thunder had to completely change their style of play.
Westbrook is one of the most ball-dominant players in the league, per NBA.com, and his absence left a gigantic hole in the Thunder offense. OKC was forced to adjust on the fly—gearing its entire attack around Durant-Serge Ibaka pick-and-rolls—and was actually better offensively doing so, per NBA.com.
It took a while for OKC to adjust to life without Westbrook (they went 5-5 in their first 10 games without him), but they did it and managed to thrive.
Durant deservedly gets a lot of the credit for that, but Brooks deserves a ton of respect, too. It's not easy to recover from the loss of a top-10 player, even with someone like Durant on the roster.
And the injury problems aren't over for the Thunder. The team recently announced that Thabo Sefolosha will be out for the next four to six weeks with a calf strain, according to The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry.
If the Thunder are somehow still able to hold on to the West's top seed through all this, even Brooks' harshest critics will have to admit that he's doing something right.
Scott Brooks is at the helm of the Western Conference's top team and led that team to a 22-8 record without one of the best players in the league. He's got a young Thunder squad playing outstanding defense on a nightly basis and is navigating through a good bit of injury-related adversity.
Brooks is not a perfect coach, and some of his in-game decisions leave a lot to be desired. But on the whole, he's been terrific, and it's high time he gets some credit for it.
Overall Grade: A-