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News » There's a bright side to Thunder


There's a bright side to Thunder


There's a bright side to Thunder
No one - players, coaches or fans - is pleased with the Thunder's 4-30 record.

But the play of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook in December underscores why there is hope for the future.

Durant and Green averaged a combined 41 points and nearly 15 rebounds for the month. Westbrook was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month.

"That team is not a four-win Basketball team," said Denver guard Chauncey Billups, following the Nuggets' 122-120 buzzer-beating win Friday night in the Ford Center. "They've got a lot of good young talent."

That good young talent is improving week by week, month by month.

Durant averaged 25.0 points and 7.6 rebounds in December.

Green averaged 16.0 points and 7.0 rebounds.

Westbrook was one of only seven players, the only rookie, to average 15.0 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds.

"I know they've lost a ton of games, but if their fans stay patient those young players have a chance to become a very good team in a couple of seasons once they add more pieces around them," said an Eastern Conference scout speaking on condition of anonymity. "They've improved a lot the past month."

The Thunder still hasn't notched a win over a team with a winning record. But in recent weeks Oklahoma City has taken playoff quality teams like the Spurs, Pistons, Suns, Mavericks and Nuggets to the wire in close losses.

Durant and Green, first-team All-Rookie selections a year ago, have shown noticeable improvement. The most dramatic upgrade is both are shooting better from the field, especially beyond the arc.

Seventh in the league in scoring, Durant's average is 23.8 points, 3.5 higher than his rookie season. But it's his improvement in other areas that show he's a step closer to developing into a perennial All-Star.

"Kevin Durant is a potential Hall of Fame player," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "He has the passion. He works at it. He's basically unstoppable. He can score so many different ways. His game will come together as pieces are added. He's just scratching the surface."

Green arguably has shown even more improvement. The Georgetown product is averaging 5.7 more points than last year. His shooting percentage is up. He's already doubled his 3-point output and should quadruple it by season's end.

"You can tell he's much more confident this year," said a Western Conference scout also speaking on condition of anonymity. "I would try to find more ways to get him shots. Now that he's a threat on the perimeter, he's a tough matchup for most teams. His defense also has gotten better. I really like the progress he's made."

Tearing down a roster and rebuilding with young players isn't for everyone. Denver coach George Karl said he wouldn't want to coach a team that relies heavily on young players.

"I love (Durant, Green and Westbrook) as players," Karl said. "You can tell on film they're very scary. But somewhere along the way the winning has to come in. I'm not a big believer in young, young, young, lose, lose, lose and three or four years from now you'll be winners...

"If you put them through losing for two or three years their habits become losing. Philosophically, I know personnel people have a different image of how to build a team than coaches because that type of process is about a three-coach process where coaches get fired."

Thunder general manager Sam Presti definitely has a different image. And he's already on coach No. 2 with Scott Brooks replacing P.J. Carlesimo one month into the season.

Karl, though, makes a valid point. Whether the Thunder wins 15, 20 or 25 games this season isn't as relevant as developing winning habits.

"We want to win every game we play," Presti said. "It's also important that we make progress every day in practice. Our focus is always going to be to try to get better every day. Development is part of that. But we really want to see our efforts culminate in winning games for Oklahoma City."

Super sophsThe Thunder's second-year stars, Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, have stepped up their game in Year 2 with the franchise. Here's a look at their productivity this season compared to their All-Rookie seasons of a year ago:

Kevin DurantYear Avg. Reb. Ast. St. FG% 3FG% FT%

2008-09 23.8 5.8 2.3 1.1 46.4 44.4 84.8 2007-08 20.3 4.3 2.4 1.0 43.0 28.8 87.3

Jeff GreenYear Avg. Reb. Ast. St. FG%3 FG% FT% 2008-09 16.2 6.1 2.1 1.1 46.0 40.2 74.6 2007-08 10.5 4.7 1.5 0.6 42.7 27.6 74.4


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 7, 2009

 

 
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