Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| November 2, 2006
For the last month, Seattle SuperSonics guard Luke Ridnour
has had two best friends: Sonics Assistant Coach Gordon Chiesa
and a black folding chair.
The chair has been placed at the 3-point line on the Sonics second practice court at The Furtado Center to represent the screen Ridnour is practicing using; Chiesa has been his tutor in that process. A point guard in his playing days, Chiesa worked with one of the greatest ever - Spokane native John Stockton - for 14 years in Utah. There are few coaches in the NBA more qualified to teach the point-guard position than Chiesa, and he has made Ridnour his personal project, giving the Sonics point guard a player-coach relationship unlike any he's had before in the NBA.
"With Gordie, he's kinda focused on me, which is good and has helped me to get better."
"Not on a day-to-day basis like that," says Ridnour. "When Nate (McMillan)
was here, he was good to me too, but he was the head coach so he had more to handle. With Gordie, he's kinda focused on me, which is good and has helped me to get better."
After each Sonics practice during training camp - and continuing now into the regular season - Ridnour has worked with Chiesa, usually one-on-one, long after most of his teammates have hit the showers. Using the aforementioned chair, Chiesa has run Ridnour through every conceivable defense of the pick-and-roll.
The results of that effort are beginning to become apparent.
Ridnour's Opening Night performance against Portland was one of the best of his career. He scored 22 points on 10-for-17 shooting, handed out 13 assists and committed just three turnovers in 42 minutes of action, controlling the Sonics offense throughout. It was just the third time in his career that Ridnour recorded a 20-10 game. Ridnour got his points with a variety of midrange looks, including floaters and pullups, and some fine finishes at the basket.
"I thought Luke played well," said Sonics Coach Bob Hill. "He was a .571 [by Hill's player rating formula] - that's way up there. That's a lot better than he was a year ago. I thought he played a good floor game. He scored, he pushed the ball, his defense was better."
Over the Sonics last two preseason games and their regular-season opener, Ridnour has connected on 20-for-31 from the field (64.5%). It's heady stuff for a player who has shot between 40% and 42% from the field in his first three seasons in the NBA. Chiesa says Ridnour, "has the ability to shoot solidly between 45 and 46 (percent). That's realistic and that's solid."
The key, Chiesa has preached to Ridnour, is decision-making. Decision-making comes when Ridnour drives to the basket and must make a split-second decision about what to do with the basketball. Too often early during his career, Ridnour drove too deep and found his size (6-2, 175) an impediment to scoring over bigger players. That's why developing the midrange game and a consistent floater is so important for Ridnour.
To achieve that, Chiesa has harnessed Ridnour's already-legendary work ethic and refined it with drills he used in Utah with Stockton.
"Most guys in the NBA don't understand their position," Chiesa explains. "They don't do the drills to master your position, on offense and defense. It sounds simple. Now Luke Ridnour, he's an oddity in a positive way - he wants to be great. What we're trying to do is teach him his position."
That effort, says Ridnour, helps him "Sometimes more than I think after I go back and look. Just mentally, thinking about the game. Pick-and-rolls, I've been effective in those. It's just learning every day more and more and more. I think he's going to help me get better as the year goes on also.
"He coached possibly the greatest one ever. He worked with him for 15 years and learned from him - little mental things. He'll talk to you about different situations and where the ball is and the clock and everything like that. He has a lot of wisdom and he's been in the league so long, I'm definitely going to keep listening to him."
With hours of work having been put in, now it is time to see if Ridnour's work with Chiesa translates on the court. So far, so good.
"Luke's playing good now," says Hill, "and I think Gordie's influence is helping, I think a new contract is helping - all that stuff."
"He's coming into his own right now," concludes Chiesa. "This is his fourth year, so the learning curve right now is right in front of him. He's always played well. Now is hopefully the beginning of a good year, a solid year for him. He's got game."