Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| Oct. 7, 2004
The game within the game at Seattle SuperSonics training camp has been an outstanding one. Forwards Reggie Evans
and Danny Fortson
, two of the best players in the NBA at doing the dirty work inside the trenches of the paint, have been worth the price of admission (okay, it's free) for media enjoying watching them during scrimmages.
Evans led the Sonics in rebounding as a rookie.
"Serious battle," said Sonics Coach Nate McMillan
, describing the competition while breaking into a smile. "They're going at each other, neither guy is backing down. It's been, the last couple of days, very competitive, but good competition - they're not being dirty, just being themselves. I like what I see in both of them."
Evans and Fortson are two of the league's best rebounders, averaging 15.3 and 19.2 rebounds per 48 minutes last season. Evans ranked seventh in the NBA in that category, and Fortson would have led the league had he played enough minutes to qualify. Neither player got there on athletic ability or height (both are 6-8), but instead by working hard and putting themselves in position to come down with the ball. As a result, both players must be cognizant of the other's presence at all times.
"He's keeping on me on my Ps and Qs," said Evans. "He's making sure my antenna is up. Some players' attention relaxes, but he's not really relaxing and I don't relax a lot. With certain players, they may want to relax, so that makes my job easier; with him, I keep my attention up. I always have my antenna up with Danny."
Both players have also learned their share of tricks for gaining an advantage in battling for position or to frustrate opposing offensive players, something Evans has turned almost into an art form during two years in Seattle. By using those tricks in practice, Evans and Fortson are learning from each other.
"They work," Fortson said. "I've been learning some things from him. He's a smart player out there."
As similar as the players are, there are differences beyond the fact that Fortson is more of a scoring threat, Evans the better defender. Listed at 260 pounds, Fortson is one of the strongest players in the league and doesn't mind throwing his weight around. Evans is smaller but also more athletic, giving him an advantage on long rebounds.
"I make sure I beat him for position, because his base is real strong," Evans said. "My base is not very strong. I'm more athletic, but he has a stronger base, so I have to know how to beat him before he gets that strong base. It's real good, because I have to be mentally and physically ready."
Both players are enjoying the battle just as much as the media and the coaching staff has enjoyed watching it from the sidelines.
"It's been fun," Fortson said. "It's good. That's what I'm going to need to do in games. We're getting each other ready for the season."
Twice in his career, Fortson has averaged double-figure rebounds.
"I'm enjoying it a lot," said Evans. "Another big person I can bang with. It's fun playing with Danny, because he makes you keep working."
Together, Fortson and Evans are doing their part to rid the Sonics of their reputation as a soft, jump-shooting team.
"I don't know where this soft thing is coming from," Fortson said. "We've got some guys out there who are willing to bang."
Still, it's clear the Sonics haven't had physical competitions like this in practice in quite some time. Asked to recall a similar intra-squad battle, McMillan reached all the way back into his playing days.
"I think (Steve) Scheffler and Shawn Kemp," McMillan said. "When Chef was here, there used to be a lot of banging and physical play, because Shawn would do it and Chef played that way, so I would say those guys are like Scheffler and Shawn Kemp."
Then again, there aren't too many battles as good as Evans and Fortson anywhere in any league. Asked to recall a time he'd banged heads with as good competition as Evans, Fortson paused to think, but couldn't come up with anyone.
"Some people (can match me) physically," said Evans, "but they don't know how to use it correctly, like he can."
That's precisely why this training-camp battle is so rare and so fun to watch.