Can a philosophy OKC adopted during the rebuild work in the playoffs?

Can a philosophy OKC adopted during the rebuild work in the playoffs?

‘Stacking good days’ might’ve seemed like a mantra for a franchise going through a developmental phase, but the Thunder sees it as key to playoff success.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 21, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 21, 2024, 6:00am CDT

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander nodded knowingly at the mere mention of the three-word phrase.

Stacking good days.

That has become the Thunder’s organizational philosophy during this era of reposition, replenish and rebuild. Front office brass talk about it. Coaches, support staff and players reference it. 

But now, the rebuild is rebuilt, and the reposition is in the top position in the West.

The top-seeded Thunder opens the playoffs Sunday night against the Pelicans, and while the national narrative about this bunch is that it’s too young to be a serious contender and that it may be the most vulnerable No. 1 seed in recent history, the truth may come from the answer to this question.

Can the Thunder’s philosophy of stacking good days carry over from development success to playoff success?

That question had SGA nodding again.

“I believe that mindset and that approach to things is how you achieve what you want,” he said. “Achieve greatness.”

He contends that philosophy works regardless of circumstance.

“It’ll be Game 1 of our series. It’ll be Game 7 of a series,” he said. “It’ll be (for) my brother as he’s going through school and studying to get an A in his class. I think if you’re trying to achieve what you want … and you plug away at it every day, that’s how you get to where you want to be.”

The Thunder didn’t originate the notion of stacking good days. Do a Google search, and you’ll discover the concept of stacking discussed on a coaching website five years ago. Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox mentioned it in a press conference three years ago. Former NFL superstar Calvin Johnson referenced it on social media two years ago.

Still, no group has used it more consistently than the Thunder over the past few years.

And no one has talked about the concept more than Thunder coach Mark Daigneault. Maybe that figures since he’s the highest-ranking staffer who regularly talks to reporters. Then again, he has a bunch of Daigneaultisms.

Have an 0-0 mentality. Run your race. Progress isn’t linear.

He’s no Yogi Berra, but he says some of these phrases so often it’s comical. 

Still, it’s clear that stacking good days is no laughing matter to Daigneault. He is very serious about how important it is. 

Recently, I asked him how he thought it would translate to the playoffs. How does a team go from a mode of rebuilding and developing to being in the playoffs where winning is all that matters?

“I think it goes back to stacking,” Daigneault said, then seemed to catch himself and realize “Oh, yeah, I do say that a lot.” 

“Not to beat it up, but if your goal is to win, then the first question you should ask yourself is, ‘OK, if you really want to win, how do you win?’ … You have to have more points than the other team. How do you do that? Well, you have to win quarters, and eventually when you trace the breadcrumbs back, you’re going to end up in the moment of a possession and stacking those is how you stack up to an end goal like winning a game or winning a series or whatever.”

Daigneault then offered up an example to which many of us can relate: losing weight.

“You can sit there and talk about wanting to lose weight all you want,” he said, “but at the end of the day, if you want to lose weight, the way you do it is by stacking days and stacking meals.”

In other words, you don’t automatically lose 30 pounds, as great as that would be. You get there instead with a bunch of small choices. Veggies or french fries? Water or soda? One bite of cake or the whole thing?

In basketball, you don’t automatically make the NBA Finals. You’ve got to first win a game in your first-round series.

And if the Thunder’s going to do that, it will have to free up SGA a bit when Herb Jones is playing suffocating defense. And crash the boards along with Chet Holmgren when wide-bodied Jonas Valanciunas is on the floor. And get after Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum and Trey Murphy on the perimeter.

The Thunder has to win possessions to win quarters to win games to win a series.

One thing at a time.

“Anytime you want to accomplish anything, that’s really the blueprint for how to do it,” Daigneault said. “If you want to accomplish that goal, you have to start peeling back the layers of how you ladder up to that goal. And where you always end up is in the present moment. You always end up in this moment, whether it’s losing weight or becoming a Pulitzer Prize winner … or whether it’s winning a playoff series. 

“You’re gonna have to draw it all the way down to today, this moment, this opportunity.”

And for a young team with limited playoff experience, it might be easy to start looking ahead. Trying to make the NBA Finals before winning its first series. Trying to win a championship before winning its first playoff game.

That doesn’t seem to be the mindset of the players.

“The playoffs is what we stacked for throughout the whole season,” Thunder reserve big man Jaylin Williams said. “There’s always the end goal … and I feel like we’ve been stacking the whole year to build those tendencies, those things that we want to do as a team when it gets to those games.

“I feel like it all works together.”

Daigneault said in truth, the philosophy of stacking good days might have been adopted when the Thunder was rebuilding and the playoffs seemed far off, but it has become a rallying cry because everyone sees it as the mindset that gives the Thunder the best chance to win.

“We understand the ingredients that go into team success,” Daigneault said. “And that’s why we’ve tried to emphasize it. … I know I beat it up, but it’s because I believe, and I think we have a team that believes it. I think they understand the power of that.”

The players have seen, after all, what it has helped them do over the past few years, going from losing 58 games two years ago to winning 57 games this season. They’ve seen the philosophy of stacking good days become the foundation of one of the quickest rebuilds in the history of the NBA. 

“That’s just something I believe fits in every aspect of life,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, “and definitely fits in what we’re trying to do here.

Now, the entire basketball world is about to see if stacking good days is the rock on which the next great Thunder era is built.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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