If you’re going to use any word as the headline for the Sonics this summer, I think it would be change. With a revamped roster and front office, to say nothing of the potential departure of the franchise, that’s a natural.
But what would be the second word? I think anyone who has followed this team’s fortunes for the last few months would agree that defense would qualify. Defense, or perhaps culture, but let’s not revisit that oft-used word which, like a slow driver dawdling in the passing lane, drives your earnest narrator to such agitation.
Where was I? Oh, right, defense. In his brief tenure, Sam Presti has consistently looked for players that play defense (‘What about Wally World?’ Quiet, you.). At the same time, he has shed the team of players who are, well, let’s be nice and say not exactly candidates for defensive player of the year.
With that in mind, and with Jon Nichols’ fine article at 82games about defensive ratings fresh in my mind, here’s a chart listing the departed players and arriving players, with their defensive ratings to accompany them (and before you read the article, brace yourself for seeing Paul Millsap’s name listed in the top ten; yes, the same Millsap the Sonics passed on in order to select Mo Sene. How ya doin’, Rick Sund?):
ARRIVING, DCS, Def +/-, Drtg
Wally Szczerbiak, 1, +5.4, 110
Delonte West, 48, +3.0, 108
Kurt Thomas, 75, -4.9, 103
Ray Allen, 31, +1.3, 112
Rashard Lewis, 59, -1.1, 110
Some explanations. DCS is Nichols’ compilation stat that rates players based upon box score statistics, +/- numbers, and Dean Oliver’s defensive rating. Rather than relying on a single defensive stat, it compiles three of them to give a better illustration of a player’s defensive abilities.
And, from the statistics Nichols uses, it’s obvious the Sonics have made an improvement on defense just with the small sample shown above (with the notable exception of Szczerbiak, who checked in as the 3rd worst (!) defender in the entire NBA last season). Thomas’ numbers are extremely good, and West is easily better than either Ray Allen or Luke Ridnour, the folks from whom he will likely take minutes. From another angle, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis played 4,500 minutes for the Sonics last season and contributed 6.3 defensive win shares. Thomas and West, in only 3,400 minutes, contributed 9.6 defensive win shares. In an equal number of minutes, they would have produced more than twice as many DWS as Allen/Lewis.
In fact, when you add in Jeff Green’s abilities as a small forward, this team is immensely better on the defensive end, especially when you think of a lineup of West, Durant, Green, Collison and Thomas. Call me crazy, but that has got to be one of the better defensive lineups in the league – better, that is, if Kevin Durant is ready to guard the talented two guards that populate the league. A big if, certainly.
Still, if Sam Presti’s goal this summer was the remake this team into a better defensive one, I think we can safely say: Mission accomplished.