Friday, November 19, 2004

Behind Three-Point Lines

The Real Reasons behind the Sonics' Early Season Success

November 19, 2004

By Anthony Peretore

Picking the Seattle Supersonics to finish dead last in the Western Conference is making me look about as good as Brian Scalabrine break-dancing in a Harlem nightclub. To make matters worse, they are absolutely slaughtering me in these nightly picks (0-5 on Sonics games). Now don’t get me wrong, I would much rather see an underdog rise from the ashes to start a season 8-1 than remain consistent with my preseason predictions. The problem I have with all this, is looking at Seattle’s roster, there seems to be no reasonable explanation for how this team has won eight straight games (by an average margin of 102.9-88.5 no less). During this impressive streak, the Sonics have defeated five playoff teams from a year ago and are 2-0 on their current six-game road trip. With their next four on the road however, Seattle’s run could be in jeopardy, especially in Minnesota or Memphis. While their streak still remains however, it seems necessary to delve through the Sonics’ box scores and statistics to determine the main factors currently carrying the Sonics on their remarkable run.

The three main consistencies that have guided the Sonics on their current eight game-win streak appear to be as follows:

1. Defense.
Scoring has certainly not been a problem for Seattle, but the team’s unexpected success should be credited even more so to their sound team defense. The Sonics are not only holding their opponents to a mere 91.3 PPG, which currently ranks 5th in the league, but are also forcing their competition into a steady 15.7 turnovers per night. Seattle’s defensive presence was evident on Wednesday night, when despite scoring a season-low 79 points, they still managed to defeat New Jersey by holding the Nets a mere 68 points. With eight players regularly warranting 20+ minutes in Nate McMillan’s rotation, the coach has been able to keep his players fresh which has allowed the team to avoid crippling defensive lapses.

2. Rebounding
Despite a rather weak front court, the Sonics have managed to out-rebound their opponents by a league-leading 39.6-33.6 margin (357-303 total). The team also ranks 4th in holding their opponents to a meager 10.4 offensive boards per night. The main players controlling the glass thus far have been forwards Danny Fortson and Reggie Evans (both only 6’8”). Fortson and his pigtails have averaged 20.0 rebounds per 48 minutes, with Evans right behind him at 16.0. Seattle’s reliance upon Fortson and Evans to carry the rebounding load is due mainly to the team’s atrocious play at the center position. Center Jerome James has averaged just 2.3 boards per game in nine starts (yet somehow remains the starter) while their first-round draft pick, center Robert Swift, has ripped down a monstrous ZERO rebounds in 22 minutes of run. This glaring hole at the center spot is bound to come around to haunt the Sonics once they start playing bigger competition. Thus far, Seattle has faced only two teams with decent centers, Sacramento (Miller) and Denver (Camby).

3. Three-Point Accuracy
While the Supersonics rank 7th in the NBA in scoring at 100.8 PPG, the team has generated only eight more successful field goal attempts than their opponents. So where are all the points coming from? Seattle has drained a staggering 37 more 3-pointers than their competition and their 81 treys in all is 20 more than any other team. For our math-deficient readers, this adds up to Seattle having outscored their opponents by a whopping 111 points from 3-point land alone. The Sonics also lead the league in average made three-pointers per game at 9.0, and three point shooting percentage, 41.3%. Guard Ray Allen (25.9 PPG) ranks 3rd in the NBA in 3 FG% at 56.4 while draining a league-high 31 treys, six more than anyone else. Two other Sonics, Rashard Lewis and Vladimir Radmanovic, also rank in the top ten in made 3’s with 19 and 17, respectively. The fear however, is that this unmistakable reliance on the trey-ball will become the team’s ultimate downfall as the season wears on. Unfortunately for Seattle, the latter half of the phrase “living and dying by the 3” has to ring true at some point.

