Might As Well Get This Out While The David Lee Lovefest Continues

For the people that think Lee can’t survive in the half court: Did you see yesterday’s game? I’ve noticed that David “General” Lee (thanks DRED) has been playing really well on offense, especially with the ball in his hands. He likes to get it 10 feet from the hoop, and in the past he’d just try to drive baseline & use his finishing skills to score. But recently he’s added a little jumper that he works from that same spot. He didn’t hit it yesterday (I only remember him attempting it once), but the General has hit that shot this season.

Lee nailed a ten footer on Monday I believe, which prompted a pretty noticeable remark from Clyde. In just about every game Frazier points out one play that the player was practicing on. Clyde did it last night when one of the Cavs had the ball – and remarked how the player was working on that shot before the game. In any case when Lee hit the shot on Monday, Clyde remarked how Lee had been practicing that shot and working with Aguirre. That’s a good sign that Lee is attempting to improve himself. I’m sure in college he was a fine player without a jumper, that usually happens with NBA caliber players. Why shoot a jumpshot when you can repeatedly beat them inside? But in the NBA, the level of play is higher, and you’re no longer better than 99% of the competition – so you have to improve yourself.

Now I know this may come to Owen’s chagrin, because efficient scoring usually occurs near the hoop. However, it seems that Lee often does this early in order to make his defender play him tighter on the perimeter. Of course that he does it from the same spot where he likes to setup on offense means that Lee is developing into a more complete player in the half court set. No longer can defenders step back and prepare for a drive, because Lee is apt to hoist a jumper.

And the results? According to 82games, Lee is shooting 38.9% eFG from the outside. Consider that Zach Randolph is shooting 37.0 % eFG, and you have to think that Lee is at least competent with his shot. The good news is that only 24% of Lee’s shots have been classified as “jump” shots by 82games, whereas Randolph’s repertoire consists is 56% jumpshots. Well I guess that’s not good news for Zach Randolph…

But what’s just as impressive is Lee’s passing skills. He’s not particularly good at threading the needle inside – but what he’s good at is finding the open man on the perimeter. At times Lee knows who he’s going to pass the ball to before he gets it, and at times he’s good at scanning the field when he receives the ball – waiting for the offense to unfold. He doesn’t create double teams or make other guys open, but he does get the ball to the right guy at the right time. And while you might look at his assist numbers and think he’s a greedy ballhog, it’s probably better to look at his turnovers to put it into context. Lee rarely handles the ball on offense, probably by design, but he also rarely coughs it up. Consider that Randolph and Curry give the ball away two and a half times as often, and you can find another of Lee’s strength on offense.

Sure I know yesterday was one of Lee’s finest games, but from what I’ve seen this season it’s not a big surprise that he had a game of that magnitude. And while Lee isn’t going to dribble past his guy for a two handed flush every time (like he did to Zydrunas), and he’s not going to save the Knicks this year, he’s certainly not the one dimensional Reggie Evans that some Knick fans paint him out to be. New York has been just fine with Lee in the half court on offense, and there is no reason to think otherwise.

Knicks 2007 Report Card (A to Z): David Lee

KnickerBlogger Despite standing only 6’9″, David Lee’s main strength is his rebounding. He combines excellent positioning, exceptional timing, good leaping ability, and a desire to capture missed shots on both ends of the floor. Not only is Lee the best rebounder on his team, but he’s one of the best in the NBA. Among players that logged 1000 or more minutes in 2007, Lee finished 5th in per minute rebounding. Compared to the other hyalophiles, Lee committed the fewest fouls and scored the most points.

Per 40 Minutes Height Tm OREB DREB TREB PF PTS
Reggie Evans 6’8″ DEN 5.5 10.8 16.3 5.1 11.5
Dikembe Mutombo 7’2″ HOU 5.1 10.1 15.1 4.8 7.1
Tyson Chandler 7’1″ NOK 5.1 9.3 14.3 3.9 10.9
Jeff Foster 6’11” IND 5.8 8.2 14 4.6 7.4
David Lee 6’9″ NYK 4.5 9.4 13.9 3.6 14.4

Not just a one trick pony, Lee is also adept at running the floor and strong at finishing around the hoop. A natural lefty, David Lee is ambidextrous which allows him to score with either hand. Although he doesn’t possess the extra wide body that Curry or Sweetney has, Lee isn’t slender, and can shield the ball with his body. Lee shot a robust 60% eFG from the field, and is such a good free throw shooter (81.6%) that he ranked third on the team in free throw shooting percentage. As a bonus, Lee doesn’t dominate the ball on offense. The Knicks don’t need to run any plays for him, as he’s able to produce his own offense by his rebounding and his ability to move well without the ball.

