Are the Oklahoma City Thunder a Playoff Team?

Zach ZarembaCorrespondent IJuly 22, 2009

For a team that finished 23-59 last season, why should there be excitement and belief of success in the near future?

It starts with the Oklahoma City Thunder's youth. The team's star, Kevin Durant, is only 22 years of age, yet Durant averaged an eye-popping 25.3 points a game this season. 

Durant also averaged six boards a game, and shot 47 percent from the field, which ranked fourth among small forwards. Durant's height and athleticism make him virtually unstoppable.

It should also be noted that Durant is entering his third season, which is the year All-Stars LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Brandon Roy all led their respective teams to playoff appearances.

Durant is not the only young talent on the Thunder. Jeff Green, who came to the Thunder for Ray Allen in the 2007 NBA Draft, is also going into his third year. Green is a sturdy 6'9" forward. Green has a nice post game, but can also score off the dribble and play around the perimeter. He shot 38 percent from three-point land and hit 97 three-pointers.

His 240-pound frame and versatility makes him no fun for the opposition to guard.

Russell Westbrook made up the third piece of Oklahoma City's big three last year. The rookie point guard averaged 15.3 points a game, as well as five assists. Westbrook has unlimited athleticism and almost participated in the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest.

Westbrook did not play the point guard position in college, but has evolved into one of the NBA's brightest young floor generals.

Having a young, talented point guard is a privilege most NBA teams don't have—including a certain division rival in Portland—the Thunder should get many solid years out of Westbrook.

Westbrook played at UCLA, and his team went to the Final Four each year he was there, so he is accustomed to winning.

In the 2009 NBA Draft, the Thunder selected James Harden.

Harden will fit in perfectly with this team. He is a strong combo guard who is only 19 years old. Harden's game is very similar to Portland Trail Blazers' guard Brandon Roy. He plays good defense, can shoot the three, drives hard, and has excellent vision. 

Harden will team with Westbrook to create the NBA's youngest backcourt. 

The one question about the Thunder's starting lineup is who will start at center alongside Durant and Green in the frontcourt? 

To compliment Harden, the Thunder also drafted centers B.J. Mullens and Serge Ibaka. 

Both of these guys are young and probably will be reserves for the Thunder this season.  Ibaka, the athletic 19-year-old from Congo, is especially intriguing.

If he can adapt to the the NBA level, he could be a terrific post defender.

The Thunder also have veteran post players Nick Collison and Nenad Krstic. Krstic has a career scoring average of 11 points-per-game.

The Thunder are a little thin on perimeter reserves. Shaun Livingston, who once was a highly regarded draft pick for the Los Angeles Clippers, now finds himself on the Thunder bench. Livingston did play well at the end of last season and could be a spark off the bench.

Making the playoffs in the Western Conference is no small task. The Thunder's perimeter depth will hurt them, as well as their lack of talented, or proven frontcourt players.

Then again, if Harden can make a quick impact, the Thunder will have four players that all could make future All-Star appearances. Harden really is the key, because a handful of teams have a big three, or two great players they build around, but four great players is rare. It would give the Thunder one of the deepest, most talented starting lineups in the NBA.

The Thunder have one of brightest futures in the NBA. 

If Harden plays to his potential making the playoffs this is year is possible. If Harden takes a little longer to develop, then look for this team to make major noise in the 2010-2011 season.