Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| Oct. 28, 2004
After starting 87 games at power forward for the Seattle SuperSonics during his first two NBA seasons, it was assumed that Reggie Evans
would be relegated to the bench after the Sonics added a healthy Nick Collison
, the team's 2003 lottery pick, and Danny Fortson
to the power forward rotation.
Apparently, somebody forgot to tell Evans. Less than a week before the start of the season, it appears Evans has claimed the starting job.
Evans appears to have held onto the starting power forward job with a strong preseason.
Throughout training camp, Sonics Coach Nate McMillan
has played coy with reporters who want him to spill the beans on his starting lineup, only divulging at the start of camp that he would go with the five players who started at the end of 2003-04 - including Evans at power forward - to begin training camp and the preseason. While he declined to name his starters, McMillan basically said that group, which also has Luke Ridnour
at point guard and Vitaly Potapenko
at center, the two other contested positions, will be his lineup Nov. 3 against the L.A. Clippers.
"I have an idea of who I want to start," McMillan said. "I pretty much knew that last year at the end of the season. It was just, going into training camp, I wanted to give guys an opportunity to take that position."
Evans has held off all comers with an outstanding preseason effort. It's early, but so far Evans has more than held his own with Fortson, the NBA's leading rebounder in terms of percentage of available rebounds last season, on the glass. Evans is averaging 9.8 rebounds in four preseason games, all of them starts, and had 14 - as many as he had all of last year's regular season - against the Suns on Wednesday, when he added 10 points to do something he did not do all of last season, record a double-double.
There is no doubting Evans' work defensively, where he is a nuisance to opposing big men of all abilities, and on the glass. On offense, however, Evans is something of a liability. After shooting 47.1% as a rookie, Evans saw his field-goal percentage drop to 40.6% last year. He'll need to do better to maintain his job. Evans has been more of a scoring threat during the preseason, averaging 5.3 points.
Collison could contend for Rookie of the Year honors.
The Sonics are excited to have Collison in the lineup after he missed all of his first NBA season following surgery on both of his shoulders. Collison was expected to contribute immediately - Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson
declared Collison his pick for Rookie of the Year after teaming with him during the Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament - making Collison's loss after only a couple of practices a tough blow.
Still a rookie in the eyes of the NBA, Collison can take some solace in the fact that his injury means he'll have the opportunity to stand out more than he would have amongst last year's star-studded crop of rookies. Given how few of this year's rookies will be playing key roles right away, Collison has to be considered amongst the favorites for Rookie of the Year.
At Kansas University, Collison was a dominating force, averaging 18.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game as a senior while shooting 55.4% despite facing what ratings expert Jeff Sagarin rated the second-toughest schedule in the country. Collison's Jayhawks couldn't bring Coach Roy Williams his first title, but he can scarcely be blamed after scoring 19 points and grabbing 21 rebounds in the championship game against Syracuse.
Still, fans need to temper their expectations, given that it's been over a year and a half since Collison played a game that counted in the standings. At times during preseason, he's looked like precisely the kind of efficient scorer in the paint the Sonics are looking for. He had 15 points and eight rebounds, shooting 7-for-9 from the field, against Phoenix in the Sonics one game at KeyArena and 14 points and nine rebounds against the Lakers in San Diego. In the other five preseason games, however, Collison has totaled 15 points and 21 rebounds. Fouls and turnovers could be issues as Collison gets his timing back and gets a feel for the NBA game.
Fortson has been getting to the free-throw line regularly.
Fortson's influence on the Sonics has been clear during training camp, as practices have ratcheted up a couple of notches in terms of physical play in the paint. While there's been talk that Fortson reported out of shape, he's not asked to run up and down the court, and Fortson knows as well as anyone in the NBA how to throw his weight around in the paint and make his presence felt.
Fortson hasn't played as many minutes as Evans, but he's virtually equaled him on the boards on a per-minute basis, averaging 16.6 rebounds per 48 minutes to Evans' 17.0. With one of their three power forwards in the game at almost all times, the Sonics should improve dramatically from last year's rebounding performance. (An interesting note from practice is that Evans and Fortson draw so much rebounding attention that Collison, when paired with one or the other, has been able to sneak in for plenty of rebounds.)
Fortson is only shooting 36.4% from the field during preseason action, but he's been an effective scorers (averaging 7.2 points) because he's attempted more free throws (26) than field goals (22). Fortson is averaging a ridiculous 14.8 free throws per 48 minutes. By comparison, Shaquille O'Neal led the NBA in that category last season with 13.2 attempts per 48 minutes. (Fortson averaged 7.1 per 48 minutes in Dallas, better than any Sonics player.)
Between Evans, Collison, Fortson and Vladimir Radmanovic, who will also see time at power forward, McMillan has a diverse collection of strengths to mix and match depending on opposing matchups. Against high-scoring power forwards, Evans may be the best option because of his ability to goad them into mistakes and defend them on the perimeter. Collison is the most balanced player of the four, while Fortson thrives in physical, East-coast-style games and Radmanovic can take advantage of opposing power forwards who can't defend at the perimeter. Between them, the Sonics have created an effective four-headed monster at the four position.