Tuesday, November 29

Help

The only area of consistency in Seattle’s season thus far has been its inconsistency, from 32-point losses and three-game losing streaks one week, to turning around and looking like a legitimate playoff contender the next; then turning around 180 degrees in the opposite direction the next. Frustration, thy name is Sonic.

Like most of you, I have been puzzled as to what has caused the drop-off from last year’s glorious springtime dash to this year’s plodding jog. I won’t go into all of them at this point, but here’s the first of a few-part series on Why The Sonics Are Struggling.

1. Opposition FG%/Defense. You simply cannot let opponents shoot 49% and expect to win. Only the Raptors have a greater FG% disparity than the Sonics’ 5.5% (compare to last season’s -1.5% difference). Obviously, when you get outscored by more than seven points a game you won’t win very often, yet that’s exactly where the Sonics stand, a full 10 points behind last year’s +2.5 ppg advantage.

The question jumps out at you, why are opponents so successful against Seattle’s defense this year? After all, the offense is scoring only a point below last year’s pace, so it’s not as though Seattle is running a Phoenix-style offense that generates more opposition points merely via increased possessions.

Of course, the first item of business is one Antonio Daniels. AD averaged 27 minutes per game last year, 27 minutes of strong defense and ball-control offense. AD’s minutes have been divided up, as best as I can figure, among Ridnour, Murray, Cleaves, and Wilkins.

Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, with different rotations and so forth, but the reality is that those three guys are replacing AD on the court. What does that mean, though? For one, none of those three can shoot worth a damn, or at least they have yet to this year. Both Ridnour and Wilkins have been horrific this year, shooting below 35%, which means more fast break opportunities for opponents since the majority of their shots come from the outside. Murray’s deficiencies have been outlined all over the web, but the Omen can’t be spared the rod, either, as his stats look almost as bad. Add in Ridnour’s long-bemoaned inadequacies at defense, and you’ve got three guys with horrible defensive stats and one guy, Cleaves, who will always need help on switches. Add in the usefulness of AD in this very area (he can guard PGs, SGs and SFs) and you’ve got a hidden area that is continually hurting Seattle.

And, yet, the departure of Daniels masks another area – the poor performance of the big men. A quick look at this site reveals that the position that is killing the Sonics is center. In fact, to make things easier, here is how the scoring differential breaks down by position.

PG – (-1.5) 2004-05 (-4.4) 2005-06 Difference: -2.9
SG – (+6.5) 2004-05 (+8.5) 2005-06 Difference: +2
SF – (+2.5) 2004-05 (-0.2) 2005-06 Difference: -2.7
PF – (-4.2) 2004-05 (-4.9) 2005-06 Difference: -0.7
C – (-0.9) 2004-05 (-6.5) 2005-06 Difference: -5.6

If you look at the PER (a complicated rating formula devised by John Hollinger), it becomes even more obvious that power forward and center are the twin Achilles’ heels of the Sonics this year on defense. To further illustrate, here are the worst offenders when we compute how many points the Sonics’ defense allows per 48 minutes with them or without them.

Danny Fortson, 124 on-court, 116 off
Mikki Moore, 148 on-court, 116 off
Damien Wilkins, 123 on-court, 115 off
Flip Murray, 133 on-court, 113 off

Moore’s stats are skewed by the fact he’s only played a few minutes, but the other three are all culpable. It’s surprising, though, that Wilkins makes the list, in that he’s supposed to be some kind of defensive stopper. Looking deeper into the stats, you can see it doesn’t matter if Wilkins is at the 2 or 3, he’s getting beat either way. Likewise, Murray stinks at PG and SG, although he stinks less at SG, for whatever that’s worth.

The bottom line is the Sonics are getting killed at center and their point guard can’t defend a team of girl scouts. Ridnour is a fixture and we’re going to have to live with him. At center, though, it seems to me the best alternative is to start the Potato. His offense has been spotty at best this year, but I’m convinced that if the Sonics get him a solid 25-30 minutes a night, he can help offensively while providing more than adequate help on defense. As Weiss alludes to in a great article on supersonics.com, guard penetration is hurting the Sonics, and one Jerome James would be a welcome addition. Weiss’ hope is that Petro and Swift can keep guys from scoring in the paint, and that an improved attention to team defense will be a tonic. My concern is that if these guys haven’t figured it out a fifth of the way through the season, exactly how much time do they need?

