Head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Mark Daigneault, is going to deal with a lot of losing early in his career as a head coach. It won’t be entirely reflective of his coaching acumen though — he knew heading into this job that the Thunder would be in a transition period for several years of his early tenure. There will be much more to take away from these seasons than wins and losses.
It's been quite the journey, moving from Billy Donovan’s staff in Florida, through the Oklahoma City Blue and then finally as an assistant coach with the Thunder under Donovan again. Daigneault has been prominently regarded in the organization as a player development specialist, making him ideal for this retooling phase Oklahoma City is in right now.
The Thunder roster heading into the 2020-2021 season did not look exceptional, yet just before the All-Star Break on Mar. 14, they had a 17-22 record. The Pelicans had the same record at the time, and they considered making the play-in game a must. The Thunder also had a much better record than teams like the 15-24 Kings and 9-30 Timberwolves. Daigneault’s knack for maximizing talent is clear, getting the most out of each individual player.
Did anyone expect Kenrich Williams to be as good as he was last year? Moses Brown got national attention for his play and real, perhaps misinformed excitement from Boston fans after the Celtics traded for him in the offseason before being re-routed to Dallas. Hamidou Diallo stood out enough to earn a contract extension with Detroit for $10 million. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lou Dort showed nothing but growth, and now the undrafted Dort is a top player from his 2019 draft class.
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Questions do still remain about Daigneault. Will Aleksej Pokusevski continue to develop? How will future high draft picks ascend in his system?
The longterm and unavoidable questions though will remind fans of the 2019-2020 Brooklyn Nets and former head coach Kenny Atkinson. Atkinson helped build a solemn Nets team to fun and hard-nosed playoff roster. Then all of a sudden he was gone, making way for two superstars and Steve Nash. Reports followed labeled Atkinson as only a coach for player development. Daigneault will answer those same questions one day.
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