Naming Mark Daigneault as the new Oklahoma City Thunder head coach raised some eyebrows.
Not because of a checkered past, or a perceived clash of values with the organization that would lead to a bad fit.
No, eyebrows were raised mainly because people were wholly unfamiliar with Daigneault’s resume.
At 35 years old, Daigneault became the youngest coach in the league, capping off his meteoric rise through the ranks of the Thunder organization.
But after digging into his past, it makes perfect sense why Oklahoma City turned to the Bruce Springsteen loving Leominster, MA, native.
Daigneault built his reputation within the franchise as a player developer, guiding OKC’s G-League team, the Oklahoma City Blue, to a wining percentage of 57-percent. And in his first five months on the job, his reputation appears to be well earned.
In the first half of the season, Oklahoma City exceeded expectations despite dealing with a bevy of different roster combinations. In fact through their first 55 games, injuries and roster turnover forced the Thunder into rolling out 23 different starting lineups.
Despite the rotating door that has been his lineups, Daigneault has instilled a clear vision for the Thunder which will serve as the foundation for his offense for years to come.
In line with the prevailing analytics of today’s NBA, Daigneault wants his team to shoot 3-pointers at a high clip. From the start of the regular season through the All-Star Break (when the roster really started to churn for OKC), the Thunder ranked fifth in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted per game. Even though Oklahoma City ranked in the bottom five in actual percentage of 3’s made, the foundational philosophy remained with the hope that bringing in better players over the next few years will result in a higher percentage of shots getting knocked down.
Daigneault’s Thunder also want to whizz the ball around to create open looks for their teammates. Before the All Star Break, Oklahoma City ranked No. 18 in assist percentage even in the face of rolling out lineups which more resembled a G-League team than an actual NBA team on some nights.
On the other of the floor, Oklahoma City had the tenth best defensive Net Rating, playing especially great defense on the perimeter. Allowing opponents to hit just 35-percent of attempts from deep, Daigneault’s Thunder ranked third in perimeter defense.
As the Thunder utilize their unprecedented haul of draft picks over the next few years, Daigneault will be instrumental in developing Sam Presti’s hand-picked stars. This could be Oklahoma City’s secret weapon, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort have made great strides under Daigneault’s tutelage this season.
Before being sent to the bench with plantar fasciitis, Gilgeous-Alexander was playing like a bonafide All-Star candidate, carrying his team to soar above their preseason expectations of contending for the first overall draft pick.
While maintaining his high level of defense, Dort’s offensive game has also developed nicely under Daigneault and his staff. Maintaining his field goal percentage of 39.5 percent from his rookie season, Dort has improved his 3-point shooting from 30 percent last year to 34 percent in 2020-21. The former Arizona State’s playmaking has improved as well, averaging 1.6 assists per game in his sophomore season, up from 0.8 dimes per game in his rookie campaign.
Dort’s scoring output has essentially doubled under Daigneault, including his recent 42-point performance against the Utah Jazz, setting a new career high.
Rookie Aleksej Pokusevski has also looked more and more comfortable as the year presses on, as well as the integration of center Moses Brown, and Daigneault has shown he can maximize the best parts of his roster to put guys in a position to succeed.
This type of development should only improve once he’s handed players with a higher ceiling to mold.
As Daigneault continues to grow as a head coach, Presti may have finally uncovered the head coach he wanted all along.