Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| October 19, 2007
One position. 48 minutes. Two players with the ability to start. Seattle SuperSonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo
faces many challenging decisions as he and the rest of the coaching staff build a rotation for the regular season, but there may be none more difficult than finding minutes for both Nick Collison
and Chris Wilcox
at power forward.
"It's a problem," Carlesimo admitted earlier this week. "There's not enough minutes for the two of them unless we give one of them time at five, and I don't want to do that initially. There's only 48 minutes in a game, so there's only 24 if we split it down the middle. In my opinion, 24's not enough for either one of them."
"There's not an area of the game where we're not better in when one of them at least isn't on the floor."
Last year, the solution was simple. With center Robert Swift
out for the season and the Sonics very young at the position, Collison moved into the starting lineup in the pivot in early January. He and Wilcox started side by side the last 47 games of the season, developing a rapport that manifested itself in passes from one to the other for open looks at the rim.
With Swift back, the addition of veteran Kurt Thomas and the development of Mouhamed Sene, the Sonics now have four players vying for time in the middle, and Carlesimo wants to give the youngsters enough time to evaluate their futures with the Sonics.
"Hopefully he can help the big that's in the game with him and I can help the big that's in the game with me," said Wilcox. "There probably will come a time that we'll both be in the game together and we can get our chemistry back then, but right now we've got to try to make each other better in practice. We're always going up against each other, so we're only making each other better."
Last season, Collison (29.0) and Wilcox (31.5) combined for just over 60 minutes a night. As a result, it's clear that their minutes will be reduced unless one of them ends up playing center. That wouldn't be a problem were it not for how well both players are playing during training camp and the preseason. Carlesimo has called power forward "our best position."
"There's just an element of stability when they're on the floor," Carlesimo said. "We're better across the board - we're better defensively, we're better at rebounding, we're better offensively, we're better running. There's not an area of the game where we're not better in when one of them at least isn't on the floor. It's been very noticeable the times when one of them hasn't been in."
Thursday night's preseason loss to the Los Angeles Lakers provided evidence for Carlesimo, as Collison sat out with a left shin contusion. In Wilcox's 23 minutes of play, the Sonics outscored the Lakers 62-50 (+12). The rest of the game, L.A. had a 76-44 advantage (-32).
Collison and Wilcox have both been impressive during preseason play, combining for 23.8 points, 16.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 blocks per game - the kind of production the Sonics would love to get from the power-forward spot throughout the season.
In their own ways, both power forwards feel like the new Sonics coaching staff emphasizes things which play to their strengths. For Collison, that is his defense and rebounding (he's averaging a team-high 10.0 boards per game during the preseason and led the Sonics with 8.1 rpg a year ago); for Wilcox, it's about how his athleticism and finishing ability fit into the desire to push the basketball.
"I think guys that defend and rebound are going to get a chance to play," said Collison. "That's what I do best. Offensively, we're trying to do a lot of running, a lot of secondary break action. I'm accustomed to playing that way in college. I think I do a good job of outletting the ball, getting the break started, little things like that. So far, so good. I think what we're trying to do, I fit in."
"(Running) definitely plays into my hands," added Wilcox, who has used the easy buckets to shoot 66.7% from the field so far in preseason play. "It's an opportunity for me to get open and other guys to get open. When I run the floor, it opens it up for everybody else."
Because both players will play regular minutes, the decision on a starter at power forward is not necessarily a critical one. The problem for Carlesimo and his staff will be finding time for both Collison and Wilcox without compromising the development and evaluation of the young Sonics centers.
"They both deserve to play more than 24 minutes," said Carlesimo, "so that's a problem that we don't have a solution for because we want to play the fives also."