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Development of Young Talent

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

As the off season drags on, some players like James harden are off at pro-am summer basketball leagues, honing their talent and making some 20 something wanna-be league players look foolish. The Pro-Am summer leagues have seemed to replace the Summer leagues since the lockout is looming.

Before the All-Star break, Harden wasn’t living up to expectations as a #3 pick in the draft. Obviously bummed about not being selected to the Rookie Challenge.

However, Harden’s young career changed Jeff Green was traded and all of a sudden, the Thunder needed a third scoring option. Stats didn’t lie. Went from averaging 10.3 PPG before the All-Star break to 15.8 PPG the second half of the season. That continued into the playoffs. Harden averaged 13.0 PPG.

Harden is all for not on his end. Yeah, Thabo Sefolosha is a great defender. However, you need scoring. Sefolosha is very passive on the offensive and usually inconsistent when he does shoot the ball. There is a reason why Harden plays the final minutes of games, instead of Sefolosha.

Harden is gaining confidence with every game. Ibaka is becoming dangerous from the mid range. However, for the Thunder to take that next step, Harden will have to become more aggressive offensively. When Harden scores 15 points or more, Thunder were 21-9 (14-3 since the trade). When Harden scored less than 10 points, the Thunder are just 20-15 (4-5 since the trade).

Serge Ibaka on the other hand, did not have the expectations. He was expected the sit and earn his time on the bench as the season went on. He ended last season on a nice run. So much, a lot of people thought he should have moved into the starting line up. However, coach Scott Brooks stuck with a line up that won 50 games the season before. Ibaka continued to have a good season all around, ended up in the Slam Dunk competition and in the Rookie Challenge.

After the trade brought a different, more aggressive Ibaka to the front. Ibaka’s blocks jumped up. Ibaka actually led the league in blocked shots. Kendrick Perkins was sure to help his growth, allowing Ibaka to roam free and attack from the weak side of the basket. Then Ibaka had a coming out party in round one of the playoffs. He popped the Nuggets for 22 points in Game 3.

However, wasn’t all fun and games for Ibaka. He struggled keeping defenders in front of him and was constantly in foul trouble. Ibaka averaged 3.8 fouls per game in the playoffs. When faced against bigger bodies, Brooks was forced to go with Collison (see Nowitzki).

Harden and Ibaka are going to be very important to the future success. For the Thunder to take the next step, Harden will have to become that consistent scorer that the Thunder seem to be missing at times last season. Now, not saying it’ll be the deciding factor. Things such as coaching, ball movement in the final minutes, mental lapses on defense, controlling their emotions, etc. all play into. However, all starts with the improvement of Harden.

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