Billy Donovan has been criticized for his coaching like no other this year. The critics everywhere are saying that the Thunder should have either kept Scott Brooks or added a different coach with more NBA experience. Donovan might deserve some of the criticism but not all of it. Has he made some bad decision? Obviously, he keeps playing Randy Foye instead of Cameron Payne for some unknown reason. At the same time it has to be realized that Donovan has improved this Thunder team. Their ball movement is much better and has resulted in the Thunder offense having much more success and looking deadly from all parts of the court.
Donovan also deserves his props for the three playoff games that he has coached so far. He has done something that Scott Brooks never did while he was in OKC. He has proven to be flexible with his roster and play calling. Kyle Singler is put on the court for his ability to cover wing players, the Mavericks do not have any stand out wing players so Donovan has made the adjustment for that, no more playing Singler. Singler did not play any minutes in game three, even in garbage time he was on the bench, and played only five minutes in game two. Donovan is figuring out what his team is good at and what they are not.
Donovan also made some minor tweaks to the team after they struggled in game two. He found a way to get Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook what they needed to start hitting their shots, unlike what they did in game two. When asked about what the Thunder needed to do for KD and Westbrook to be successful Donovan said this:
“Kevin and Russell are really, really good one-on-one players. You’re just not going to run a motion offense all over the place and get these guys fatigued. What you have to do is give them space on the floor. I thought our spacing was much better today than it was last game and that’s what we worked on. I thought when Kevin got the ball he made great choices. When we got the ball out we got it quickly reversed to the corner. Enes got a three and Waiters got a three. We got the ball out and did it quick. I think Kevin made some great decisions as did Russell. That’s what we have to do. We have to have the correct spacing around them. When those guys go to create and make a play, now it’s up to them to make good decisions. I think that was something we tried to work on.”
Donovan is spot on with what he is saying there. If the other players on the Thunder can knock down a few shots and create space then it will lead to KD and Russ having an easier time when they are on the court. The two players are not only “really, really good one-on-one players” but they are two of the best in the entire league. The more room they have to work with on the court the easier it will be for them to create their own shot or shots for others.
This is a tricky subject for Donovan in the playoffs because he cannot fully control it. Donovan is not the one out there making the shots and he is not out there making the decision for KD and Russ. All that Donovan can do is give them the best chance to succeed and early on in these playoffs it appears that he is doing that perfectly. Donovan is coaching up to, if not better than, Rick Carlisle’s level so far. That says quite a bit about Donovan since Carlisle is known as one of the best coaches in the NBA. If the Thunder can manage to get past the Mavericks in this first round then Donovan’s challenge will only get harder as he faces off against the great Greg Popovich.