Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| December 4, 2006
For the closing stretch of two tight games that would eventually be decided on the final shot, Seattle SuperSonics Coach Bob Hill
rolled out a lineup with starters Ray Allen
, Rashard Lewis
and Luke Ridnour
. One night, Hill used Nick Collison
at center, the next Chris Wilcox
- both starters. The fifth player in Hill's lineup, however, was a surprise - rookie MickaŽl Gelabale
, who had played sparingly before his career-long 26-minute stint against the Pacers on Friday, joined his more heralded teammates on the floor.
"I've got confidence in him," says Hill. "When we go small, depending on the residue of the bench and where we are at the end of the game, obviously I don't have a problem having him on the floor."
"Our assumption about him has, I think, been right. He's ready to help us."
"To him, it shows that the coach has confidence in him," adds Assistant Coach Gordon Chiesa
. "That's a big part of the NBA. Add to that it shows that his teammates have confidence in him. That's when you grow as a player, when teammates respect your game, and he has."
Since the preseason, when he averaged 3.6 points and 1.5 assists per game, Gelabale's progress had been largely invisible to Sonics fans. He played just 32 minutes over the team's first 16 games, scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds. Behind the scenes, the coaching staff continued to be pleased with Gelabale's progress. Combined with the need to get more production from the bench, that provided Gelabale an opportunity on Friday that he took advantage of to the fullest, scoring a career-high eight points on 3-for-3 shooting. It was a Gelabale free throw that untied the game with 5:30 left, and he tapped out an offensive rebound moments later that led to two points for the Sonics.
"MickaŽl Gelabale played a really good game," said Hill afterwards.
On Saturday night in Utah, Gelabale played more sparingly, but Hill again called on him down the stretch. His only rebound of the night turned into a Rashard Lewis 3-pointer at the other end to give the Sonics the lead.
"Our assumption about him has, I think, been right," Hill concluded about the back-to-back games. "He's ready to help us. He did well against Indiana and Utah, so I'm excited about him."
Finding playing time for Gelabale still may be something of a challenge, with veterans Earl Watson and Damien Wilkins also fighting for playing time on the perimeter off the bench. With Allen and Lewis as their starters on the wings, the Sonics don't have a lot of extra minutes. What Hill would like to do, when there is playing time available at small forward, is put the ball in Gelabale's hands at times to take advantage of his court vision and passing ability.
"I'm still anxious to see what he can do as a point forward," says Hill, "because I think he can handle the ball as a small forward and you can run some other guys off baseline screens."
"He has a great knack for getting the ball on the run, driving under control and making the next pass - not even the assist pass, but the next pass to lead into the assist, which is really great," adds Chiesa. "So he's moving the ball. He's shown poise under fire by, when the ball comes to him, not turning it over. The last thing he's shown is the ability, when the ball comes to him, to not turn it over."
Indeed, while even the most talented NBA rookies usually struggle with turnovers, Gelabale has played largely mistake-free basketball. In 68 minutes of action, he has committed but one turnover thus far.
At the other end of the court, Gelabale came to the NBA with the ability to be a strong defender on the perimeter, but needing to work on his technique. He's worked at it, and the results are evident to the coaching staff.
"Well, his defense is so good," says Hill. "When you watch the games real close, he's so long that when he's around a loose ball - the ball's coming off the floor or the ball's in the air - he's got a shot of being around it. He's got good hands, he's smart, he makes good decisions."
For Gelabale to be contributing this quickly - at age 23 and while dealing with adjusting to a new culture and learning English, which he says is "better," - bodes well for his future in Seattle. What they have seen over the last two months has given the coaching staff high hopes for Gelabale's career path.
"He's awfully, awfully skilled," says Hill. "There's little doubt in my mind that he can become a good starter in this league. He's quickly become a rotational guy in his career. As he continues to grow and get a little bit bigger and stronger and experienced, there's no question he could be a starter."
"I can't quantitate it, but I'll put it this way," Chiesa says. "He can be a solid NBA player that will know how to score and know how to defend. He's learning his position, how to play well at it. As far as numbers and stuff, who knows, but he's got game - he's got French game."