The Oklahoma City Thunder are going to the playoffs this year, and the only surprise is that it’s happening this soon. The Thunder built their entire lineup through a series of wonderful draft decisions. We know that the Thunder were the Sonics for some of these decisions, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll call them the Thunder from here on out.
The linchpin for their success was having the good fortune of landing the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, which gave them the greatest consolation prize in the last twenty years, Kevin Durant. Had the Thunder received the number one pick they would have had Greg Oden and we all know how that turned out. In his rookie season, Durant poured in over 20 points a game on his way to collecting the Rookie of the Year award. Now Durant is one of the faces of the league and battling with LeBron James for his first scoring title.
The good fortune for the Thunder continued when they swapped aging shooting guard Ray Allen for Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, and the number five overall pick. The pick ended up being a combo forward out of Georgetown, Jeff Green. As a rookie, Green averaged 11 points a game, while building rapport with Durant and the rest of the Thunder. Green has developed a better outside jumper allowing him to improve his scoring to 15 points per game this season. He provides a great third scoring option for the Thunder and with his offensive repertoire expanding Green is poised to become an All-Star.
For an encore, the Thunder selected UCLA’s Russell Westbrook fourth overall in 2008, when many thought they should select another guard, Jerryd Bayless out of Arizona. Yet again, GM Sam Presti made the perfect choice. Westbrook has become one of the most dynamic guards in the league posting career bests of 16 points, eight assists and five rebounds per game. Bayless has had a limited roll for the Blazers logging only 17 minutes per game. With Westbrook, every night there’s a good chance you’ll see him on SportsCenter’s Top Ten going coast to coast for a thunderous dunk or finding Durant or Green with a pass not many in the league could make.
With the third overall pick in 2009 the Thunder made their first selection as the Thunder. They opted to add yet another offensive weapon with shooting guard James Harden from Arizona State. As a sophomore with the Sun Devil’s Harden averaged 20 points, six rebounds and four assists while being named the Pac-10 Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. As a rookie this season, Harden has been asked to come in and not get in Durant, Westbrook, or Green’s way. This was quite the change for Harden who was always a go-to scorer in college. In limited minutes (23 per game) James has scored ten points a game. He has shown flashes of brilliance like when he went for 24 and 25 points in back-to-back games against the Magic and Wizards early in the season.
The youth movement will continue for the Thunder this year with five draft picks. They’ll select 21st and 22nd in the first round and 49th in the second round, and will receive two 2nd round picks from Minnesota (32 and the later of the T’Wolves other two picks). If any player slips be sure that General Manager Sam Presti will scoop them up. Also, don’t be surprised if Presti packages the picks to move up and grab the player he thinks will help the team most.
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