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Loud Links: 12/03/2009

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So a pretty large round-up of articles tonight, starting off with a great piece on Durant and more on whether teams doing poorly should start playing for the draft. Lets get started ....

Kevin Durant is NEXT |
[Battier presents the point well -- it's a progression of establishing yourself as a player year by year. In our case, it's also about establishing where we are as a team, and KD is the focal point of that development process.] "No matter how talented a young player is, his first year is sink or swim," Battier says. "Can he survive in a man's league? Obviously Kevin did, and he did pretty well." (Durant was named the NBA's Rookie of the Year after his first season, 2007-08, his team's last in Seattle.) "Year 2, the hurdle is, Can I bring it every night?" Battier says. "Can I average double figures? Can I be consistent?" (Durant improved in nearly every statistical category last season, his first in Oklahoma City. His three-point shooting percentage jumped from .288 to .422, and he averaged five more points per game, 25.3, and two more rebounds, 6.5.) Battier continues. "The next level is, Can I be dominant? That's Kevin's final step. He's shown flashes of dominance, but can he be dominant every single night? The great ones -- Kobe, LeBron, Garnett -- had to pass through that fire. Kevin still has to run through his flames."

Should the Detroit Pistons play for the playoffs or the draft? |
[The rest of this article is interesting to read as well, as it pretty much sums up the impact of the draft on the fortunes of teams over the last few years. Falling into the lottery hasn't panned out all that well for the vast majority of teams, as it's been somewhat of a hole that takes a lot to climb back out of. Draft poorly and you're set back even further. I like how they sit around and point out that Portland could have Deron Williams running the point had they drafted him rather than trade down for Pick No. 6 ... alas such is life.] Oklahoma City Thunder/Seattle Sonics: Eight picks for them. They have drafted immensely better of late. The last three have yielded Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden (not to mention Jeff Green in the Ray Allen trade), all of whom will be key players for them. Pre-OKC? Not so great ... unless you dig Robert Swift.

After two years, Thunder have solid footing in Oklahoma |
[Look -- it's yet another article talking about how we're defending better this year. Amazing!] It's hard to say which is the bigger surprise: that the Thunder, after winning only 23 games all last season, are winning on the road. Or that defense, always a challenge for young teams, isn't an issue. The players have bought into coach Scott Brooks' philosophy about team defense, and considering the Thunder lack a proven shot-blocker or designated stopper, their improvement is clearly due to a collective effort. Oklahoma City is allowing nine points fewer than last season and taking a large measure of pride in that. It's a defense that would make Barry Switzer proud. "That's why we've improved as a team," Brooks said. "Everybody is on the same page. The effort has to be there. We've improved because we're thinking like a defensive team."

More after the jump, including Westbrook's 15 assist day, D-League stuff, and our long-lost friend Robert Swift.

Russell Westbrook notches 15 assists as Thunder beats 76ers |
[Well he'd better get those assists going if he's going to sit around and shoot so poorly. If nothing else, that means somebody else is taking some shots. Yes to that.] Westbrook notched a career-high 15 assists to lead the Thunder to a 117-106 win over Philadelphia on Wednesday night at the Ford Center. Westbrook's distributing resulted in a balanced attack that ended with five Thunder players in double digit scoring.

NBA D-League Daily Developments |
[Mullens of course is far from ready. But nifty looking stat lines are always great fun to spread around.] The 66ers were led by Mustafa Shakur with 26 points and Cecil Brown with 19. Byron Mullens, on assignment from the Oklahoma City Thunder, had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds on the night.

Long, strange saga of Robert Swift continues |
So is this the end for Swift? It's hard to say. After returning from catastrophic knee injuries, then swallowing his pride to play in the NBDL, maybe there's a third act for the 24-year-old. Former Seattle P-I Sonics beat writer Gary Washburn talked with Swift when he was returning from surgery in February 2008. He sounds like an eternal optimist.

Thunder strike down the 76ers |
"It obviously feels like a snowball effect; it keeps rolling and getting bigger and bigger," said Sixers forward Jason Kapono, who finished with nine points. "We're always close, we're hanging in the game, and then there's a breaking point and we always tend to go backwards instead of pushing through." Durant, the sinewy forward around whom the Thunder are built, scored a game-high 33 points. Green finished with 19.

OKC Thunder uses team effort to take down Philadelphia |
Kevin Durant scored 33 points yet he failed to be mentioned in the press conference with Thunder coach Scott Brooks. Durant is in his second year in the NBA, and his accomplishments are equivalent with some of the games’ most distinguished players. Durant recently joined LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordon in becoming just the fourth player in league history to be under the age of 21 and compile 400 points in the first 15 games of a season. The end of Thunders’ 117-106 victory on Wednesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers (5-14) at the Ford Center left Durant seven points shy of being the second youngest player to reach 4,000 points. James holds the record.

Thunder's Krstic sprains ankle - nba |
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -Center Nenad Krstic has left the Oklahoma City Thunder's game against the Philadelphia 76ers because of a sprained left ankle. Krstic was hurt after tipping in a missed shot by Russell Westbrook in the final minute of the third quarter Wednesday night and then limped to the locker room when the period was over. He was not expected to return.

Former 76ers All-Star Iverson excited for improbable return to Philadelphia |
The 34-year-old Iverson was teary almost from the start of his news conference. He said he retired after his ill-fated stint with the Memphis Grizzlies because he felt like "the basketball part of my life was over." Iverson will play his first game for the 76ers against Denver on Monday. "Coming back home, all I could think about was the people who made me who I am," said Iverson, the NBA MVP in 2001, when he led the Sixers to the finals.

When looking for daily matchup plays in fantasy basketball, consider those facing the Toronto Raptors -
Russell Westbrook made up for his terrible 1-for-11 shooting performance by picking up two steals and dishing out 15 assists in the Thunder's win against the Sixers. It's pretty amazing that a guy who couldn't throw it in the ocean had the highest plus/minus on his team for the night. Clearly his shot still needs some work, but he's establishing himself as one of the league's best point guards already.