Although Lee is slightly undersized at power forward, his defense is passable. He has good footwork and is strong enough to not get bowled over against other post players. Additionally Lee can play the small forward or center spots, albeit in short stints depending on the matchup. If Lee were 2 inches taller he probably would excel as a shot blocker, but he is only able to alter shots of smaller players. Among the Knick forwards/centers Lee committed the fewest per minute fouls, which allows him to stay on the court for long periods of time. According to 82games, the Knicks were 2.5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Lee on the court. Even if that number comes from his outstanding rebounding, he clearly doesn’t hinder the team with his defense.

In 2007, the Knicks record was 26-32 (.449) with David Lee and 7-17 (.291) without him. In the three games after the suspensions from the Denver fight, Lee averaged 13 points and an incredible 17.7 rebounds. Last year he led the Knicks in 4 important categories (eFG%, TS%, OREB/40, and DREB/40) and had the highest PER on the team. Quietly he was New York’s most valuable player.

KnickerBlogger’s Grade: A

2008 Outlook: Despite Lee’s outstanding sophomore season, there are a few questions that 2008 will bring:

1. Was 2007 a fluke?
Too often have we seen young players have a fantastic year, only to fall down to earth never to reach that level of play again. Hopes may be high for Lee to continue to progress, and one only needs to look at Lee’s draftmate Channing Frye to see how far a young player can slide from a single season. On the positive side, Lee’s pertinent stats are nearly identical from his rookie year, with one exception: his defensive rebounding. Lee grabbed 2.6 DREB/40 more in 2007, which is more likely due to his switch to power forward (from small forward under Brown) and Curry’s increase in minutes (Curry is a poor rebounder).

2. How will the injury affect Lee?
Of all the questions, this one is the most concerning. Lee’s injury seems to have been misdiagnosed, his return date kept sliding, and he made a token appearance hobbling at the end of the season. Since Lee uses his jumping ability to secure a lot of his rebounds, suffering an ankle injury should cause some concern. It’s probable that he missed the summer league because he’s still not 100%, although there were reports that he was working out with the team. Watching him early in the pre-season should give fans a good indication if this injury is behind him or not.

3. How much will he play?
Prior to draft night it seemed that David Lee would have a bright future in New York. He only had Channing Frye, Malik Rose, Jerome James, and Randolph Morris to compete with for the starting spot in the Knick’s lineup. Considering that group of talent, Lee should have been a lock to start in 2008. That all changed when Isiah Thomas acquired Zach Randolph on draft day. Now Knick fans are wondering if David Lee will see enough court time this year. Consider that last year Curry and Randolph averaged a little over 35 minutes a game each. If the duo play the same amount of minutes, and David Lee backs up both players, it only means he’ll play about 25 minutes a game, less than the 30 he played last year.

But the problem with that logic is that the Knicks can’t just use only three players for two spots all year. There’ll be times that they’ll need a defensive presence in the paint, so they may have to look to Rose, James, Morris, or Cato (considering any of these players are on the roster come November). While Lee can play small forward for short stretches, there’ll be nights that the matchup will make it impossible. Additionally small forward seems to be the Knicks’ deepest position, so Lee may have a hard time finding minutes there either. My ideal situation, while still being realistic, would be for Isiah to occasionally use Lee as a small forward in a big lineup to force other teams out of their comfort zone, slightly cut back on Curry and Randolph’s minutes, be open minded in the fourth quarter and use Lee down the stretch especially when Zach or Eddy are having an off night.

4. Can he generate more offense?
With Isiah’s offense centered on the low post play of Eddy Curry, and now Zach Randolph, it becomes important for all the Knicks on the floor to knock down an open jumper. Unfortunately Lee hits only 29% of his jump shots according to 82games.com. His shot looks awkward, and maybe part of it is due to being left handed. Nonetheless it appears as if he doesn’t square his shoulders to the hoop. Often relying on others to score, his usage is very low and his per minute scoring is only tied for 7th on the team. While Lee is plenty valuable without a jump shot, for him to go from being a very good complimentary player to an All Star will require a bit more scoring volume. A 15 footer would go a long way in Lee’s development.

