Question for a Thursday:
With training camp in full motion, there has been plenty of speculation on the Sonics’ starting lineup, but how about the finishing lineup?
We all remember the Supes’ wonderful run three years ago, when they came within a couple games of knocking off the Spurs. One huge key to that team was the effective way Nate McMillan used Antonio Daniels to spell Luke Ridnour at the end of games (a habit which drove Ridnour nuts). Many players, including Delonte West recently, have said that who starts the game doesn’t matter nearly as much as who finishes.
I agree. If the first 3 ½ quarters of an NBA game are the regular season, the final half of the fourth quarter is the playoffs. With that in mind, who should the Sonics be using to finish games this season?
To my thinking there are five key factors to making a crunch-time player:
1. Free throw shooting
4. Perimeter shooting
Obviously, it isn’t important for a shooting guard to rebound; I’m speaking more of the 5-man unit as a whole. With those five pieces in mind, if I was PJ Carlesimo, here’s who I would run out there in the final minutes of a close game:
PG: Earl Watson
SG: Kevin Durant
SF: Wally Szczerbiak
PF: Nick Collison
C: Kurt Thomas
Now, some explanations. With the exception of Watson, all five are great FT shooters, and Watson shot 74% last season, so he’s no slouch, either. While Earl’s outside shot isn’t as good as Ridnour’s, his defense is superior, and he outranks Delonte West in ball-handling and distribution.
(And, in case you felt like arguing about “crunch time stats,” bear in mind that Earl Watson’s eFG percentages in crunch time for the past five seasons were 42, 61, 43, 34, 48. If you can see a pattern there, you’re much smarter than me. Suffice it so say that I don’t anyone on the Sonics is any more “clutch” than anyone else; just than some players are better shooters than others).
Back to the lineup. You could argue that putting a rookie in a pressure situation isn’t the best idea, but this is a team trying to build for the future and Durant is that future. Add in his 81% FT mark at Texas, and it’s a no-brainer. Plus, this squad needs someone who can hit outside shots other than Wally, and Durant fits that bill.
Szczerbiak v Wilkins is a tough call, but I’m going with Wally just because he’s just such an outstanding shooter. Of course, with Szczerbiak’s proclivity to get injured Wilkins will still have plenty of opportunities (assuming, that is, that the Sonics have plenty of close games, which is a stretch).
Finally, Collison and Thomas are just so far ahead of their competition when it comes to defense and execution there really isn’t much of a contest. After all, who do you think is more likely to box out: Nick Collison or Chris Wilcox? Who is more likely to switch at the right time, Kurt Thomas or Bob Swift? It’s really not an argument.
Now, if the coaching staff wants to sabotage any chance at winning this season, Jeff Green or Swift could see more action, and I would even argue it would be smart to run those two out there at least occasionally so they can get a feel of the tenacity of late-game action. Still, I really believe the Sonics can’t afford to let Durant get a taste of losing every night, and he needs to be playing with guys who know what they’re doing at the end of games, if only to further his development.