Seattle picks at 17. Dean Carrano has decided that Seattle needs another High School student and selects:
Things did not look too promising for the Seattle Sonics prior to the 1999-2000 season. The team seemed to be a one-man show, featuring little depth beyond All-NBA point guard Gary Payton. Long-time small forward fixture Detlef Schrempf signed as a free agent with rival Portland, and incumbent center Olden Polynice fled to Utah. The Sonics seemed to have few options to replace either player. Highly paid power forward Vin Baker was coming off an awful season in which he was out of shape and generally unproductive. The team seemed to get a steal in the draft when they plucked Duke product Corey Maggette with the 13th pick...but then shipped Maggette to Orlando for veteran power forward Horace Grant, who was pressed into service as a center. It was a trade of the type made by teams that are "one player away" from championship contention, but the Sonics didn't even look at that point like they had the talent to make the playoffs at all.
As it turned out, Seattle did make the playoffs (as the seventh seed), and more things went right during the season than went wrong. Payton played magnificently as usual. A trade for Brent Barry, who was acquired for long-time Sonic Hersey Hawkins, turned out to be a great one. Ruben Patterson and Rashard Lewis both emerged from the small forward mess as players of potentially great value. Other youngsters also showed flashes. In the playoffs, the Sonics scared the daylights out of the Utah Jazz in the opening series. They took the series to Game 5, and only lost that one by three points. The loss was a tough one, but even so, the Sonics still overachieved compared to expectations.
You would think that Paul Westphal would get a lot of credit for that, but he didn't, particularly. In fact, rumors of his dismissal didn't ever really go away. I don't think it'll happen; it would be foolish if it did. Westphal, who used to look giddy with excitement as the Suns' coach, at least looks more like a coach now. He has developed the standard somber, frowning coach's persona.
In a best-case scenario, the Sonics can be one of those very rare teams that can rebuild without hitting rock bottom, making a smooth transition from one contender to another. (Even the Lakers, who have been in contention consistently for the last couple of decades, did have one off year.) The moves made by management in the next couple of years will determine whether they can pull that feat off.
II. Team analysis
The conversion of Horace Grant to center served the purpose of getting the Sonics' best five players on the court at once, but it would be hard to argue that Grant flourished in the new role. He scored only 8.1 ppg and grabbed 7.8 rpg. That's not awful, but it's not too terrific for a full-time starter. Those numbers certainly aren't going to make Western Conference opponents like Shaquille O'Neal or David Robinson envious, and at 6'10", Grant was overmatched on defense by true centers as well. He blocked only 0.8 shots per game, leaving the Sonics' starting lineup with little in the way of defensive intimidation. Horace often misses 10-15 games a year with various injuries without actually going on the IR, but last year he was healthy, playing 76 games.
Greg Foster was a limited player even in his heyday with the Jazz, serving little purpose except to draw the opponent's center outside with his perimeter shooting. Last season, he couldn't even do that (.406 FG%).
Vladimir Stepania played less this season than last, which is odd considering that the Sonics desperately need a true center and Stepania (who stands 7') does appear to have skills. His jumper is better than expected, and he hits the boards.
Vin Baker improved on his lockout season disaster, upping his scoring from 13.8 ppg to 16.6 and his rebounding from an unacceptable 6.2 rpg to a mediocre 7.7. The Sonics need him to do even more. He was a 20 ppg/10 rpg player with Milwaukee, but has yet to reach either mark in Seattle. Baker is well aware that he has been letting the Sonics down ... quite possibly, too aware. He speculated that he was suffering from depression, and is seeking a psychiatrist this off-season. It can't hurt.
Jelani McCoy was as advertised: Good shotblocker, lots of dunks (58% FG%), totally raw on offense, a little slim for a center. He was a surprisingly effective rebounder, given his build. The Sonics would love to be able to use McCoy frequently at center, but it will take a couple of years for him to develop the body required for that, if he can ever do it at all. And his offense needs serious work. McCoy didn't show any indications of being the headcase that he was reputed to be coming out of college.
SMALL FORWARDThis position was up for grabs at the beginning of the season between three guys who, to say the least, did not seem like an attractive menu of choices. Lazaro Borrell was a Cuban defector, basically an unknown; Rashard Lewis had played 145 minutes in his life above the high school level, and wasn't considered a good enough prospect to go int the first round of the draft; Ruben Patterson was considered a bit of a joke because of his self-defined status as the "Kobe-stopper" on defense, combined with his lack of production in his rookie year. (Patterson was drafted by the Lakers and often guarded Kobe in practice; Patterson would then return to the bench, where he spent the actual games. Reports vary as to whether Patterson's description of their encounters was accurate.)
