For all the intentionally vague comments made in the past month, when the Seattle SuperSonics were on the clock in yesterday’s NBA Draft, they and everyone else across the country knew what they needed – a power forward and a point guard. They got just that, surprising many fans and experts by staying put with their 12th and 14th selections in the first round and selecting Kansas power forward Nick Collison
and Oregon point guard Luke Ridnour
, respectively. In the second round, the Sonics selected Detroit guard Willie Green
with their 41st pick before sending him to the Philadelphia 76ers for the rights to 50th pick Paccelis Morlende
Collison shakes hands with Stern after being selected.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty
The selection of Collison was an easy decision for the Sonics after the other power forward they were considering, Georgetown’s Mike Sweetney
, was selected by the New York Knicks with the ninth pick. The question then became, would Collison make it to 12? Sonics General Manager Rick Sund and the team’s coaching and scouting staffs had been running through the possibilities all day, with the worst-case scenario that both Collison and Sweetney were off the board. Whether the Sonics would get Collison came down to the pick before the Sonics, Golden State at 11. When the Warriors passed on Collison (stunning draft experts by taking French guard Mickael Pietrus
), there was jubilation in the Sonics war room. “It was like waiting for the verdict,” Coach Nate McMillan
joked. “(Commissioner David) Stern walked up and he didn’t say Collison, and we felt like we got off.” Less than five minutes later, Collison was Sonics property.
The fourteenth pick wasn’t so obvious. It was expected the Sonics would like to take a point guard from the group of Ridnour, Louisville’s Reece Gaines, UNLV’s Marcus Banks and Brazilian Leandrinho Barbosa. “The coaches and scouts have really focused over the last week in particular on the second tier of guards, and there was a lot of them,” Sund said after the draft. “There was Luke, there was Gaines, there was Banks, Barbosa. We focused on those.” The Memphis Grizzlies removed Banks from the equation by selecting him with the thirteenth pick, the filling in the Sonics sandwich of first-rounders (he was later traded to Boston in a four-player deal).
Of the other three players, the Sonics determined Ridnour was the best available. The primary reasons cited by both McMillan and Sund afterwards were Ridnour’s passing and true point ability, and his strength at running the fast break. “Finding shooters was Luke’s strength,” McMillan explained. “I think that is something that was missing with our club, a guard who could come down the floor, push the ball in transition and get the ball to our shooters. Luke was a guy we felt could do that”
Ridnour was the Pac-10’s Player of the Year last season.
In Collison and Ridnour, the Sonics selected a pair of polished college prospects with impressive resumes. Collison averaged 18.5 points and 10.0 rebounds last season for the Jayhawks, shooting 55.4% from the field. For his efforts, Collison was named first-team All-America, Big 12 Player of the Year by conference coaches, and National Player of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. An alternate for Team USA during last year’s World Basketball Championships, Collison was recently selected for to play for Team USA in this summer’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, joining Sonics guard Ray Allen
on the roster. Ridnour was the Pac-10’s Player of the Year last season as a junior and made All-Pac-10 for the second straight year. An early success, Ridnour was Pac-10 Freshman of the Year during the 2000-01 season.
While Sund expressed his belief that Collison’s and Ridnour’s college experience would ease their transition to the NBA, he still cautioned against expecting too much too soon from them. “I think both of them have a good chance of making an easy transition. I always say that from high school to college is a big jump but coming from college to the pros is a much bigger jump. It’s tough. We’re talking about the best players in the world. So for rookies to come in and contribute immediately and get some playing time, that doesn’t happen very much.”
In phone interviews with the media after their selections, both Collison and Ridnour expressed happiness at being selected by the Sonics. “Once they took Sweetney in New York, I figured I was going to Seattle,” Collison said, “and that was where I wanted to go all along.” For Ridnour, a native of Blaine, WA, it was little surprise that he was happy to join the Sonics. “This is a great situation,” Ridnour said. “I’m very thankful to the Sonics for picking me. This is the place I wanted to play.” After Ridnour was selected, his family and friends, watching with him in Blaine started celebrating. “It was incredible,” Ridnour said.
Many experts believed the Sonics would trade one, if not both, of their selections. While Sund confirmed afterwards that the Sonics had explored a deal – “we explored everything”, “nothing materialized,” in his words. The chances of a deal were reduced when the players the Sonics wanted were available at picks 12 and 14, which was made clear afterwards. Collison revealed that the Sonics had given him a strong indication at his workout that he would be their pick if he was available. “If I was still there, they told me they were going to take me,” Collison said. “They didn’t flat-out make a commitment, but they said they really liked me and painted that picture that if I was there, they were going to take me.” As for Ridnour, McMillan said he was the player the Sonics desired all along. “Ridnour was the man we wanted,” McMillan said.
Opponents in a non-conference game last season (Oregon pulled off the upset), Collison and Ridnour got to know each other on the workout circuit.
Collison gives the Sonics a post scoring aspect they lacked at power forward last season with Vladimir Radmanovic
, who is more comfortable on the perimeter, and Reggie Evans, who is valuable for his defense and rebounding. The key word with Collison has been “versatility”. The Sonics confirmed last night that they expect to occasionally use Collison as a center in a smaller, quicker lineup that will be able to run the floor well. Collison’s rebounding is also an important aspect of his game. A double-digits rebounder last season, Collison pulled down 20 rebounds in a pair of games, something Sund cited regularly. With his college and Olympic experience, Collison is as polished and experienced as any big man in the draft, as well as knowing a thing or two about winning.
“I have to earn my spot,” Collison said last night, “but I think I can potentially bring a scoring option inside, someone who can rebound and also can step away (from the basket). Seattle likes to play an up-tempo game and they have great shooters so there should be some room to operate.”
In Ridnour, the Sonics get the player most experts believed was the best offensive point guard in the draft. Last season, Ridnour averaged 19.7 points and 6.6 assists per game. On Monday, Sonics Director of Player Personnel David Pendergraft called Ridnour “the best passer I've seen since Pistol Pete (Maravich).” Pendergraft also praised Ridnour’s all-around offensive game. “Offensively, that guy has a chance to be special. He advances the ball perhaps better than anyone in this year's draft. T.J. (Ford of Texas) is faster, T.J. is quicker, but he doesn't pass the ball like Luke. Luke will take the ball and throw a baseball pass full-court, off-balance. He's like Brett Favre on a basketball court. He can deliver the ball.”
Ridnour understands the concerns about his defensive ability, but disagrees with them. “That’s something I’m going to have to prove when I get there,” Ridnour said. “I know I can play defense. It will take a little while to get used to the league but I know I can do it.”
Morlende, who goes by the nickname “Patch”, is a 6-2 French native who can play both guard positions. NBADraft.net compares Morlende to Sacramento point guard Bobby Jackson. Sund discovered Morlende during his scouting trip to Europe in April, watching him practice and also getting the chance to discuss his ability to play in the NBA with teammate and former UW player Roberto Bergersen. The Sonics had Morlende in for a workout, where he impressed. There is no immediate timetable for Morlende coming to play for the Sonics, though they will invite him to play with their summer-league team.