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Loud Links: 10/26/09 Early Edition (Thunder Rumbling for the New Season)

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Happy Monday morning Thunder-heads! Okay, The Oklahoman just released their 2009-10 Thunder Preview. Scotty Brooks got a little feisty at practice. Westbrook dished as many dimes as Steve Nash in the Preseason. Livingston is throwing down windmill dunks in practice. An apology from a Seattle journalist. Durant and co. hung out downtown over the weekend. On Friday night Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden went bowling in Bricktown. Nenad Krstic, Kevin Durant and Jeff Green played board games with fans on Saturday night. Okie Blake Griffin throws down a monster dunk then gets injured. He is listed as day-to-day, but I'm starting to believe this "Clippers Curse" nonsense.

Playing the numbers game - The Globe and Mail
Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder is one of the most exciting young players in basketball, yet a debate raged in cyberspace recently when it was pointed out that despite his 25.3-point-a-game scoring average, the Thunder were better off statistically when he was off the floor than when he was playing.

The revelation hurt Durant – considered an earnest and determined young star – so he lashed back via Twitter: "Everybody that is doubtin me as a player and my team as a whole..all i can say is that we all are tryin and workin our hardest!"

He should have saved his thumbs, said Raptors guard Jarrett Jack – a friend of Durant’s from Washington – who was able to deconstruct the mystery without the aid of a spreadsheet. Durant has to pass more and shoot fewer contested shots. "I talked to him about that in the summer time," Jack said. "He’s a talented, talented player. He’ll be an MVP candidate one day, probably. But nobody can do it by themselves."

Jeff Green is the OKC Thunder's Mr. Versatility |
Jeff Green's value can be measured by the company he keeps. Only nine NBA players averaged at least 16 points, six rebounds, two assists and one steal last season. Green, the Thunder's versatile forward, was one of them. The others? LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Caron Butler, LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace and Carlos Boozer. Five of them are All-Stars.

OKC Thunder guard Russell Westbrook decides to be great |
But it was inside St. Monica High that Westbrook sharpened his skills against Chicago's guard Derrick Rose. The two played one-on-one, went through shooting drills and worked on perfecting the pick-and-roll. "We were real competitive," Westbrook said. "He helped me a lot. And I would say there are things I helped him with as well."

NBA Sunday: Preseason Winners & Losers - HoopsWorld
Most Assists: Steve Nash & Russell Westbrook with 7.7 per game. While Nash isn't necessarily a surprise, Westbrook atop the assists list is. If Kevin Durant is legitimately going to contend for the scoring title this season, Westbrook will have more than enough opportunities to dump the ball off to him and reap the benefits in the stat book.

Can OKC Thunder rookie James Harden have a sudden impact? |
"My coaches and teammates have great confidence in me and have given me the opportunity to just go out there and play basketball," he said.

Can OKC Thunder guard Shaun Livingston restart his once-promising career? |
The big question is, how close is Livingston to returning to the player he was, when he was drafted No. 4 overall?. "He's definitely an NBA point guard," said veteran Kevin Ollie. "He's jumping well. He's had a few wind-mill (dunks) in practice. What he's done is a testament to his character. He's an inspiration to all of us.

Thunder Get Back To Work - Hoopsworld
• Speaking about Thursday's game, Etan Thomas revealed that "Coach is not happy at all." Thomas said the team is better than what we saw in the last three preseason games. "It's not time to panic." • Thomas and Brooks are happy about the return of the regular referees this week. Brooks praised the work the regular refs do, saying he doesn't get frustrated with some of the missed calls in a game when they're looking at a 200-possession game. "It's good to have them back," he said. When pressed about his personal all-time favorite referee, he mentioned the legendary Earl Strom with admiration in his voice.

Can Loud City get louder? |
Last year, before his Lakers came to Oklahoma City, Phil Jackson called out the Thunder faithful. "They haven't quite figured out the NBA game, the length of it," Jackson said. "They get all fired up in the beginning, and it's a marathon. It's 48 minutes of basketball. It's not like college where you can come out and get a 10-point lead or a 15-point lead and you can win the game." Of course, after the game, Jackson said: "Their crowd energizes that team. It makes it much more difficult to win. All teams will have a hard time when they come here."