Looking over the Seattle roster in the preseason, this appeared to be a team destined for disaster. An unproven point guard, a glaring hole at the center position, a red-headed first round draft pick, and an All-Star just waiting to be traded, all logically added up to one thing: the 15 seed in the West. Now sure, the Sonics are a remarkable 8-1 and currently sitting a top the entire league, but there are just far too many factors fated to keep this organization in the draft lottery for the third straight year. Let’s take a look:

  • Thus far, the Sonics have attempted a league-high 196 threes, 68 more than their opponents. No surprise, last season Seattle attempted 1936 treys, 270 more than any other team. However, in 2003-04 they shot a modest 37.3% from three, well off their current pace of 41.3%. Add to it that Ray Allen, the heart of the Sonics offense, is bound to start facing more double teams which will inevitably lead to him forcing up more ill-advised shots. Once this starts happening, look for the team’s success from downtown to start and head downtown.

  • Seattle is bound to face emotional scrutiny when starting point guard Luke Ridnour and Robert Swift begin their cycle through puberty at some point during the year.

  • In addition to Danny Fortson’s early season success on the boards, he is unfortunately averaging a gaudy 15.0 personal fouls per 48 minutes. Playing this rough, Fortson and his Mickey Mouse braids are destined for the IL, a place he has spent the bulk of his career (234 games missed).

  • Playing in the East, this team could easily win 40-45 games, but facing a Western Conference schedule leaves them with little hope in making it to the playoffs. 64% of their remaining schedule is against Western foes; no cup of tea.

  • Finally, if and when the Sonics come around to losing, Ray Allen (in a contract year) will most certainly demand a trade, ultimately sending the Sonics free-falling into the basement of the Western Conference.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Allen stay in Seattle and help the Sonics sneak into the playoffs. But, if they can’t get in, it does them no harm in making me look a little better by slipping to say the 15th seed. Only time will tell…

Quick post-script…
In light of the recent trade discussions between the Blazers and Raptors, I felt it appropriate to give my opinion on the matter. If you are living in a cave in Mogadishu (but somehow have access to the internet) and haven’t heard, Toronto proposed a deal that would send disgruntled guard-forward Vince Carter, point-forward Jalen Rose and two unnamed players to Portland. In return, the Raptors would receive forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim, guard Derek Anderson and seldom-used center Vladimir Stepania. On paper, the deal should balance out well for both organizations. With the ill effects Carter has imposed on the Dinosaurs thus far and Abdur-Rahim playing out of position in Oregon, both players would be much better suited in new locations. If Carter is content playing in Portland, the Blazers would seem to have the slight advantage in the deal. Not only would Portland be bringing in a perenial All-Star to compliment Zach Randolph in the paint, but they also aren’t losing much, if anything at all, by replacing SAR with Darius Miles at the 3 spot. Take a look at the potential lineups if the trade does indeed go down:

PG: Damon Stoudamire/Nick Van Exel
SG: Carter/Rose
SF: Darius Miles/Ruben Patterson
PF: Randolph/Unnamed player
C: Theo Ratliff/Joel Przybilla

Has the potential to be one of the best starting fives in the league if the deal does indeed down. The versatility of Rose and veteran savvy of Van Exel should provide solid depth in the backcourt. Lack of depth up front however, could cause some problems in a playoff series, that is, if they make it to one.

PG: Rafer Alston/Milt Palacio
SG: Anderson/Morris Peterson
SF: Donyell Marshall/ Matt Bonner
PF: Abdur-Rahim/Stepania
C: Chris Bosh?/Loren Woods/Rafael Araujo

All though their frontcourt would be potentially devastating in the East, their logjam of big men could create some problems. They are not bringing in Abdur-Rahim to play him at small forward, a position he’s struggled with in Portland. Thus, it may force Coach Mitchell to place Bosh back in the center slot, something the Raptors were happy to stray away from this season. Nevertheless, Toronto should have no problem out-rebounding everyone in the East. Also, it would be fun to refer to the backcourt of Alston and Anderson as the “AA meeting.” Maybe not.

This is a trade that appears to make sense for both clubs at this time. However, this has the potential to be one of those deals that drags on for weeks, prompting Carter to sleep with Matt Bonner’s girlfriend to get himself moved. Either way, I hope the deal gets done.


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