What Does the Billy Donovan Hire Mean for the Oklahoma City Thunder?

Based on his collegiate record and experience, Donovan is a great hire for the Thunder.

On Thursday, April 30th, Florida head coach Billy Donovan accepted a five-year deal from the Oklahoma City Thunder to make the jump from the college ranks to the NBA.

Donovan has spent the last 21 years in college basketball, beginning with Marshall in 1994, where he went 35-20 in two seasons. He headed to the University of Florida in 1996 and recorded a record of 467-186 as the head coach of the Gators. After 16 straight years of 20-plus wins, four Final Four appearances, and two national titles, Donovan will forever live in the hearts of Gator fans.

Championship Years

Donovan guided the Florida Gators to back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007. The trio of Corey Brewer, Al Horford, and Joakim Noah were all top-10 picks in the 2007 NBA Draft and led both of those championship teams, posting solid all-around stats in their championship years.

2005-06Corey Brewer3928.146.8%76.9%
2005-06Al Horford3925.960.8%61.1%
2005-06Joakim Noah3924.962.7%73.3%
2006-07Corey Brewer3728.547.5%72.3%
2006-07Al Horford3827.860.8%64.4%
2006-07Joakim Noah4025.960.7%66.3%

In his back-to-back championship seasons, Donovan kept three top-tier college players content and on the same page, which suggests that he can do the same with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two top-five players in the NBA. Doing so would maximize the both Durant’s and Westbrook’s talents as well as giving the Thunder their best chance to win.

Donovan’s coaching led the 2013-14 Gator team to a program-best 36 wins, going undefeated in SEC play, and recording 30 straight wins before falling to Shabazz Napier and the Connecticut Huskies in the Final Four.

It is remarkable how much success this iteration of the Gators had despite their lack of NBA-talent. None of the Gators’ starting five of Scottie Wilbekin, Michael Frazier, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, and Patric Young are currently in the NBA. Donovan’s success with this team shows his ability to get the most out of his players and getting players buy in to his system.

Helping the Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder just missed out on the playoffs last season due to injuries to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and others. Another big reason was due to the team’s Defensive Rating of 105.5, which ranked 16th in the league. Brooks’ Thunder teams ranked outside the top 10 in Defensive Rating in three of his six seasons at the helm. The team's best defensive year was during the 2012-13 season, when the Thunder finished the year 4th in the league in Defensive Rating, better than 86.67% of other NBA teams.

Donovan, on the other hand, has been an exceptional defensive coach the last few seasons. The Gators ranked second out of nearly 350 teams in the nation in Defensive Rating three years ago and 10th two years ago. Even in a down year for the program last season, Florida registered the 40th best Defensive Rating in the nation, higher than 88.6% of other teams.

Simply put, the Gators have played strong defense in the past three seasons despite their talent level.

YearDonovan DRtgRankPercentileBrooks DRtgRankPercentile
2009-1098.8126th of 34763.60%104.69th of 3070.00%
2010-1196.973rd of 34578.84%107.215th of 3050.00%
2011-1298.8136th of 34460.47%103.211th of 3063.33%
2012-1386.42nd of 34799.42%102.64th of 3086.67%
2013-1491.810th of 35197.15%103.96th of 3080.00%
2014-1594.940th of 35188.60%105.516th of 3046.67%

Still Recruiting

When coaches make the jump to the NBA, the wear of the recruiting grind every year is usually in the past.

However, as head coach of the Thunder now, Donovan will have to amp up his recruiting efforts even more. Kevin Durant has vouched for Scott Brooks throughout his career and becomes a free agent during the summer of 2016. That will be Donovan’s first important recruiting battle.

The following summer, Russell Westbrook will be a free agent, and there have been rumors of his desire to head back to LA, where he played college ball. In order for the organization to continue to compete for championships, Donovan will have to put forth some effort to keep both of these star players in Oklahoma City.

With the hire of Billy Donovan, the Oklahoma City Thunder are getting a coach who knows how to develop and use undervalued players, a coach who has been battle-tested in postseason play, a coach who knows how to use star players effectively, and most importantly, a coach who is a winner.