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How Mark Daigneault’s Leadership Is Shaping The Thunder


Апр 16, 2023

When Mark Daigneault was hired to be the next coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder in late 2020, he was the youngest head coach in the NBA. He had been with the organization since 2014 and was set to be tasked with ensuring the development of the rebuilding Oklahoma City roster was a success.

The league is ever-changing, which makes it difficult to maintain success at this level. Thunder GM Sam Presti knew at that point that Daigneault was a perfect fit for a team that sought to set the pace rather than be a follower.

“One of the greatest skills I think he possesses is his relatability to the modern NBA player, but also the modern NBA organization,” said Presti in Daigneault’s introductory press conference. “As we reposition our franchise for future sustainable success, we want to remain cutting edge and forward thinking. I can’t think of someone better than Mark to be someone that’s leading that charge from the coaching position.”

Daigneault was put in a position to replace Billy Donovan at the helm, who was and still is a mentor and friend to the young, upcoming coach. Donovan had brought Daigneault onto his staff at the University of Florida early in his career, who then followed the now Bulls coach to Oklahoma City.

Before ultimately earning the head job in 2020, Daigneault was known for being a great mind for identifying and developing talent, which is why he was an integral part of the Thunder’s draft process and development program. He truly played a huge part in ensuring the franchise brought in and got the most out of its young talent for many years before being promoted to the top spot.

Now in just his third season with the head job, Daigneault has already emerged as one of the best coaches in the entire league. He led the youngest team in the NBA to a 40-win season during the 2022-23 campaign and brought the Thunder to within a single win from making the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. This success has landed him as an NBA Coach of the Year finalist.

Daigneault has proven he’s more than just a developmental coach best suited to lead a rebuilding team. He’s clearly the coach of the future in Oklahoma City and has what it takes to lead this team to a championship down the road. He’s taken inexperienced, undersized teams the past few seasons and built defenses that rank in the top 10 of the league. He is a genius in crafting plays out of timeouts to generate easy points. Daigneault also is one of the best in the league at making in-game adjustments, which is why the Thunder were the NBA’s best third quarter team coming out of halftime this season.

Now that the season has come to a close, we’ve been able to hear from each of Daigneault’s players in the Thunder’s annual exit interviews. While there were many themes that emerged from this press conference, perhaps the most evident is the love and respect Daigneault’s team has for him.

Daigneault has been described as open-minded, innovative and unconventional during his time as the Thunder’s head coach. It takes thinking outside the box to become the best at anything. Even Dario Saric, who only spend two months with the team this season, sees that he’s the right fit for this team now and into the future. “He is the right coach for these young people here,” said Saric at the close of the 2022-23 campaign.

One of the most important parts of being a coach at any level is having buy-in from the roster. If the team doesn’t believe in its coach, development and success on the court will be hindered.

“I love playing for him and I know all the guys do,” Josh Giddey said recently. If I could build a coach, it’s Mark.”

It goes beyond just being a coach on the court when the roster is primarily comprised of players under 25. Daigneault has a locker room with kids that are still learning to be adults and navigating life in general. The Thunder as a franchise has always been about ensuring the talent in the system, both players and staff members, includes great people.

“He is an unbelievable person,” said Aleksej Pokusevski of Daigneault this week. “If you’re struggling he is going to be there. It’s easy because he puts you in the right position where the only thing you have to do is compete.”

For most players, the success of their career is dictated by who they are surrounded and influenced by both on and off the court.

“He’s a great coach, but he’s an even better human being,” said Lindy Waters in exit interviews.

While Daigneault is just now starting to get national attention after leading the Thunder to the postseason and earning a spot as a finalist for the NBA’s top coach, everyone that follows Oklahoma City closely has known just how special he is as a person and leader. This has been further proven by the way his players talk about him, from the top to the bottom of the roster.

In fact, Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was asked after the recent season what he learned about Daigneault during OKC’s breakout season.

“I didn’t learn nothing, I knew what type of coach he was his first year here. He has a core belief system and I 100% agree with it,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “I think him instilling those things in us when we were a 15-win team to when we were a 22-win team until now has made it easier for us to grow because it’s instilled in us habits that we will carry forward and I think he’s done a great job of that.»

For any coach, it takes time for their philosophies and systems to truly set in and see the results. We saw the success the Thunder had this season, but Daigneault’s behind the scenes work with the team the two years prior was equally as instrumental in winning 40 games this season.

This is why players like Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey both made big year-over-year jumps in production, as Daigneault and his staff’s development plans are paying off. He gets the most out of his players, from the top player on the roster to the two-way guys. Most teams as young as Oklahoma City struggle tremendously regardless of the level of talent on the roster. The fact that this team was able to be competitive and overcome adversity all season speaks to Daigneault’s system.

Possessing the perfect blend of great on-court coaching along with being a great person and mentor off the court, Mark Daigneault is shaping the next great era of Oklahoma City Thunder basketball.

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