Dave Crockett

Lee’s career has been one I have followed with some interest since seeing him in listed as a McDonald’s HS All-American in 2001. I suspect most Knickerblogger readers are not familiar with the St. Louis metro area, which is where I spent my high school years some 20+ years ago. Lee’s high school, Chaminade College Prep, suffice it to say is not to be mistaken for the prototypical high school sports powerhouse. (Back in my day Chaminade actually ran a single-wing offense in football.) So when this mop-topped, rosy-cheeked lad won the McDonald’s slam dunk contest I was, to say the least, intrigued. Unfortunately for Lee he virtually never had a play run for him at Florida until his senior season, overlapping as he did with trigger-happy guards Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Fortunately for Knicks fans Lee learned how to be uber-productive without the ball in his hands. His long arms, timing, and knack for positioning virtually ensure that he will always be a quality rebounder.

The key for Lee going forward will be developing a 15-18 foot jump shot. If he never improves in that area he still promises to be an exceptionally useful complimentary player, along the lines of A.C. Green–the player to whom he compares most favorably at the same age. But if he can improve his ball-handling and his shot–a feat that may require reconstructing that ugly looking thing–I see Lee’s peak years comparing favorably to those of Larry Nance or Horace Grant (i.e., very good, though probably not Hall of Fame).

Putting a damper on some of the superlatives though, I do have my concerns about Lee’s injury. I am still not completely certain of the final diagnosis. Its description in the press even now remains somewhat murky. My initial thinking was that Lee suffered a “high ankle sprain,” an injury commonly suffered by football players. That’s generally a 6-8 week injury. But, it remains unclear if Lee is back to 100% even now.

As for Lee’s minutes this upcoming season, I suspect that after pulling Lee–clearly his most desired asset–off the market Thomas plans to play him. My best guess is that he will be part of a rotation that sees him log some minutes at SF while the lion’s share will come at backup PF when Zach Randolph slides down to C. My sincere hope is that we have seen the last meaningful minutes for Malik Rose and Jerome James, who combined to be on the floor for over a quarter of the team’s minutes in ’06-07.

Brian Cronin – Yeah, the injury problem is my only concern about Lee. It’s not like Lee just developed all these skills out of nowhere. He was basically the same player in his sophomore year as in his rookie year – only more so. ;)

But I’ve seen way too many NBA players get similar injuries to Lee and just have their distinctive abilities, if not ruined, at least diminished for quite awhile. So I am certainly hoping that Lee will recover nicely.

I am not too worried about minutes, really, because, as Dave mentions, if Zeke isn’t going to trade him, I gotta figure it is because he actually plans on using him. I, too, think he will see most of his minutes at the SF position.

As for the grade, come on, could it be any grade BUT an A? Dude was a legitimate contender for the All-Star team in his second season!!

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part II)

In part one I evaluated the Knick?s draft night based on their strategy, a blend of best player available and need. Now, let?s take a look at the other teams in the East. To review briefly, I will review each team?s draft based on its apparent strategy (best player available or need/fit) and categorize it as ?Accept,? ?Revise and Resubmit,? or ?Reject.? Players are listed by overall selection number, name, height (with shoes), wingspan (if available), weight (lbs.), position, and school.

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Reject (Getting a talented player is not enough)

