I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the direction the Sonics should take with their two second-round picks. One player who intrigued me was Brandon Rush, who, naturally, decided last week to stay in Kansas for another season, reasoning that another good year at KU would ratchet his selection number up a few spaces.
Honestly, I’m really not all that thrilled about picking Aaron Gray (although I’ll admit he was fantastic in Buck Rogers), and the point guards available at that point in the draft just don’t strike me as helpful to this roster. At first glance, the best option for the Sonics seemed to be a combo guard a la Antonio Daniels, something that Rush would have fit well.
But it got me to thinking, “What about Mickael Gelabale and Damien Wilkins?” Which further led down the path to, “Which of those two guys had a better season, and who are we better off with going forward?”
Those are two tough questions, but let me throw out a couple of things first:
1. Damien Wilkins made some huge improvements in his game this year, improvements that were lost amidst the gloom of the 06-07 year. First, he continued his remarkable free throw transformation, improving from 62% his rookie year to 84% last year to 88% this year, good for 9th-best in the NBA. Second, he shot 41% on 3PA, easily the best mark of his career. Considering he had never cracked 30% going into the season, that’s an incredible improvement.
2. After sinking 2 3’s in the first three months of the season, Gelabale nailed 4 in March and 5 in April.
3. Per 40 minutes, Wilkins posted better numbers in steals, assists, points, and FTA. Gelly had the edge in blocks and rebounds (he also drew more fouls per shot than Damien). Wilkins also gets off 3 more shots per 40 minutes.
4. Damien Wilkins went to the same high school in Florida as Johnny Damon, Wayne Brady, Joey Fatone, and AJ Pierzynski. Just so you know.
It’s tough to compare the two, inasmuch as Gelabale is a young man from another country with limited experience in the NBA game, while Wilkins is now a 3-year vet, whose father and uncle both played in the league.
Even with his strong numbers, for some reason Wilkins left us wanting this year. But if you really look at the numbers, it seems pretty clear that whoever the Sonics find in the draft, he’s not going to be a huge improvement over Wilkins, assuming Damien maintains something close to his shooting percentage on 3’s next year (which is a big assumption, I know).
As for +/- stats, Gelabale was the clear winner (the Sonics outscored opponents by .3 points while he was in, while Wilkins had a -6.2 mark). Further, his block percentage was double Wilkins’, and he did that without a concurrent increase in fouls committed, a remarkable accomplishment for a rookie player. Because he didn’t handle the ball as much, he didn’t turn it over as much, either.
Of course, the area statistics don’t cover is energy, and Gelly seems to have that in spades over Wilkins. From his hair to his Plastic Man-like body, Gelabale seemed to be at all places on the court when Bob Hill relented to playing him last year. And while his youthful exuberance got him into trouble on numerous occasions, he left fans with some hope for the coming season.
For that reason, it seems like Gelly deserves to get the backup role behind Allen next year. The two big questions will be if he can hit the 3 and if he can play the point. If Mickael can take a lesson from Damien and figure out a way improve his shooting, while also proving he can handle the ball as a point guard, the Sonics will be in good shape for the next few years with Gelly.