('88 Record: 44-38)
Seattle is football crazy. Curt Warner, Steve Largent, and Brian Bosworth get the headlines most of the time up there. The Seahawks won't give out the jersey #12 to any of their players because it is reserved for the fans, 'the twelfth man' on their team. Every week a new Seahawk Song is made and sent to the radio stations in the area where it gets lots of air time. The Seahawks still haven't come through with much success, but they fill the ugly Kingdome every weekend with some of the loudest fans around.
It's really not fair that the SuperSonics have to take second billing to the Seahawks. The Sonics are the oldest of the three major teams in Seattle and are the only team to have won a championship. The Sonics are a quick and exciting team that has a good chance at another title before the Seahawks get to their first Super Bowl. While the Seahawks have a lot of big name players on their team, the Sonics most prominent name is one letter, X. Xavier McDaniel is Seattle's favorite Sonic, but he doesn't get near the attention that any of the top Seahawks get. Seattle fans should get their priorities straight. The Sonics are ready to become one of the top teams in the NBA. The Seahawks have choked just about every year for the past five. A little more support for the Sonics in the beginning of the season may mean forgetting about the Boz for a while missing the Chuck Knox Show on Channel 5, and missing the Curt Warner Show on Channnel 7, but it will all be worthwhile come springtime when the Sonics have a few more home games during the playoffs.
There is a lot to be excited about on the Sonics team this year. The team is rich in talented young players and the core of the team is nearly the same as the one that looked so good in '87. Coach Bernie Bickerstaff is intent on developing his young players to their full potential and he seems willing to give them lots of game experience to do that. The younger players make plenty of mistakes during the games, but Bickerstaff thinks its best for them to learn now.
At point guard, Nate McMillan is entering his third year and has shown that he can handle the job and do it well. McMillan reacted very well to the pressure to perform in game situations in his rookie season and has now made himself into one of the better passing and rebounding point guards in the league. There is no question that he has the ability to hold his own if the Sonics make it to the Finals.
At the two guard spot, Dale Ellis developed in the Dallas system and brought a great long range shot to a team that needed it. Bickerstaff is very high on Ellis and seems to think that he should be the one taking clutch shots at the end of games. Ellis can do it, but doesn't seem to be a vocal leader like Bickerstaff would like him to be. Get Ellis to the playoffs and he will hold his own against the best.
McDaniel is going into only his fourth year and has played very well under Bickerstaff. The X-man is the most vocal of the Sonics and if he were a better player, he would be the Sonics on-court leader. But, McDaniel is not a great player. At times he can be, like when his turnaround jumper is falling or when he goes to the boards at full force. McDaniel, though, hasn't shown that he can score very efficiently, only that he can score a lot. In other words, he shoots a lot. It will be interesting to see what happens to him now that Michael Cage has the power forward spot. If McDaniel takes a step forward in his offense, he will complement Cage very well in the front line.
Cage is in the prime of his career, as Ellis and McDaniel are. He has been an outstanding rebounding force ever since he's been in the league, but his offense has not developed the way it should. It is interesting to note that the two top rebounders of '87-88, Cage and Charles Oakley, were both traded over the summer. For so long, people said that rebounding was the most important thing in basketball and top rebounders should not be traded. It seems that some teams have finally come to their senses and realized that rebounding is overrated and have dumped their rebounders for offense. The Sonics may think that they got the final piece of the puzzle by getting Cage, but that is only the case if Cage's offense returns to '86-87 form.
At center, Alton Lister has been disappointing to many people. The second year player, Olden Polynice, still hopes to get his chance and the fans want to see him play, too. This is the position traditionalists think is the key to success and the folks in Seattle are anxious to see Polynice prove the traditionalists right. Bickerstaff could end up giving Polynice a lot of playing time this year to try to develop his skills for the coming years, but I have my doubts. Polynice's floor % was only .457 in his rookie season and it would take a lot of devoted practice to improve that to a modest level. Bickerstaff must notice Polynice's deficiency and may end up trying to trade him while his 'potential' is still high around the league. Unless the Sonics get a regular center with a floor % above about .520 or .530, they are going to get hurt because the other positions aren't quite good enough to take up the slack.
Derrick McKey is the biggest hope of the franchise. McKey showed flashes of greatness in his rookie year and had a great attitude towards learning the pro game. He supposedly played all five positions last year, but he seems to be suited for a small forward role. His first season wasn't very special, but it may have warranted All-Rookie Team honors because few rookies did better than he did. The Sonics may push McKey too hard this year, though, perhaps even giving him a starting spot. McKey probably needs a couple years to make a name for himself in the league and I'm afraid he's going to force shots and commit lots of turnovers if he is pushed too quickly. Watch him closely, though; on occasion, he'll have some really good games. Any time I've seen him play, he's had one of those games.