2. Marvin Williams (6-8-1/4, 7-3-1/2, 228.2#), F, N. Carolina

31. Salim Stoudamire (6-1-1/4, 6-4, 185.6#), G, Arizona

59. Cenk Aykol (6-4, NA, 195), PG, Turkey

The evaluation has little to do with Williams or Stoudamire, both talented players. It certainly has nothing to do with 18 year old Cenk Aykol. It has everything to do with the Hawks. The Hawks are like the NBA?s version of George Castanza. They can?t get a 2nd date yet somehow manage to have commitment issues. Perennially in the market for a new ?savior,? Atlanta has a fear of commitment worthy of a few couch sessions with Dr. Phil. They seem uniquely unable to forego their infatuation with the next ?great? player long enough to get on with the business of building around real live players. Last season Atlanta acquired talented veteran forward Al Harrington, who is just entering his prime. Atlanta also drafted the raw-but-freakishly athletic youngster Josh Smith along with jack-of-all-trades swingman Josh Childress (who sports the league?s best Afro since Dr. J). Weren?t these the building blocks of the future? I suppose, but in “The City too Busy to Hate” those guys were so five minutes ago. The Hawks appear to be starting all over with Williams as the new centerpiece; I?ve heard little from them about how these pieces are supposed to fit together. Is Williams worth it? Perhaps, but it seems just as likely that once the chinks in his armor are revealed during the course of yet another 50-60 loss season this summer?s ?it girl? will be supplanted by the next young stud forward next June.

Boston Celtics

* Strategy: Best Player Available/fit

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

18. Gerald Green (6-7-1/4, 6-9-3/4, 192#), SG, Gulf Shores Academy HS (TX)

50. Ryan Gomes (6-7-3/4, 7-2, 248#), F, Providence

53. Orien Greene (6-4, NA, 208#), PG, LA-Lafayette

In one respect the Celts got lucky when Gerald Green fell to them. Still, credit Danny Ainge for exorcising the ghosts of the 2001 draft when the Celts chose Joe Forte, Johnson, and Kedrick Brown. I bet the Celtics wish they?d hung on to Joe Johnson now rather than trading him for Rodney Rogers and a sack of fool?s gold. Green may not end up being the next Tracy McGrady but I wouldn?t be surprised if his career travels a path similar to Johnson?s. Getting Ryan Gomes at #50 may have actually been a much better indicator of Ainge?s front office skill than acquiring Green, who fell into their laps. Gomes is a skilled ?tweener who couldn?t play on every team. But what team has done a better job than Boston of getting the most out of ?tweeners in recent years (think Antoine Walker, Eric Williams, and the aforementioned Rogers)? Gomes, who played his college ball down the road at Providence, is a nice fit on that team and should contribute as an undersized PF on the second unit. Orien Greene could use some seasoning in the NBDL or Europe but his defense could get him on an NBA roster eventually, even if it?s not in Boston.

Charlotte Bobcats

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with major changes)

5. Raymond Felton (6-0-1/4, 6-4-1/4, 199.2#), PG, N. Carolina

13. Sean May (6-8-1/2, 7-1-1/4, 258.8#), PF, N. Carolina

Though I am not one who thinks Raymond Felton is a reach at #5 based on talent I don?t think he could be equally impactful on every team. Felton excels at pushing the tempo. However, Charlotte?s roster doesn?t appear to be equipped to play that style. While Gerald Wallace and Okefor can fly up and down the floor, starters Kareem Rush (UFA) and Primoz Brezec are halfcourt players. It would have seemed to make more sense for Charlotte to select one of the SGs (most likely Wright or McCants) to pair with Felton rather than a power forward. With Brezec, Okefor, Malik Allen, and Melvin Ely all splitting minutes between the 4 and 5 May could have a difficult time finding minutes. On the other hand Wright or McCants could have easily ended up as the starter after training camp. I love the Felton selection if the team is committed to running but they?ll need to move another player or two for the May selection to make sense to me.

Chicago Bulls

* No selections in this draft

Cleveland Cavaliers

* Acquired the rights to F/C Martynus Andriuskevicius (the 44th overall selection).

Detroit Pistons

* Strategy: Need/Fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with major changes)

26. Jason Maxiell (6-6-1/4, 7-3-1/4, 257.6#), PF, Cincinnati

56. Amir Johnson (6-10, NA, 220#), PF/C, Westchester HS (CA)

60. Alex Acker (6-3-3/4, 7-0, 183), G, Pepperdine

If this were anyone but Joe Dumars this draft haul would warrant a flat-out ?reject.? Maxiell is a classic case of choosing a player who fits a particular role on a team. Joe Dumars certainly could have gotten better talent at the same position by choosing Wayne Simien, an accomplished defender and rebounder but much more polished scorer, who was drafted by Miami three picks later. Maxiell is an athletic but undersized forward who is something of a Reggie Evans clone, though a tad shorter. The big risk with Maxiell is that he?s undersized and one-dimensional on a team that already has a lot of what he does. Also, since the team can hardly find spare minutes for Darko Milicic it?s unclear where Maxiell?s minutes come from unless someone gets hurt or dealt. Detroit?s 2nd round picks appear destined for the D-League, though Acker may be able to contribute.

