Welcome to the Show: The Impact of the Oklahoma City Thunder Rookies
When I call your name, please proceed to the scorer's table:
The triple rookie threat off the Thunder bench has proven instrumental
in the success of the Thunder so far this season, which itself is one
of the youngest teams in the Association.
The interesting fact is that none of these men were set to be in this
position at the beginning of the season, yet they have all filled their roles nicely.
Harden, the third overall pick in the 2009 draft, impressed Thunder and
NBA fans with his dapper draft-day attire when he wore a bow-tie.
More importantly, though, is the way he has impressed on the court. As of January 23, he is sixth among rookies scoring 10.0 points per game (including back to back 20-plus point games, and three such performances in a nine-game stretch), eighth at 23 minutes per contest, fourth in 3-point percentage (37.8 percent) and fourth in free throw percentage (80.5 percent).
Sporting an impressive beard and a nice smooth lefty stroke, Harden has provided a much needed spark off the bench, contributing in clutch situations with big shots beyond the arc, mid-range jumpers, and in the paint.
Expected to start at the 2, coach Scott Brooks decided to wean the rookie into his role with the team, allowing defensive specialist Thabo Sefalosha to be placed in the starting rotation. Instead of complaining and pleading his case because he was a top-five pick, Harden has thrived in his role off the bench, and continues to play with heart, hustle, and a great attitude.
Serge Ibaka (pronounced E-bah-kuh) has also provided a much welcomed spark off the bench. The 24th pick of the 2008 draft when the team was still in Seattle, Ibaka played professionally in Spain last season, and joined the Thunder for the 2009-2010 season.
However, his first few games with the team were rough. Bad shooting, committing fouls, and not rebounding seemed to be his downfall. Fans would cringe when Ibaka came into the game, knowing something bad was about to happen.
But as the season has progressed, Ibaka has developed into a solid player. His defensive presence, as well as improved shooting, has earned him more playing time. Plus, he has provided an added weapon to the team. Although his stats aren't impressive, Ibaka is a player you must watch in order to see the benefits he brings to the Thunder.
Eric Maynor is the rookie who was least expected to contribute to the Thunder for one simple fact that he wasn't even on the opening day roster.
Drafted 20th overall in the 2009 draft by Utah, Maynor played behind Deron Williams, learning the ropes of Jerry Sloan's system. However, GM Sam Presti, who had been looking at Maynor before the draft, gave his team an early Christmas present, trading for Maynor on December 23.
When Maynor was informed of the trade, the Thunder coaching staff sent him an electronic copy of the playbook, which he took with him on the plane from Salt Lake City to Phoenix, and he joined the team that evening as they took on the Suns.
Subbing in for Russell Westbrook, Maynor is developing into a floor leader for the Thunder. His increased court vision, as well as perfecting a teardrop shot in the lane that mirrors Tony Parker, has him earning more minutes without the team missing a beat while Westbrook takes a breather.
The impact of the Thunder rookies, as well as Byron Mullens beginning to earn more playing time, will prove to be beneficial as the Thunder enter the second half of the season.
Having rookies on your team can be a curse or a blessing. In the case of the Thunder, the latter is definitely the case, and these young men will continue to contribute to the team as they make a push for the playoffs.
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