Oklahoma City Thunder players have all the answers |
The Thunder has only one nationally televised game all season on a major network. That question — which game besides Dallas on Dec. 16 should be on national TV? — drew some interesting responses.

2009-10 NBA Season Predictions and Preview | The 3rd String Safety
Oklahoma City Thunder, 41-41: Hey, I can dream, can’t I? The thing is, the "Zombies" as Bill Simmons calls them, do not have that much of an outside chance at making the playoffs. With Kevin Durant winning a scoring title this year (yep, mark it) and Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, and James Harden as ROY (yep, mark it) the Thunder need just some sort of production from their front-court. Also, the end of their schedule compares favorably to teams like Phoenix and the Clips. X-Factor: Nenad Kristic. Just give me 12 and 8, man…

Can Nenad Kristic to be the OKC Thunder's main rebounder? |
The Thunder was sixth in the NBA in rebounding last season. But two statistics underscore why it remains a concern: 19-27: The Thunder's record in games it outrebounded opponents. 4-32: OKC's record when it didn't.

OKC Thunder pups need to keep improving |
General manager Sam Presti wants to see what he's got. He knows Durant is a star and Westbrook and Green are intriguing players, but Presti really has no idea how good these guys can become. "Our guys, they want to be better players," said coach Scott Brooks. If so, that's a good start. Some players reach the NBA and feel they've made it. Others keep climbing. The Thunder needs its young players to climb, climb, climb.

Previewing NBA 2009-10 season: Western Conference | Houston Chronicle
Youth may not be served just yet. The team has an average age of 25, and second-year coach and former Rocket Brooks is new to this game as well. Durant, already proven as one of the game’s toughest defensive assignments, has to improve defensively himself. At 6-9 and with the wingspan of a 7-footer, he should average more than 0.7 blocks per game. If there’s natural progression at work, then it’s reasonable to expect an improvement to a .500 record or maybe better, which could be good enough for a playoff berth. 46-36, 4th in Northwest, 8th in West.

Thunder Insider: As tipoff nears, here’s a close look at the team |
Ibaka was a steal. The 24th overall pick in 2008 is as athletic as advertised. He has natural instincts as a rebounder and shot-blocker and possesses a soft shooting touch to go with it. He might not be ready to contribute much immediately. But with polish he could turn into a gem. predicts Westbrook to have a breakout year.

Thunder notebook: Teammates see improvement in Russell Westbrook |
"He’s improved his game," center Nenad Krstic said of Westbrook. "He’s looking for his teammates. I know if I set a good screen and I’m open I’m going to get the ball. Last year, in the beginning, it was not (like that) because we didn’t know each other. Now, he knows where I’m going to be and I know he’s going to pass me the ball. So it’s been really good playing with him."

Oklahoma City, you have my apologies | John McGrath - The News Tribune | Seattle
Which is my way of saying: I’m sorry, Oklahoma City. When the SuperSonics relocated to the American Heartland after 40 years in Seattle, I put the place down with all the knee-jerk stereotypes. You know, a dusty, boring, smelly cowtown in the middle of nowhere, full of tobacco-spitting hicks unworthy of appreciating any sporting event that didn’t include ropes and horses. This is nonsense. Oklahoma City is an agreeably thriving metropolis more than capable of supporting an NBA franchise. Because it’s difficult to escape for a weekend in the mountains, or a day trip to the ocean, the Oklahoma fan’s affection only figures to intensify for a basketball team mired in Year Four of a rebuilding project that’s produced minimal improvement.

Signs of decline in the West |
"It’s tough to judge with us," Nick Collison said. "We’re a very talented team that could make a huge push. We’re capable of it. With that being said, we’re probably 25 games short from our record last year. That’s a huge jump." Phoenix won 48 games and didn’t make it. Two years ago, Golden State won 50 and missed the playoffs. But there are signs it might not take 45 wins. The East no longer is a doormat after winning the inter-conference series for the first time in a decade by beating up on the West’s bottom feeders.

It all starts at home for the Thunder |
Post a winning record at home and the Thunder moves closer to playoff contention. Post another losing record in the Ford Center and there’s still a ways to go. "Protecting home court is a big thing," said Nick Collison. "That would be a big step for us."

NBA WEST PREVIEW: - The Delaware County Daily Times
It’s going to be tough for this team to progress quickly, but the Thunder is going to be able to score some points. They already have two offensive forces in Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, and it’s tough to find anyone who doesn’t like James Harden’s prospects as an NBA scorer. But they really need to get someone of substance in the paint. Maybe Mullens will develop into that, but he’s a project.