By the end of the season, though, small forward looked like it could be the Sonics' second biggest strength in 2000-2001. Patterson was one of the league's most improved players. He did in fact play excellent defense, and although he doesn't have much in the way of offensive moves, he was able to contribute with hustle and putbacks. He scored 11.6 PPG, and knew his offensive limitations, shooting an excellent 54%. He also pulled down 5.4 rpg. Patterson gives everything he has, every minute on the court. If Rashard Lewis stays with the team, Lewis will likely start, which is fine since Patterson would be even better coming off the bench. The most outstanding thing about Patterson's game is the energy that he brings. He could be one of the league's top sixth men.
By the end of the year, though, Patterson's progress was a side story to the meteoric rise of Rashard Lewis. Lewis played more and more as the season went on (at Patterson's expense), and was productive. In the playoffs, Lewis was a revelation. In the five games against the Jazz, he averaged 15.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and even hit nine three-points after hitting only 40 in an 82-game season. His moves seemed astonishingly polished for a guy who had barely played a lick of pro ball before this season. (And don't worry, his dunks are great too.) His lanky 6'10" frame allows him to play small forward effectively on defense while providing a major advantage on offense. If he is this good at the age of 19, the sky is truly the limit.
For his part, Borrell only saw significant minutes when Baker was removed from the starting lineup. As expected, he was athletic but very raw.
There was one other small forward on the roster. He only got into 37 games and averaged 9.2 minutes per game. Yet somehow, Chuck Person was the man who took the Sonics' most important shot of the season. Person came off the bench to miss a three-point attempt that would have forced Game 5 of the playoffs into overtime had it gone in. When I say he "came off the bench", I mean it literally: His only playing time in the game was that one shot. It was a very strange situation that caused some to wonder about Westphal's sanity. In any event, that was most likely the Rifleman's last shot ever in the NBA, a rather unpleasant end for a guy who in his prime was quite a player. In general, Person does not go out on a high note: On the season, he averaged 30% from the field and 25% from downtown, and of course contributed no defense.
As mentioned in the intro, the trade of Hersey Hawkins for Brent Barry worked out wonderfully. Hawk played miserably, and his fine career seems to be over. Meanwhile, Barry was the perfect supporting player. He nailed 164 threes (5th in the NBA), shooting them at an excellent 41% rate; he passed (3.6 apg); he hit the boards (4.7 rpg); and he made his free throws (81%) and his open jumpers (46% FG%). His unselfishness and his feel for the flow of the offense were essential to keeping the Sonic machine running. On defense, he gets some steals and can harass opponents, but defense is not his strength, especially given his skinny build. (The man's nickname is "Bones"; what do you expect?)
Vernon Maxwell, the Mad Bomber, started off well and then collapsed. He scored almost 11 points a game, but who couldn't if they were only allowed to shoot 35% (30% on threes)? Maxwell contributed absolutely nothing else besides shot-hoisting on offense, and is not the defensive stopper he once was either. He didn't play in the playoffs, basically by mutual agreement between himself and the team. Unfortunately, he is signed through 2002.
Shammond Williams, at the least, was a very nice free-agent signing for a cheap price. At best, he could be a big part of the team's future. Shammond's stats on the year look pretty bad -- 37% FG%, 65% FT%, 30% on three-pointers. However, if you look at his game-by-game performance, you see that in almost every game where he got serious minutes, he played very well. The man is a pure scorer who can put up points in a hurry (averaging 20.8 points per 48 minutes). He lit up the Jazz in both Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs. On the Sonics, the 6'1" Williams is more likely to see minutes at the 2-guard than at the point. But he showed better point guard skills last season than many people suspected, so he may not be as much of a "tweener" as was thought. He also had the best hair in the league. His Afro was true old-school ABA quality.
Gary Payton is at least one of the top two point guards in basketball, and it's likely that no one means more to their team. Payton can do anything on a basketball court except block shots. His numbers are eye-popping: 24.2 ppg (7th in the league), 8.9 apg (4th), 6.5 rpg, 1.9 steals per game (8th), 41.8 minutes per game (2nd), and 177 three-pointers (1st). And "The Glove" is the best defensive point guard in the game, getting more votes than anyone else for the All-Defense team. Plus, Payton is the prototypical on-court leader: The other players defer to him and follow his lead, knowing that he is the general who can lead them to victory. The amazing thing is that Payton gets almost no credit at all for any of this. He was sixth in MVP voting, behind Karl Malone and Tim Duncan. Although Mailman and Duncan are of course terrific players, it completely eludes me how they could be more valuable than Payton.
The team has a recent tradition of quality backups to Payton, including Eric Snow and Greg Anthony. That tradition has ended. Emmanuel Davis, a totally nondescript backup point, filled the role last season and will be back again next year. Williams can also play point.
III. Team needs
As always, the Sonics' primary need is a true center. This would leave Grant without a starting position, but he's a pretty marginal starter anyway at this point, sad to say.
