Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| October 30, 2007
The strength of the 2007-08 Seattle SuperSonics has already been established: depth. On the eve of the season tipping off in Denver (7:30 p.m., FSN/ESPN, KTTH 770 AM)
, SUPERSONICS.COM takes a position-by-position look at the talent available to Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo
All three point guards on the Sonics roster averaged at least 27 minutes per game in 2006-07, meaning spirited competition at the position during training camp. Ultimately, the facemask Luke Ridnour
is playing with to protect a broken nose helped Carlesimo make a decision at the position. For the first couple of weeks of the season, Earl Watson
will start and be backed up by Delonte West
"Really, we just kind of seized on the fact that - in my opinion - Luke's been struggling with the mask," said Carlesimo. "Delonte, like Jeff, we've played at two different positions. Earl's the one that's had the most reps by far at point. I think that was just the correct move. Let's start the year with him playing. Let's give Luke time to get rid of the mask or get more comfortable with it. I think that will give us the early rotation for us to watch. We'll let it go for a while and then we'll look at a different rotation a little bit further on."
All three point guards have demonstrated the ability to push the basketball, which will be important as the Sonics emphasize the transition game under Carlesimo. Watson and West have each averaged 6.3 assists per game, while Ridnour handed out 5.6 assists per game during the preseason. In large part thanks to the efforts of the point guards, the Sonics ranked seventh in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.25) in preseason play.
Each brings the Sonics slightly different skills. Watson is the best on-ball defender of the group, putting pressure on opposing ballhandlers. He averaged 2.0 steals during the preseason and has the ability to create havoc with his ballhawking ability. West's relentlessness in attacking the basket and getting to the paint off of pick-and-rolls gives the Sonics a new dimension at the point. Though injuries limited his practice time in October, West used his instincts to average 16.0 points on 49.1% shooting in preseason play. Ridnour is the best ballhandler of the three and showed that off during exhibition play, posting a 4.33 assist-to-turnover ratio that was good for fourth in the league.
Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Throughout training camp, Carlesimo has faced questions from reporters about whether rookie Kevin Durant would play shooting guard or small forward. In response, Carlesimo has regularly noted that the two positions are largely interchangeable in his system, varying primarily on offense in which side of the floor they run their plays. Positions will matter to some extent on defense, but that's more an issue of matchups than anything else.
Officially, however, Durant will be listed as a shooting guard, where he also played during the NBA Summer League. During the preseason, Durant flashed the special talent that made him the No. 2 overall pick, averaging a team-high 18.8 points per game. Fellow rookie Jeff Green started three games and averaged 9.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. While marveling at the potential of the two rookies, the Sonics want to avoid putting too much pressure on them. The veterans on the wings will help in that process.
Damien Wilkins can now be placed in that veteran group, entering his fourth season with the Sonics. Wilkins stepped up with a strong effort during training camp and the preseason to claim the starting job opposite Durant. Wilkins' defense on the perimeter is invaluable to the Sonics, but he has developed his offensive game and averaged 9.8 points in the preseason, including a 27-point outburst against Golden State.
For now, Wally Szczerbiak figures to bring scoring punch as well as veteran presence off the bench. The team's most experienced perimeter player, Szczerbiak averaged 12.7 points per game during the preseason. He showed off the silky touch that has made him one of the NBA's most efficient scorers, hitting 40.9% of his attempts from downtown.
While West will start out in the rotation as the backup at point guard, he is sure to see some time at shooting guard as well at some point this season. At 6-3, West isn't a good matchup for the league's bigger shooting guards, but he can give the Sonics a different look against small backcourts. Mickaël Gelabale put up 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting against Portland and gives the Sonics another fine perimeter defender.
Midway through the preseason, Carlesimo termed power forward the team's best position. In Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox, the Sonics have two veterans who have provided solid preseason play - though the duo, which started at power forward and center over the final three months of the 2006-07 season, will also play regular minutes together.
Combined, Wilcox and Collison averaged 25.7 points and 16.9 rebounds per game during the preseason, finishing first (Collison) and second on the team in the latter category. Wilcox should flourish in the transition game the Sonics are emphasizing, and he made 68.7% of his shots during the preseason. Collison's steady play, his post defense and his glass-cleaning ability makes him an asset at either frontcourt position.
"There's just an element of stability when they're on the floor," Carlesimo said. "We're better across the board - we're better defensively, we're better at rebounding, we're better offensively, we're better running. There's not an area of the game where we're not better in when one of them at least isn't on the floor. It's been very noticeable the times when one of them hasn't been in."
|P.J. Carlesimo is close to picking a starter at point guard. Check out the Sonics Beat blog for more notes from Monday's practice. |
Still less than a year removed from ACL surgery, Robert Swift
has returned to the floor with added bulk and has been effective. He averaged 7.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in four preseason games, shooting 52.2% from the field. The Sonics will be cautious with his knee, which may limit his playing time early in the season. Swift will get regular minutes in the middle, however, giving the Sonics a presence in the paint at 7-1.
Collison and veteran Kurt Thomas give the Sonics a different look at the center position. Both are skilled post defenders and have the ability to stretch the floor with their shooting. Thomas showed that off against his old team, Phoenix, last Friday when he scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in just 21 minutes of action.
Youngsters Johan Petro and Mouhamed Sene give Carlesimo still more options in the middle. Petro is the most active of the team's big men and has seen some time at power forward during the preseason. He averaged 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds during the preseason, often finding himself in foul trouble. Sene showed his development from his rookie year in exhibition play, including a 15-rebound, four-block outing at Indiana.