/articleid/3307542/1/pictures/505407"> Jeff Green poses for a photo during media day for the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball team at a hotel in Oklahoma City, Monday, Sept. 29, 2008. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Nate Billings) ORG XMIT: OKOKL101
"But I think this year we’ll have a lot of improvement.”
The belief begins with Kevin Durant, last year’s Rookie of the Year, who in Year Two is expected to build on averages of 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. It extends to Green, who joined Durant on the All-Rookie First Team last season and is expected to show significant improvement as a sophomore, and Westbrook, the rookie point guard who was selected with the No. 4 overall pick.
Durant turned 20 last Monday, Green is 22 and Westbrook doesn’t turn 20 until Nov. 12. There isn’t a younger trio in the league expected to average more minutes this season.
"I haven’t played with this many young guys that have such a high level of talent,” said Mason, an eight-year pro. "I think as these guys continue to grow together that’s what’s going to make the difference.”
The Thunder’s win total is largely dependant on their speedy development.
"That doesn’t mean you just white flag it and say, ‘Well, we can’t win with young guys in the Western Conference,’ because we have a good mix,” Carlesimo said. "Even though people say we’re young, we’re going to have guys on the floor with some experience. So the youth of our team doesn’t scare me.”
Smith, the Thunder’s oldest player at 33, views the youth as a positive.
"The way I look at it is the younger we are the more energy we’re going to have. We’re going to be able to go out there four quarters and hopefully put pressure on teams for four quarters and by the fourth quarter hopefully we’ll still have that energy we need down the stretch to win games.”