On a whole other level, the conspiracy theorist in me suspects that the Maxiell pick is a loyalty test from Joe Dumars. If Larry Brown returns to coach and subsequently plays Maxiell more minutes than Milicic Dumars will simply have him killed. Never go against the family Larry.

Indiana Pacers

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept

17. Danny Granger (6-8-1/2, 7-1-1/2, 225.4#), SF, New Mexico

46. Ezram Lorbeck (6-10, NA, 240#), PF, Slovenia

Granger is a true small forward without any glaring holes in his game. His ceiling may be lower than some other players in this draft but he is virtually bust-proof (barring injury) because of his defense, passing, and overall basketball IQ. Jonathan Bender may have played his last game in an Indiana Pacer uniform; or perhaps I should stay spent his last stint on the Pacer injured list. I doubt the addition of Granger would compel the Pacers to move Ron Artest but they could certainly entertain offers. Lorbeck is a nice choice late in round 2. He may never come back to the states but he?s a nice chip to have.

Miami Heat

* Strategy: Best Player Available/Need

* Review: Accept

29. Wayne Simien (6-9, 7-0, 255.8), PF, Kansas

Upgrading from Damon Jones, a solid 3rd guard, is in my estimation Miami?s first order of business. However, short of trading way up, Miami was not going to do that in this draft. Choosing Wayne Simien that late in the first round leaves little room for criticism. Simien most likely won?t need to start since Miami is not likely to lose Udonis Haslem (since he’s not going to get more than the MLE) but Simien will probably be counted on to provide 10-20 minutes per night. Simien steadily improved at Kansas, going from a strictly back-to-the-basket scorer and putback artist to a steady mid-range jump shooter. He boards, runs the floor, is tough as nails, and solid from the FT line. He also measured 6?9? in shoes; where his height had been a concern. The troubling issue with Simien has been his inability to stay healthy. Guys rarely come to the pros and get healthier than they were in college.

Milwaukee Bucks

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (See comments on Atlanta Hawks)
1. Andrew Bogut (7-0-1/4, 7-3, 250.6#), C, Utah

36. Ersan Ilysova (6-9, 7-1-1/4, 208.8#)

My issue with the Bucks is somewhat similar to my issue with the Hawks, though not to quite the same degree. I don?t have a quarrel with selecting Bogut. A big man who passes well can always help a team even on nights when he?s not scoring. In fact, Bogut’s passing and ability to play in the high post may well add 2-3 ppg to Desmond Mason?s average. But what is the Buck?s vision? I don?t understand the firing of Terry Porter?or at least its timing. (Was he a Marvin Williams man?) I want to see what the Bucks are committed to putting around Bogut to maximize his talents before I buy into them. I was not all that taken with Milwaukee?s 2nd round selection, Ilysova, when they could have taken Croatian playmaker Roko Leni-Ukic to backup Mo Williams.

New Jersey Nets

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept (minor changes)

15. Antoine Wright (6-6-1/4, 6-8-3/4, 202.6#), G, Texas A&M

43. Mile Ilic (7-1, NA, 240#), C, Yugoslavia

I like the selection. New Jersey’s bench is woeful. Wright gives them depth as well as a player who can create his own shot, something that only Vince Carter does currently. The only other player the Nets might have considered here is Hakim Warrick, a power forward who could also bring a lot of energy off the bench. Warrick, a classic ?tweener, is less of a risk in New Jersey because anyone who can run and catch the way Warrick can will look good on the floor with Jason Kidd. Ilic is another big kid they can develop overseas at no cost.

