Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| October 5, 2006
While fans and the media buzz about the open competition for the Seattle SuperSonics starting point guard role, Coach Bob Hill
is more concerned about how to use and take advantage of both of his talented point guards. What that means at the moment is allowing Luke Ridnour
and Earl Watson
more freedom to direct the offense during scrimmages in training camp.
"I'm trying to this year, starting from right now, give (Earl) and Luke the team more," said Hill. "Instead of me calling everything in practice, letting them start to call stuff. He's (Luke) made some good calls and I think that's a good exercise for him at this point."
"If I call it, they'll just wait for me. If they know they've got to call it, then they've got to be thinking all the time."
Before the start of training camp, Hill assigned each of his players camp books highlighting the plays they need to know, amongst other things. Most of the roster has to learn only their responsibilities on each play at the positions they might play during the course of the season. Hill asked Ridnour and Watson to learn where everyone on the floor should be on each play, allowing them to correct their teammates if they are out of position and ensuring their complete knowledge of a play, along the lines of a quarterback in football.
Allowing Ridnour and Watson to call plays is another way to make sure they are completely mentally engaged on each play on offense.
"I just want them thinking. If I call it, they'll just wait for me," Hill said. "If they know they've got to call it, then they've got to be thinking all the time. It's a good process for them."
"You're always mentally into it, whether he's calling the play or you're calling the play," added Ridnour. "It makes you look for more mismatches and what guys you can go at, what guys you can get open and what plays work for them. It just makes you more aware of what's going on."
If the experiment with having Ridnour and Watson call plays is successful during training camp, the natural next step would be to continue having that responsibility during games.
"Hopefully that's what it will evolve to," said Hill. "If I want something, I'll just get up, stamp my foot and make the call. But when they're playing the game, I want them to be able to make their own calls."
Allowing Ridnour and Watson to call plays would be an extension of Hill's philosophy, which gives players freedom within a structured offense. Hill's philosophy also favors pushing the ball upcourt, something which is not possible when a point guard is hanging back to get a play call from the sidelines. The ability to push the tempo is what appeals to Watson about potentially calling plays.
"I like it because my whole thing in transition is to attack," he said. "I don't want to run a play, so my thing is to attack, get easy baskets in transition. Even after a made basket, push real hard, get in the paint. If nothing's there, then run a play."
Ridnour points to another benefit. The point guard has a different perspective on how the team's offense is running than the coach, and might pick up something that is not evident from the sideline.
"Coach, he's there but he's not out on the court," Ridnour said. "If you see something and feel you can score on it, then you go to that until they stop it. There's the freedom to what you see go for it."
Calling plays would have been very difficult last season, when Ridnour was learning a new offense installed on the fly after Hill took over the season in January. Watson got an even more accelerated crash course when he joined the team at the trade deadline. Now, training camp has offered both players a chance to review as opposed to learning from scratch.
"The retention level has been really high," noted Hill. "They've remembered. They're way, way, way ahead of last year in that regard. They understand I always reserve the right to call their call off and call my own."
Ridnour in particular is well positioned to take advantage of more responsibility on the floor. He's been playing with the Sonics top two offensive options, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, for three full seasons now and understands his teammates' games.
"That definitely helps," said Ridnour, "because you know how they like the ball, where they can score better at and what makes them better. It allows you to be able to use them in positions that make them better."
More than any other Sonics player, Ridnour responded to Hill's offensive system when the coaching chance was made. Struggling at the time with his shot and his confidence, Ridnour surged the rest of the season, setting career highs in points and assists per game as well as field-goal percentage.
"It just gave us some structure," he said. "We'd been saying we wanted to run before that, but we never had an offense to run. What we do is built for the open court. It might not hit you in the first quarter, but as you wear them down and down, then the court starts to open up. That's where I really started to blossom. There's more pick-and-rolls. For a while there, you get real comfortable in that. You know where your shots are coming."
With a full training camp to refine Hill's system, even with more responsibility, the Sonics point guards should be well prepared to lead the offense.
"I think as we get used to the system more and more, it will get easier and easier," said Ridnour.