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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
LAS VEGAS — After 10 games in two cities and three gyms, certain things have become quite obvious about the strengths and weaknesses of the Thunder’s young guns.

If the Orlando Pro Summer League and NBA Summer League in Las Vegas have taught us anything, it’s that there is a world of work to be done in the development of Oklahoma City’s rookies and sophomores.

It’s difficult to judge how performances from summer league will translate to the regular season. Perhaps unwise to even try. But the past two weeks have given us glimpses of talent that will carry over and glances at warts that might not go away any time soon.

Here are 10 things we’ve learned about the Thunder after 10 games.

→James Harden is ready to contribute immediately. The No. 3 overall pick played with poise, confidence and an unwavering maturity. He impressed with his court sense as much as he did with his knack for scoring. Harden is good enough to compete for the starting shooting guard job from Day One, but he’s proven he’s the perfect complement to the defensive-minded Thabo Sefolosha regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench. Harden will have to do a better job of staying in front of his man defensively, but the whispers of him being a poor defender have been silenced.

→The point guard position could be questionable. With Earl Watson being waived on Friday, the Thunder is now left with a second-year point guard in Russell Westbrook and Shaun Livingston, who’s savvy but bouncing back from a career-threatening knee injury. Oklahoma City did a lot of experimenting at point guard throughout summer league, with customary shooting guards Harden and Kyle Weaver seeing time at the position. They were solid but not steady. The Thunder might have to add a veteran point guard this summer to serve as a calming force when things get hectic.

→Post play still is the weakest link. The Thunder’s young core was the talk of the town in Las Vegas, but the praise usually was followed by some form of, "They need a big man.” And none of the Thunder’s young bigs are ready to be an intimidator in the middle. That means the Thunder figures to encounter the same problems it ran up against last season with poor post defense and mismatches stemming from a lack of size and depth.

→Livingston can now handle more responsibility. His left knee looked solid in Las Vegas and Orlando. He’s shed a bulky knee brace, is moving more fluidly and, for now, you can pencil him in as the full-time backup. Livingston’s mix of mid-range shooting, court vision and passing skills could make him one of the best reserve point guards in the league. The only question is how much of his lateral quickness he’ll be able to regain to assist him in man-to-man defense.


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