Orlando Magic

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Reject

11. Fran Vasquez (6-11, NA, 230), PF, Spain

38. Travis Diener (6-1, 5-11-3/4, 165.2), PG, Marquette

While Toronto?s Rob Babcock took the lion?s share of the draft night grief I thought Orlando had a much worse draft. At least no one is questioning the talent of Babcock?s selections this year. Orlando?s situation seemed to be one tailor made for trading down or out of this draft. It?s not clear to me what Vasquez brings to Orlando that they aren?t already getting from Tony Battie. What they really needed from this draft (a big point guard) they weren’t going to get at #11 without trading up or reaching. Furthermore, Vasquez?s buyout from his Spanish team may be more complicated than originally thought. Travis Deiner, the team?s second round pick is an even smaller version of last year’s first, Jameer Nelson, and the second coming of Scott Brooks. I have a difficult time seeing how these two players help Orlando, either as talent for the future or by filling specific roles. If you?re a Magic fan you are hoping hard that the front office is working on some other moves.

Philadelphia 76ers

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

45. Louis Williams (6-1, NA, NA), PG, S. Gwinnett HS (GA)

Armed with only a second round pick the Sixers took a flyer on a high schooler; but the wrong one in my opinion. Even if they re-sign Samuel Dalembert why not take a chance on one of the high school big men, Andrey Blatche or Amir Johnson, rather than the 6-1 SG Williams? Guards are a lot easier to find.

Toronto Raptors

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept

7. Charlie Villanueva (6-9-1/2, 7-0-1/4, 236.6#), PF, Connecticut

16. Joey Graham (6-6-1/2, 6-8, 216.6#), G/F, Oklahoma State

For all the ?hootin? and hollarin?? that went on surrounding the 7th pick I didn?t necessarily see the big problem with it. Clearly, Villanueva and Bosh have overlapping skills. However, it appears that Toronto has come to the conclusion that Bosh?s future is at center, not power forward. Villanueva, a big kid with a lot of skills who virtually no one projects as a center, will be asked to play Bosh?s old power forward spot. It?s hard to see how Channing Frye or any other choice made between 8 and 16 would have been a significantly better choice in terms of talent and fit. Toronto also benefited big time from the fact that the wing players slid down as a group, helping them to acquire Joey Graham at 16. I have questions about how much offense Graham will provide. He has limited range as a shooter and doesn?t handle the ball particularly well. However he?s a very good defender, rebounder, and he runs the floor well. Overall, Toronto got two pretty talented players who should be able to contribute right away.

Washington Wizards

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept

49. Andray Blatche (6-11, NA, NA), PF/C, S. Kent Prep HS (CT)

It?s hard to fuss with getting a big kid with some talent at #49. He could turn into a player with a couple seasons in the D-League and a substantially lower set of expectations than those that dogged Kwame Brown. It?s hard to see a downside.

Up next: The Western Conference (Part III)

The Last Emperor – West

The East isn’t the only conference that is signaling a change in the guard. Two afterthoughts in the West are breezing along to the league’s best records. Right now, there may not be a bigger surprise in the NBA than the Seattle SuperSonics. How bad was Seattle suppose to be? Let me quote from some of their team previews for this season:

In the past two years, the Sonics are 77-87, ending a 15-year run of .500 or better. This season Coach Nate McMillan faces a tough, but not impossible, challenge to get Seattle back to its wining ways…The trend is troubling in Seattle, where two straight losing seasons are already in the books. A third could arrive in ’04-05 if the shots don’t fall and the big men don’t improve.

Or this one:

This is a team that needs a new direction. The Sonics’ roster is not equipped to win in the West and the time to completely rebuild has arrived. Allen could be sacrificed to help Seattle get draft picks along with some new blood, and it would not be surprising to hear Lewis’ name pop in trade talk as well. McMillan could be on the hot seat, as the Sonics will miss the playoffs for the third straight season with less wins than a year ago.

Or this one:

The Sonics are in a bit of a rebuilding mode… Look for the Sonics to have yet another long season. If their young player develop well, the Sonics will be a contender in the near future.

For a rebuilding team, the Sonics are doing awfully well. They sit atop the Northwest division with a staggering 17-4 record, ahead of Minnesota who had the league’s best record last year. Seattle’s biggest change might be Nate McMillan and the coaching staff finally getting the team to play some defense. Last year the Sonics allowed 109 points per 100 possessions (pPTS), 3rd worst in the league. This year they are ranked 20th, with 101.9 pPTS. For most teams that would be a mediocre improvement, but consider that Seattle has one of the most potent scoring machines in the league (108.9 pPTS – ranked #2). Their high powered offense only requires an average defense to sustain them (or in this case not one of the league’s worst).

