Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| Oct. 26, 2004
For the second straight season, it is Ray Allen
's likeness that adorns the cover of the Seattle SuperSonics annual media guide. Following the departure of backcourt-mate Brent Barry
, the Sonics are Allen's team more than at any point during his season-plus in Seattle, as he steps into a larger leadership role off the court along with his status as the team's best player.
Allen is amongst the NBA's top scorers.
Michael E. Davis/NBAE/Getty
Called upon to play a larger role in the offense with the Sonics than he did in Milwaukee, where he teamed with high scorers Sam Cassell
and Glenn Robinson
, Allen has responded. He averaged a career-high 23.0 points per game last season, and would have ranked sixth in the NBA had he played enough games to qualify.
More impressively, Allen added more points while sacrificing little in the way of efficiency. Allen's 44.0% shooting from the field was right at the NBA average, but more than a third of Allen's attempts were from long distance, and he converted 39.2% of his threes. If the added value of threes is accounted for by considering them equal to 1.5 field goals, Allen's resulting effective field-goal percentage of 51.2% ranked third amongst the group of 22 players who averaged at least 20 points per game in 2003-04.
At age 29, Allen shows few signs of slowing down. He has averaged better than 20 points per game each of the last five seasons. He's more than a scorer, also increasing his assists per game to a career-high 4.8 last season. Allen was a paltry 12 assists away from joining the group of eight players which averaged at least five rebounds and assists per game last season.
There will be a few changes for Allen this season, most notably the loss of Barry. Playing alongside Barry, who converted to the point only when Allen was acquired from Milwaukee in February 2003, Allen had the opportunity to handle the ball more than he likely will this season playing with Luke Ridnour and Antonio Daniels, a mixed blessing. Allen is proficient at creating off the dribble, particularly in late-game situations. However, he's also difficult to defend when playing without the ball and coming off of screens.
Adding to the incentive to play Allen off the ball this season is the addition of forwards Nick Collison and Danny Fortson, both of them very good at setting picks. The better job the Sonics have been doing of freeing Allen for open looks is reflected in his 50% shooting from the field and 45.5% mark from three-point range during four preseason games thus far.
When the game is on the line, however, expect the ball to find its way to Allen's hands. Allen's ability to either drive or shoot when isolated against a single defender makes him one of the league's most difficult covers. In "clutch" situations - leads or deficits of five points or less in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter of overtime - Allen boosted his shooting percentage to 47.4%.
Murray emerged as a high scorer last season.
The Sonics added another late-game option last season in Allen's backup (and replacement early in the season), Ronald "Flip" Murray
. Murray had a breakout 2003-04, going from a potential fourth or fifth guard to the Sonics sixth man. Murray averaged 12.4 points per game to rank seventh amongst players who qualified for the Sixth Man Award.
Murray thrived in the starting lineup early in the season when Allen was knocked out by ankle surgery, but struggled at times to adjust to a complementary role off the bench. He seemed to get more comfortable as the season went on, shooting 45.8% from the field. More selective use of the three-pointer should help Murray maintain or improve that shooting percentage this season. Murray shot virtually the same percentage on twos as Allen, but connected on just 29.3% of his threes despite a quarter of his attempts coming from downtown.
Given the massive strides he took in his development from his rookie season to last year, it's not unreasonable to expect continued improvement from Murray, who turned 25 over the summer. Unfortunately, Murray's progress has been paused by a strained left quad which has sidelined him throughout training camp. The injury also effectively ended Murray's ability to battle for the starting point guard position. Murray should still see action at both guard positions and even in three-guard lineups as Coach Nate McMillan looks for minutes for him with Allen averaging 38 minutes a game at shooting guard.
Kutluay is an NBA rookie at age 30.
The third shooting guard is 30-year-old Turkish rookie Ibrahim "Ibo" Kutluay
. Signed as a free agent to help replace the shooting lost in Barry and reserve Richie Frahm
from last season, Kutluay has had the opportunity to see heavy action during the preseason because of injuries to Murray and Rashard Lewis
(plantar fasciitis), as well as Allen sitting out to give other players a look and because of a sore lower back.
Kutluay has seen action in all six preseason games and is averaging 16.2 minutes per game. He's provided offense off the bench, averaging 7.2 points in those minutes, including twice scoring double-figures. Kutluay is shooting 42.4% from the field and 80.0% from the free-throw line, but still doesn't seem completely comfortable with the NBA three-point line (more than three feet longer than the FIBA international distance of 20' 6.25"), hitting 3-for-12 from downtown.
When the Sonics get healthy, Kutluay's opportunities will be limited, but he is ready should he be needed.
With one of the NBA's top shooting guards as the starter, a rising star as the backup and an experienced international veteran at third string, there's little question that shooting guard is the Sonics deepest position entering the 2004-05 season.