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News » Thunder pups need to keep improving

Thunder pups need to keep improving

Thunder pups need to keep improving Jeff Green was born a month after Greg LeMond won his first Tour de France.

Kevin Durant was born two days after Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100-meter gold medal at Seoul for doping.

Russell Westbrook was born four days after George Bush I was elected to the White House.

In other words, these guys aren't all that old. Green is 23, Durant 21 and Westbrook 20. Yet they are more than the future of the Thunder . They are the present.

Which is why the Thunder has adopted a self-help philosophy in trying to build off back-to-back years of 23-59 and 20-62.

These Baby Boomers will get better individually, which will determine how much better their squad becomes.

"We have the guys that can make a huge jump," said Thunder veteran Nick Collison.

Some NBA franchises try to improve by improving their roster. The Thunder seeks improvement by improving its players.

Young players have a bigger upside. An NBA veteran of 27 is not going to be dramatically different at 28. But an NBA player at 21 can take huge jumps by 22.

That's why the Thunder , with Durant, Green and Westbrook, plus 20-year-old rookie James Harden, has not gone for an extreme makeover roster edition.

General manager Sam Presti wants to see what he's got. He knows Durant is a star and Westbrook and Green are intriguing players, but Presti really has no idea how good these guys can become.

"Our guys, they want to be better players," said coach Scott Brooks.

If so, that's a good start. Some players reach the NBA and feel they've made it. Others keep climbing. The Thunder needs its young players to climb, climb, climb.

There's reason to think they will. The jump by Durant and Green from Year 1 to Year 2 was dramatic.

Durant went from shooting 43 percent to 47.6 percent. His 3-point percentage went from 28.8 to 42.2. His rebounds went up by two per game (to 6.5) and his points went up five per game (to 25.3). Durant jumped from likely star to star. Anything resembling that kind of improvement again lifts Durant to superstar status.

Green, a less flashy player, still had similar jumps. From 10.5 points to 16.5. From 4.7 rebounds to 6.7. Three-point percentage from 27.6 to 38.9.

If Westbrook makes that kind of jump in his Year 2, he's a star, because his rookie stats were historically impressive: 15.3 points, 5.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 3.3 turnovers.

The most similar rookie point guard seasons of the last 30 years were turned in by Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Penny Hardaway, Dwyane Wade, Kelvin Ransey and Isiah Thomas.

In those same 30 years, here are the 20-year-old starting point guards: Rajon Rondo, Rose, Thomas, Gilbert Arenas, Magic Johnson, Mike Conley, T.J. Ford, Tony Parker and Paul.

Improve from that kind of start, and you're in tall waters.

When you're that young - 20, 21, 22 - improvement comes natural with hard work. Which is why this Thunder team, with no dramatic roster changes, will be dramatically better in the standings and win 38 games.

Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 27, 2009


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