For a franchise coming off 23 wins, Oklahoma City finds itself in quite a peculiar position. The Thunder has accumulated more talent than it can possibly play. There is a logjam at every position. But no battle for playing time will be more intricate and interesting in 2009-10 than the one brewing between the young bucks. Second-year players D.J. White and Kyle Weaver, and rookies Serge Ibaka and Byron Mullens, presumably will walk into this season as third- and fourth-stringers. We're talking about three first-round picks and one top-40 selection possibly buried on the bench. On a playoff team, that sort of pecking order denotes depth. On the 23-win Thunder, it screams dilemma. “But that's the challenge that I have,” said coach Scott Brooks of adequately allocating minutes. “I'm looking forward to our guys continuing to fight for it, and I want them to continue to put pressure on me to give them minutes.” Each has his own ordeal to overcome. White missed 75 games due to a jaw ailment last season and is behind Jeff Green and Nick Collison on the depth chart at power forward. Ibaka is a foreign-born post player adjusting to the NBA game, American culture and the English language. He's projected to be behind White on the depth chart. Mullens is an athletic center who rebounds, runs the floor and has range on his jump shot. But he needs to bulk up and learn the game while doing so behind veterans Nenad Krstic and Etan Thomas. And Weaver is a do-it-all shooting guard, but the bulk of the minutes figure to go to Thabo Sefolosha and No. 3 overall pick James Harden. “It's a tough position to be in, but it's a good position,” Brooks said. “We have good players that are going to fight. And it puts pressure on the guys that are playing... If you're loafing on the court, we have guys that have really done a good job and they're going to continue to improve and continue to force the issue and I like that.” Brooks credited his young foursome for contributing energy and passion in practices throughout the preseason. “Every day we're out there, whether we're doing a drill or scrimmage, when we get in between those lines it's a fight,” said Weaver. “Not only am I trying to get better myself, but I'm trying to show that I belong out there. I'm still trying to prove that.” Weaver and White are prime examples of how playing time in the NBA isn't served in a lunch-line format. The first in line doesn't automatically get his number called first. Weaver averaged 20.8 minutes last season and started 19 of 56 games. Most of those minutes could dry up as the Thunder incorporates Harden. White, on the other hand, is a more polished post presence than Ibaka but isn't guaranteed to be ahead of the rookie. “It's a competition,” White said. “That's what you always want in basketball. You never want anything handed to you so you've got to go out and get it.” But who has emerged from this preseason with a leg up? “I have no clue,” White said. “Time will tell.”
For playing time? Ready ...Serge Ibaka is the team's most athletic post player and has the best shot-blocking tools. D.J. White is automatic from 17 feet and is a bully on the boards. Kyle Weaver can be a playmaker, spot-up shooter and go-to defender. And Byron Mullens runs the floor well and can extend the defense with his shooting touch. ... or not: Despite their collection of unique abilities, this foursome's inexperience could prove too costly to justify consistent minutes. And unlike when Kevin Durant and Jeff Green were rookies, the Thunder has reached the point where it can be patient with its young talent.