I don't know if this is a "need" technically, but if the Sonics are going to contend, Vin Baker has to play like the guy they signed. The squad actually needs Baker to regain his rebounding form even more than his offensive game. But really, both are needed. A rebounding specialist for the frontcourt would be a very useful addition. The Sonics were outrebounded by two boards a game last year.
Seattle could also use some more consistent outside shooting. Besides Barry, no Sonic with a decent number of attempts shot better than 34% (Payton) from beyond the arc. Person and Maxwell were brought in to be sharpshooters, but neither one worked out.
The Sonics were dead last in the NBA in free throw shooting, behind even the Lakers. That's an embarrassment...and a tough one to fix given the current roster. It would be too much to ask that the rebounding/defensive big man that they need should hit 90% of his free throws as well. Barry (again) was the only guy above 74% (Payton, again) on the team.
Another backup guard would be very useful. Shammond can go between the 1 and the 2 nicely, but he is the only quality bench guard on the team right now.
IV. Draft history
The Sonics have been pretty successful and also tend to trade away the picks they do have, so there isn't much here.
Stepania, Lewis, McCoy, and Payton (#2 in 1990) are the only guys on the current roster drafted by the Sonics.
V. 2000 Selection
With the 17th pick in the 2000 Usenet Draft, the Seattle Sonics draft DeShawn Stevenson, 6'6" SG, from Fresno Washington Union High School.
Stevenson's stock is soaring, and it seemed to me like he had the kind of potential that you have to take a chance on if he falls this low. He has a 44" vertical leap and won the McDonald's Slam Dunk contest. Unlike many high schoolers who try to make the jump, Stevenson has a sculpted body that is considered NBA-ready. There was a controversy when his SAT score jumped 500 points between attempts. This does seem a bit shady. However, he had a 3.2 GPA in high school and seems to be regarded as very intelligent. So I don't doubt his integrity, and his intelligence is an advantage. He is also reputed to be an unselfish player. Some people think he can be an NBA point guard, not that the Sonics will need one for a while. It seems like he is an outstanding long-term prospect, and if Lewis leaves as a free agent, could see significant time next year if he is as ready as reported.
VI. Other players considered
Iakovos Tsakalidis, C, Greece - Basically, this was the other guy I considered. Normally, you draft for need this late in the draft, and the Sonics need a center very badly. However, I had two big concerns. First of all, can he get out of his Greek contract and play in the US next year? That seemed very unclear. It seems silly to draft based on need if they guy isn't even going to be here next year. Needs can change rapidly, and who knows whether a center is what Seattle will need a few years down the road. Secondly, there is always the chance that he could turn out to be closer to Stojko "The Human Victory Cigar" Vrankovic than Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Those considerations allowed me to make the choice between two guys I've never seen play and go for Stevenson. Being a high schooler, he is risky as well, but at least I know he'll be here. And I will take the historical performance of high schoolers (including the Sonics' own Rashard Lewis) over the historical performance of foreign big men any day.
Etan Thomas, PF, Syracuse - I have seen Thomas play a lot, and I think he'll be a defensive force in the NBA. But the Sonics, for better or worse, have to bank on Baker to be their power forward. And they have too many power forwards trying to play center already.
Jason Collier, C, Georgia Tech - A center, but, in my opinion, not likely to be a good one.
VII. Who the Sonics will actually draft
Very simple: Anyone who drops, or if no one stands out as a "slider", they'll take a big man.
VIII. Other off-season moves
Like most teams, the Sonics are over the cap, limiting their maneuverability. They have three free agents: Lewis, Person, and Fred Vinson. Vinson (who played a total of 40 minutes last season) and Person are gone. The signing of Lewis is by far the most important thing that the franchise has to accomplish this offseason. Pretty much everyone in the NBA would want this guy, if they could afford him. He is the only young player on the Sonics' roster who has much chance to be a significantly above-average...never mind that he could be a lot more than that. Losing him would be a major setback.
If Seattle signs someone else, presumably it will be a cheapo, someone who could fit into a $2 million or $1 million slot. Isaiah Rider has been mentioned as a possibility because he and Payton are both from the Bay Area and apparently are friends. Rider's career has deteriorated to the point where his salary demands might very well fit the Sonics' limitations, and obviously he is potentially capable of playing like an All-Star. I still couldn't recommend signing him, for the obvious reasons. Big men or combo guards who Seattle could possibly get given their salary constraints include: Adonal Foyle, Jacque Vaughn, Antonio Daniels, Howard Eisley, Bobby Jackson, Chris Herren, Darvin Ham, Mikki Moore, Brad Miller, Jahidi White, Chris Whitney, Gerard King, Todd MacCulloch (who played at the University of Washington), Ben Wallace, Bo Outlaw, John Amaechi, and Kurt Thomas.
I'm not anticipating any particular trades, since it seems like the problem is not rearranging the frontline talent so much as acquiring some depth. If anything, this draft pick is the most likely asset of the organization to be traded...
|Craig Simpson - Usenet Draft Commissioner|
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