Thursday, October 4

Crunch Time

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
2. Defense
3. Execution
4. Perimeter shooting
5. Rebounding

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.

5 comments:

AK1984 said...

FIRST QUARTER & THIRD QUARTER

SIX MINUTES
C: Nick Collison
PF: Chris Wilcox
SF: Jeff Green
SG: Kevin Durant
PG: Luke Ridnour

TWO MINUTES
C: Nick Collison
PF: Chris Wilcox
SF: Damien Wilkins
SG: Kevin Durant
PG: Earl Watson

FOUR MINUTES
C: Robert Swift
PF: Kurt Thomas
SF: Damien Wilkins
SG: Delonte West
PG: Earl Watson

SECOND QUARTER & FOURTH QUARTER

FOUR MINUTES
C: Robert Swift
PF: Kurt Thomas
SF: Mickael Gelabale
SG: Delonte West
PG: Luke Ridnour

TWO MINUTES
C: Nick Collison
PF: Chris Wilcox
SF: Mickael Gelabale
SG: Kevin Durant
PG: Luke Ridnour

SIX MINUTES
C: Nick Collison
PF: Chris Wilcox
SF: Jeff Green
SG: Kevin Durant
PG: Earl Watson

The following are my observations from that lineup.

1. Wally Szczerbiak will spend most of this season on the inactive list for some reason -- whether it’s due to injury or ineffectiveness -- which’ll provide both Damien Wilkins and Mickael Gelabale, who are in direct competiton with each other, an ample amount of playing time.

2. Kevin Durant is slotted to play at shooting guard this season. It won’t stunt his overall progression, however, as he’s a similar player to Tracy McGrady.

http://tinyurl.com/2q3la3

http://tinyurl.com/3d3qf5

3. Delonte West isn’t a natural point guard, but rather an adequate shooting guard; that topic has been beaten to death, though. As it is, West will backup Durant.

http://tinyurl.com/394q4j

4. Luke Ridnour and Earl Watson will continue to split minutes at point guard, with Ridnour playing the first six minutes and Watson playing the last six minutes of each quarter. That time-share won’t end well for either guy and, in turn, at least one of them will be dealt by the trade deadline.

5. By earning approximately 16 minutes per game as a reserve, Robert Swift will ease his way into the rotation to start the season. Eventually, though, he could earn increased playing time by bulding up strength in his surgically repaired knee.

6. Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox will be once again counted on to man the frontcourt, as neither Mouhamed Sene nor Johan Petro deserve any playing time -- albeit for entirely different reasons -- at the NBA level. Indeed, Sene belongs with the Idaho Stampede.

7. Since Kurt Thomas is strictly a high-post player with an offensive repertoire that includes a mid-range jumper from the elbow, he should receive playing time alongside Swift -- who’s a traditional center, for he's a low-post player with an offensive game that's composed of back-to-the-basket moves -- as a reserve.

anonymous #12 said...

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.

If management was worried about that, they wouldn't have traded Ray. Anyway... I do think Z will play quite a bit down the stretch. His clutch shooting is a necessity.

t dawg said...

The great thing about a player with the drive of Durant is-- he will find a way to win, and will drive and elevate his teammates.

Of course, if you are going to have Earl Watson's defense on the floor at the end of games, Durant's going to have to do a hell of a lot of elevation, because Watson will be the just about the worst PG in the league that is actually playing in crunch time.

I would love the kid-- if he was 6'8" and played SF. But he is merely a crappy point guard instead. Get him out of there at the end, and refocus Luke on playing better D and not on looking over his shoulder at the bench every time he makes a mistake.

That is the best scenario for this team.

End lineup? Way WAY too early to tell. I only know who I most likely WOULDN'T want on the floor. Not who I would.

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