- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The quick rise of the Oklahoma City Thunder from the depths of the NBA to Western Conference finalists has been fueled by a series of strong drafts.

Top scorers Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka all were the product of shrewd first-round choices in recent years, adding a core of young talent.

So, what’s next for Oklahoma City when the draft rolls around Thursday night?

The Thunder seem to have their starting lineup and most of their playing rotation in place, and are armed with only one first-round pick at No. 24.

That doesn’t mean general manager Sam Presti won’t be examining all his options.

“At 24, we can’t be overly selective. We’ll see what’s there, see if someone there that can fit what we’re trying to accomplish,” Presti said. “I’m sure we’ll have a lot of opportunity when the draft comes around to maybe move up, move back, move out.”

Last year, Presti found a way to use a second-round pick and turn it into the acquisition of Daequan Cook while also moving up into the first round, then dealt the two first-round picks to get center Cole Aldrich at No. 11.

If the Thunder stay put, there already are divergent examples of who they could get at No. 24, just from the last three drafts.

Ibaka was the No. 24 pick in the 2008 draft, stayed overseas for a season to develop, joined the team as a reserve for one season and then last year developed into a starter and the league’s top shot blocker after a February trade for Kendrick Perkins.

Byron Mullens was the 24th pick in the 2009 draft and has shuttled between the NBA development league and the Thunder, playing in only 13 games last season. He and Aldrich struggled to find playing time all season as the Thunder advanced to the conference finals, where they lost to eventual NBA champion Dallas.

Any additions this year could face a similar fate.

“We played 10 players last year and we return a good deal of them, so I’m not saying that whoever we draft can’t crack a rotation, but obviously it would be unlikely,” Presti said. “Hopefully we find someone that can be a contributor for us, whether it’s next year or down the line.”

Right now, Oklahoma City lacks proven backups at center _ with Nazr Mohammed a free agent _ and at small forward, where Durant ranked in the top five last season with 38.9 minutes played per game. Cook picked up some of the reserve minutes over the second half of the season and would be a restricted free agent if the Thunder give him a qualified offer in the next 10 days.

There simply aren’t the gaping holes there were only a few years ago, leaving open the possibility that Presti could choose someone like Spain’s Nikola Mirotic and allow him to continue improving overseas just as Ibaka did.

“In terms of what we need to add, I don’t know,” Presti said. “We have to really be thoughtful about what we have in place. Every time you add something, it affects the existing parts as well. As people say, it’s always more art than science.

“We just want to try to figure out what the right questions are to ask and hopefully improve on where we are.”