10 comments:

Pete Nussbaum said...

This comes from the Sun Sentinel in Florida.

---

WALSH WAITS

Swingman Matt Walsh cleared waivers, but the Heat told agent Jason Levien they could envision a reunion.

Walsh is expected to work out after Thanksgiving for the Utah Jazz and Seattle SuperSonics. Neither team has offered Walsh a guarantee, but the Sonics were particularly interested over the summer in the undrafted former University of Florida standout.

Of a possible Walsh return to the Heat, Levien said Tuesday, "They seem adamant they want to stay involved."

Pete Nussbaum said...

And, to make matters worse, Rick Brunson has apparently re-injured his foot, prompting David Locke to say "he could be out for months."

Ouch (both for Mr. Brunson and for us Sonic fans).

booth52 said...

Well said. I've been wondering about damien's defensive stats as well. From watching him play last year, it seemed like he was, at the least, an above average defender, yet the numbers don't support this. His image may be inflated by flashy steals masking poor 1on1/rotation defense. I'm giving him at least half a season before i crucify him, however. There's simply not enough data/games played to justify much of what 82games is saying yet, although I'd love to believe Allen is truly that decisive a force this year.

While their defensive atrocities are clearly the/a major reason for them sucking ass, it was somewhat to be expected. The truly surprising stat for the beginning of this season, imo, has been the loss of their rebounding edge from a year ago. I find it hard to believe that a combination of the departure of JJ,AD, & Nate could cause this, considering the team still has Reg, Nick, and Danny. Truly puzzling.

Anonymous said...

Just say "no" to the Potato (like Nate did). He has a very weak inside game and tends to be very slow rotating on defense. Sink or swim with the young 7-footers.

Anonymous said...

The thing that made AD so dynamic was that he was a defender that could shoot. Collison might be the only guy left on the team that can fit that description. Weiss has limited options to fix the D without killing the offense.

Anonymous said...

Let's trade for Daniels then. I guess he's been yanked for starting from the wizards (only 5 minutes of play in a double-OT game against Detroit), and he's gotten benched because of his awful stats - 34.8% from the field, 2 for 17 from 3 (that's 12%). Basically, it doesn't seem like things are going well for him there.

We can send them Mikki Moore and Radmanovic - would sort of fit with their roster (ok, not really, but hey?)

Anonymous said...

please no one say we need Big Snack James. he is worthless especially when you take into consideration his insane contract. if weiss thinks that a fat overpaid center who only decides to try in the playoffs will help us, we are in worse shape than i thought. play potato and bring petro off the bench for the rest of the minuets. will swift ever help this team? porbably not this year. forget moore, he is too skinny. fortson will play his 5 minuets in the third and foul out. trade any and all of cleves/brunson/moore/fortson/murry/wilkins for anyone who can stop a guard in this league. we don't need bruce bowen, but someone along the lines of Raja Bell or Antonio Daniels. but we defiantely don't need the big doughnut back. i hate players who don't try and JJ is a prime example, he is only there to collect checks. i'm sure he loves the fact that he is dead last in LB's rotation. he gets paid and doesn't even have to pretend to play like he did here. if he'd try like he did in the Sac series he would be worth a damn, but he just burrys his abilities under a layer of indifference.

Nuss said...

In Weiss' defense, he didn't say the Sonics should acquire James - the point of the article was to illustrate the causes of the poor defense this year relative to last year. No one can argue that as bad as JJ was, he is superior defensively to all of the centers we have now. That said, I DO NOT WANT THE SONICS TO GET JEROME JAMES BACK. That should clear up that little misunderstanding.

Anonymous said...

Sund gambled that Wilkens could be THE wing defender when he let AD go. Sadly, Damien is the only one on the roster that even has POTENTIAL to fill that role. Gotta keep him on the floor and hope he gets it down. Ugh!

Lance Uppercut said...

Hey, you guys want a defender? I hear Ruben Patterson can be had for the right price. Is he allowed in the state of Washington?