OKC Thunder forward Nick Collison settles in at natural position |
With Nenad Krstic set to start at center and Etan Thomas slotted for the backup role, Collison might get the chance to expand his game, which includes 17-foot shooting range. "Nick can make jump shots," said coach Scott Brooks. "We want him to have more confidence in that this year. He won't be playing against as many big centers. But there's not as many as there used to be."

Are there enough minutes to go around for the young guys on the OKC Thunder? |
"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."

Thunder notebook: News of NBA's referee deal pleases the Thunder |
Kevin Ollie spent more than 20 minutes in isolation after Saturday’s practice. Hunched over, he stared at a wall at the far end of the team’s training facility and put himself through dribbling drills with two basketballs in an attempt to improve his ball-handling. With no one else on the court, the scene illustrated what the Thunder likes about the 12-year veteran.

New OKC Thunder big man Etan Thomas provides more than muscle |
Thomas, 31, said one of his roles will be to offer advice to young big men like Serge Ibaka, Byron Mullens and D.J. White. Ollie will work with the guards. "You can lead by example or be a talker," Thomas said. "I do a little bit of both. I'm more of a guy who might pull someone to the side and talk to them one-on-one. That's my method. A lot of times they learn just by watching."

Shock's move to Tulsa makes financial sense | Detroit Shock -
On Tuesday, the Detroit Shock, the WNBA's best franchise this decade, was sold and will relocate to Tulsa, Okla., for the 2010 season. Tulsa is a non-NBA city where the team will be the top sport in town. It was a business move, plain and simple. The Tulsa franchise is 90 miles (the drive from Grand Rapids to Mount Pleasant) from its nearest professional competition, the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder. It won't be fifth on the list of interest like the Shock were behind the big four: the Detroit Lions (NFL), Detroit Tigers (MLB), Detroit Pistons (NBA) and Detroit Red Wings (NHL).

Thabo Sefolosha is the stopper who puts the 'D' in Thunder |
When your role is to guard elite players such as Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, customary measuring sticks like points, rebounds, assists and blocks fail to measure the value of defensive stoppers like Sefolosha. "I don't see it as pressure," Sefolosha said. "There are a lot of very good players in this league. If I guard Kobe, D-Wade or Carmelo (Anthony), whoever it is, you try to make them work for their shots. It's a tough job, but you accept the challenge and do your best."

Brooks’ outburst very revealing | NBA in OKC
After players half-heartedly completed what’s supposed to be a fast-paced, 100-pass, spacing, ball movement drill, Brooks screamed some unprintable words and then told his team that he and his assistant coaches, all in their 40s and 50s, could go at that speed. Brooks almost never uses R-rated language but his tongue lashing certainly got his team’s attention. Brooks informed players they would re-run the drill and go at game speed, not just for this particular drill but every drill throughout the entire season. Players responded by running the drill crisply and effectively. This isn’t a team you need to crack the whip very often. Players showed up two weeks early for training camp. Many arrive early and leave late for practice. They even practice sometimes on an off day.

Clippers update: Blake Griffin injured | Los Angeles Times
He hurt his left knee on the play and his status for the season opener against the Lakers on Tuesday is in question, considered day to day. Griffin did not practice today, nor did point guard Baron Davis (bruised right foot). Davis is expected to play against the Lakers. Marcus Camby (sprained ankle) did practice and could possibly get some minutes in the opener. What is ominous for the Clippers is that this was the same knee Griffin hurt several days before training camp. He winced after coming down on the dunk, which came with just under four minutes left in the quarter, and immediately appeared to be in pain but kept on playing.

THUNDER: Thunder Strikes at RedPin Bowling Lounge
Mike Rhodes and his crew of six came to RedPin to bowl and have fun. Not until they called ahead did they know the Thunder would be making an appearance. And a while later, Rhodes and Co. found themselves sharing a couch and lane with three NBA players. "This right here makes me want to go to more games, because I’m like, ‘oh my goodness, I met these guys, I bowled with them,’" said Rhodes, 29, of Oklahoma City. "Seeing them down on the court is going to be a lot more personable to me as a fan. I guarantee I’ll go to a lot more games now because of this."