It’s no secret that the Sonics’ offense lives off a barrage of three pointers. Just look at the volume & percentages of their best guys:

NAME………..	3PM/G	3P%
Ray Allen…… 2.6 41%
Rashard Lewis.. 2.1 39%
Vlad Radmanovic 2.0 41%
Antonio Daniels 0.9 33%
Luke Ridnour.. 0.9 41%

What people might not know, is that Seattle has two other major offensive weapons in addition to their sharp-shooters. They sport one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league (32.6% 2nd), and are the best at creating scoring opportunities at the line (29.5FTM/FGA 1st). Fortson (51.7 eFG, 1.36PSA, 21.96PER), despite limited minutes has helped in both areas. In less than 20 minutes a game, he’s 1st in the league in rebounding rate (23.7), and he’s is second on the team with 5 free throws a game. Whatever rebounds Fortson can’t get to, Reggie Evans (51.9 eFG, 1.06 PSA, 12.01 PER) probably does. In fact Fortson & Evans rank 1-2 in Hollinger’s rebound rate in the league.

Fortson’s ability to get to the line is quite unique. Danny has made 1.10 free throws for every field goal attempted. If this number means nothing to you (and unless you’re lucky enough to write for the Sonics it probably doesn’t), let me put it in context. Consider most teams don’t have anyone over .60 and Michael Sweetney leads the Knicks with a .54 ratio (and Knick fans know how often Sweets gets to the line). So Fortson is getting to the line at a rate of twice the best player on most teams. The ratio is boosted by the fact that Fortson doesn’t shoot many shots, he’s a great offensive rebounder (easy opportunities), and he’s hitting 86% of his free throws. For a guy with a limited offensive skill set, Fortson does quite well for the few minutes he’s out there.

While the Sonics mediocre defense and lack of a post-up player might be their undoing in the playoffs, it’s hard to find anything to dislike about the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have the best record in the league and rightfully so. While it’s obvious that they have the best offense in the league (111.5 pPTS), what may be deceiving is their defense. While they rank an unimpressive 11th in points scored against per game, they’re actually 6th in the more accurate points per possession (98 pPTS).

A lot of people have singlehandedly credited Nash (59.4 eFG, 1.26 PSA, 23.58 PER), who is one of the league’s best passers (3rd in Hollinger’s assist ratio 40.9), for the Suns turnaround. The logic might go something like this:

Suns (last year) =35% win%
Suns + Nash = 86% win%
Nash’s contribution = 51% win%.

Well not exactly. While it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Nash was a major upgrade from Leandro Barbosa (55.4 eFG%, 1.16 PSA, 14.32 PER), he hasn’t been the only improvement. Just like Cleveland’s improvement has coincided with King James’ ascent into the league’s best, I think the Suns have become a powerhouse with the appointing of Amare the Great (57.3 eFG, 1.24 PSA, 27.74 PER). Stoudemire ranks 4th in offensive PER, only behind Duncan, Garnett, and Nowitzki. His defense is a bit above average at center (14.8 oPER), despite being the smaller player most nights. I’m going to go out on a very long limb & say that Stoudemire, Nash and Marion are the best three man lineup in the NBA right now.

The Suns main weakness is their bench. The Suns 5 starters are averaging 37 minutes a game, because they don’t have good options coming off the bench. If one of their starters hits the IR, the team will loose a good amount of production. Phoenix still has a few chips to cash in. Although they owe a future first to San Antonio (protected), they also own the Bulls first round pick (protected top 3). The way the Bulls are playing it would be a waste to trade that pick for only a bench player or two. Luckily for Arizonians, the Suns also have a pair of European prospects with the teenage Maciej Lampe and the rights to Milos Vujanic, who’s still enjoying his European Vacation. Before the trade deadline is over, Bryan Colangelo might have to make that tough decision to sacrifice some of that youth for a better bench for a championship run, because the Suns are in a good position to win one this year.

With so many teams that could vie for the title, the era of the 2 star dynasty in the NBA may be over. Most of last year’s top teams, the Pistons, Pacers, TWolves and Spurs are on the outside looking in. San Antonio has a great looking record, but the upstart Sonics have already beaten them twice this season. Come June, we could easily see a Finals where neither of the participants have won a championship in more than 20 years.