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Loud Links: 12|28|2009

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Rookie Watch: James Harden’s Finally Starting To Come Around | Dime Magazine
True, Harden has been a little slower out of the gates than some of his rookie peers, but he’s starting to show glimpses of his potential as of late. He has scored double digits in five of the Thunder’s last six contests and his December stats (11.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.5 apg) have improved from his numbers in November (9.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.4 apg). Harden is fourth on the Thunder in scoring (10 ppg) and the leading scorer off the bench. He’s been a solid addition to a 15-14 Oklahoma City team that was a New Jersey Nets-esque 3-26 just a calendar year ago.

Although Harden’s play has improved, there’s no denying his rookie season has been a roller-coaster ride. It took him 11 games to score double digits and after he put together five straight games of scoring double figures in November, he went three straight games where he scored under double digits. After scoring a career-high 26 points, 9 rebounds (also a career high) and 5 assists in a win against the Warriors back on Dec. 7, he followed it up with a 6-point (on 2-11) performance against the Grizzlies.

For the season, Harden is shooting just 39.7 percent from the field. Despite his ups and downs, the Thunder have not second guessed their decision to draft Harden. Teammates and coaches have praised Harden’s unselfishness. Though, he is technically a shooting guard, Harden has dished out six or more assists on four occasions.

"You can never have enough unselfish playmakers," coach Scott Brooks told the East Valley Tribune last week. "The thing I like about him is he’s unselfish but he can do a lot of things scoring-wise. Some guys are unselfish because they can’t be selfish. They can’t score. They can’t make plays. James can, but he puts his teammates first."

NBA: Who's Hot? Who's Not? - Basketball News & NBA Rumors -
Western Conference Sophomore: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder – The point guard out of UCLA has played well all season for the surprising Thunder but Westbrook was fantastic this week, leading the Thunder (who is 1.5 games out of the final playoff spot out west) to a 2-1 record as the team averaged 107.7 points per game. Westbrook shot .482 (he's shooting .398 on the season) while averaging 20.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists and didn't turn the ball over in 35 minutes of action (he's averaging 3.2 turnovers per game) in the team's 98-91 victory over Charlotte on Saturday.

NBA Courtside Blog
Oklahoma City called up rookie Byron Mullens from Tulsa earlier in the day. "He's been down in the D-League recently," said Brooks. "He's gotten better. He's one of our good, young pieces that we're happy about. We're going to work him and improve him and see where he is at the end of the year. But I like what he does. He's long. Hopefully he's going to be able to contribute in an NBA game by rebounding and blocking shots."

Even though Mullens is in uniform, Brooks didn't sound as though he would get much time. "Etan (Thomas) is home sick with the flu," said Brooks. "We just need extra bodies just in case of foul trouble or an injury will happen."

My New Teammate Eric Maynor
The circumstances that he [Eric Maynor] came in with, catching three planes and getting traded as a rookie after 20 games, it was tough. He came in and controlled the game for us and got the ball to people in good spots and if we would have made more shots for him he maybe would have had nine or 10 assists. He played well and I know once his feet get under him and he becomes more comfortable with our offense, he’s going to excel. We’re glad to have another guy that we can depend on to backup Russell. He’s a scorer but he knows in this league that he has to defend and distribute the basketball. But he can score when we need him to, and he’s versatile in his game. He gives us a different dimension to our offense. Him and Russell are going to be phenomenal for us.

Durant, Westbrook getting it done for Thunder | Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Durant is the star of the show and currently sits fourth in the NBA with 27.8 points per game. He's right up there with NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and is only going to get better. The slender youngster has scored 30 or more points in three straight games, and is coming off a 30-point effort in a recent win over Charlotte. The second overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has been a model of consistency and durability so far in 2009-10, and has helped the Thunder to a solid 15-14 mark.

Oklahoma City is only four games behind Denver for the top spot in the Northwest Division, and has won two straight and three of five games. Westbrook has been running the floor at the point and has handed out 37 assists to just 10 turnovers over the last five games. He did not record a turnover for the third time this season against the Bobcats, and is averaging 16.4 points, 6.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds per contest this season. "It's all a learning process for me," he said on the team's official Web site. "This is a learning process. I'm slowing down and seeing the game and the big thing for me, if I play aggressive and not think too much the turnover stuff won't happen as much."

Maynor: First Impressions in Oklahoma City - Basketball News & NBA Rumors -
Maynor reported for duty less than one hour prior to the Thunder's tip-off vs. the Suns in Phoenix last week. In this first game, Maynor played nearly 12 minutes, scoring two points in one-of-four shooting, plus he added five assists. "It's not easy to hop on a plane, fly across country and be introduced," says Thunder coach Scott Brooks about Maynor's first day on the job. "We hadn't met before; we go in and meet as a team with the guys and myself. He came in and did a good job of controlling the team." "It's a tough position to play and even tougher when you don't know the plays or the defensive schemes," Brooks continues. "He's learned a lot, we've had a couple practices, a shoot-around today. It's still going to take some time. As a point guard, you've got to know the plays and be able to do it instinctively, and also if some guys are not in the right spot, you've got to guide them, four other guys, to be in the right spot. I thought today that he's making progress." Maynor has joined a group that famously embraces the team-first concept, and his new teammates stand ready to assist with his transition.

Thunder notebook: Kevin Durant, 'Our focus is better on the road' |
"To be honest with you, I think our focus is a little bit better on the road than it is at home," said Kevin Durant when asked how the team’s mindset has changed from last season. "I know that’s kind of difficult to say. . . We’re trying to find our balance between playing better at home and also playing on the road." Following tonight’s game against the 2-28 Nets, the Thunder will play at Washington on Tuesday. Oklahoma City lost both road games against the Nets and Wizards last season. Russell Westbrook said the biggest key in this two-game set is defense. "That’s always the key for us," Westbrook said. "When we defend, we put ourselves in a position to win games. That’s the biggest thing for us."

5 NBA Players Most Likely To Be Moved | Dime Magazine
We already saw one trade go down this past week when the Jazz sent rookie Eric Maynor to the Thunder. With the new year just around the corner, expect trade talks to really pick up between now and the February 18 trade deadline. Trade rumors around the web and in newspapers have already started to gain momentum this week. Players like Tracy McGrady, Kevin Martin, Eddy Curry and Tyrus Thomas are just a few of the names that have been thrown out.