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Time to assess the OKC Thunder's young guns

Darnell Mayberry Modified: July 19, 2009 at 7:30 am •  Published: July 19, 2009

/> →Robert Vaden can really stroke it from the perimeter. The 54th pick out of Alabama-Birmingham wasn’t as consistent as he wanted to be this summer, but when he got it going you could see flashes of how the Thunder could use him as a specialist off the bench. The only question is whether Vaden can adapt to becoming an effective scorer while being presented much less opportunities. He struggled in that role in Orlando and Las Vegas, but if he can adapt he could be a great weapon off the bench down the road.

→Byron Mullens is as big of a project as we thought. But the 7-foot-1 center has a nice skill set that had the league buzzing throughout the week. Mullens has a nice shooting touch from out to 17 feet and is always a threat to throw down a lob pass. Westbrook and Mullens would be wise to study Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler. Mullens is clearly a few years away, but if he continues to work on his rebounding and post defensive while adding a few low post moves he could prove to be one of the steals of the 2009 draft.

→DeVon Hardin needs polish. But you’ll fall in love with his passion and athleticism the first time you see him play. Hardin is the type of player who is all over the court on the defensive end, blocking shots and hustling for loose balls. He doesn’t have a post game or a jump shot, but can be effective around the rim with his rebounding putbacks and alley-oops. If the Thunder remains patient, he could develop into the ideal dirty worker off the bench. Think Chris "Birdman” Andersen.

→Serge Ibaka needs time. The 6-foot-10 power forward has been signed and will be on the roster next season. But don’t expect much. While he has shown flashes of rebounding, shot-blocking, and shooting skills, he is as inconsistent as you would expect a 19-year-old International player to be while learning the game. Not to mention he is working against a language barrier (he speaks only a little English) and adjusting to a new league. Thunder fans must be patient.

→Westbrook has matured. Last year’s No. 4 overall pick played in six games this summer and showed he is ready to take the next step in his development as the team’s floor general. Westbrook is largely more patient, no longer forcing the issue and instead looking for options out of ball screens other than his own shot. He’s slowed down and is learning how to shift gears rather than keeping the pedal to the metal.

→D.J. White and Kyle Weaver are more comfortable and eager to improve. They were rookies last year but are entering their second seasons looking to contribute more when their numbers are called but committed to continued development in practice. Weaver’s versatility has impressed the coaching staff, and White will be a scoring threat whenever he’s on the floor.