Last season, the Sonics were eighth in the league in offensive efficiency, but were well above the league average. Defensively, the Sonics were sixteenth in the league, but were at the league average efficiency. Presented below is the entire offensive and defensive ratings for last season.
Though Seattle wasn't very bad in anything last season, they weren't very good in anything either. They should be outstanding rebounders this year, but the overall offense and defense could still be mediocre, which would indicate they won't go far again.
Eff. PPG Points Poss. Adj. Rank Rank Team Per G Per G PPG 1. 3. Boston 113.6 100.0 115.6 2. 5. L.A. Lakers 112.8 101.5 113.1 3. 7. Dallas 109.3 99.4 112.0 4. 2. Portland 116.1 105.6 112.0 5. 13. Atlanta 107.9 98.2 111.8 6. 8. Detroit 109.2 100.3 110.8 7. 1. Denver 116.7 107.8 110.3 8. 6. Seattle 111.4 102.9 110.3 9. 19. Chicago 105.0 97.9 109.2 10. 16. Philadelphia 105.7 98.7 109.1 11. 4. San Antonio 113.6 106.8 108.3 12. 15. Milwaukee 106.1 99.8 108.2 13. 9. Houston 109.0 103.5 107.2 14. 10. Phoenix 108.5 103.1 107.2 15. 11. Utah 108.5 103.2 107.1 16. 20. Indiana 104.6 99.5 107.0 17. 21. Cleveland 104.5 99.7 106.7 18. 12. Sacramento 108.0 103.2 106.6 19. 18. Washington 105.5 101.2 106.2 20. 17. New York 105.5 101.7 105.6 21. 14. Golden State 107.0 104.0 104.7 22. 22. New Jersey 100.4 100.5 101.7 23. 23. L.A. Clippers 98.8 103.3 97.4Seattle's team floor % was .551, which makes sense with where they are on this chart. Their play % was only .472, which seems a little low, but probably just indicates how proficient they were with the three pointer.
For the third straight year, the Sonics won fewer games than their Pythagorean projection. For the past two years, they have won three fewer games than expected each year, but the year before, in '85-86, they won 31 games when they were outscored by only a tenth of a point per game and correspondingly should have won 41 games. None of this is a strong indicator for next year, but it is a small sign that the Sonics will improve.
Other things going for the Sonics this year are a very positive difference in floor %'s (.551 offensively to .531 defensively), its average age is just below prime, a strong home court advantage that the team has built up despite the Seahawks, and a coach who appears to be a good teacher. To be honest, though, I don't think the Sonics are that good yet. They could win 50+ games this year or lose 45+ games. In '89-90, they're almost guaranteed to be very good, but I have a bad feeling about this team now. Last year, everything looked up for Chicago, but I had a 'bad feeling' about them and I was wrong. I wouldn't mind being wrong about Seattle this year.
Eff. PPG Points Poss. Adj. Rank Rank Team Per G Per G PPG 1. 5. Utah 104.8 103.2 103.5 2. 3. Detroit 104.1 100.3 105.6 3. 1. Chicago 101.6 97.9 105.6 4. 13. Houston 107.6 103.5 105.9 5. 2. Cleveland 103.7 99.7 106.0 6. 9. New York 106.0 101.7 106.1 7. 19. Denver 112.7 107.8 106.4 8. 10. Washington 106.3 101.2 107.0 9. 11. L.A. Lakers 107.0 101.5 107.3 10. 6. Dallas 104.9 99.4 107.5 11. 16. L.A. Clippers 109.1 103.3 107.6 12. 8. Milwaukee 105.5 99.8 107.6 13. 18. Portland 111.5 105.6 107.6 14. 7. Indiana 105.4 99.5 107.8 15. 4. Atlanta 104.3 98.2 108.1 16. 17. Seattle 109.3 102.9 108.2 17. 14. Boston 107.7 100.0 109.6 18. 15. New Jersey 108.5 100.5 110.0 19. 12. Philadelphia 107.1 98.7 110.6 20. 20. Phoenix 113.0 103.1 111.6 21. 21. Sacramento 113.7 103.2 112.3 22. 22. Golden State 115.3 104.0 112.8 23. 23. San Antonio 118.5 106.8 112.9
Basketball Hoopla, © 1988, L. Dean Oliver