30 Greatest Sonics of All Time--HafPoints Edition
Introduction and Methodology
Sedale Threatt's best seasons came as a Laker, but despite that unforgivable sin, he was always one of my favorites. As a Sonic he came off the bench more often than not, and never averaged more than 26 minutes per game, but he was still a highly effective combo guard in an instant offense role. In 1990-1991, the last of his three seasons in Seattle, Threatt put up 12.7 PPG in only 25 minutes per game, shooting a remarkable .519 from the field.
Threatt's ranking in the top 30 came courtesy of his peak value (27th overall among Sonics). PER liked Threatt despite his limited minutes, viewing him as solidly and consistently above league average. His best season according to PER was his 1989-1990 campaign, in which he put up a 17.4 PER--normally indicative of a strong second option on a team.
Clearly the Lakers agreed that Threatt was worth a larger role; he started his first two seasons in Los Angeles after the Sonics gave him away for the piddling price of three second-round draft picks that yielded nothing of any particular value (Dontonio Wingfield, Martin Lewis, and Jeff Nordgaard).
Tom Burleson was the Sonics' third pick overall in the 1974 NBA draft, out of North Carolina State University, and the 7'2" center performed well right out of the gate. In his rookie season Burleson put up 10.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and a game-changing 1.9 BPG.
Burleson's second season was even better, with 15.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and maintained his strong shot-blocking with 1.8 BPG. Advanced metrics agree that this was Burleson's finest season; that season Burleson's PER was 17.8, and he put up a strong 8.2 win shares.
Unfortunately, Burleson's sophomore effort was the high point. Ultimately he played only three seasons in Seattle, and his promising career ended prematurely at age 28 after he was hampered by an injury incurred while breaking up a fight.
This picture comes from the cover of a 1975-1976 Sonics program. After all, what gets you more jacked up for a basketball game than an image of Burleson showing off his natty duds next to the waterfront?
Eddie Johnson spent only three seasons in Seattle, but they were three fun seasons. Johnson didn't have game-changing athleticism, but he was still one of the most entertainingly explosive gunners I've ever seen.
Easy Ed was legendarily streaky. When he was off, Johnson couldn't hit the broad side of a barn and didn't contribute in any other way. But when he was on ... oh, man. When he was on, Johnson hit jumpers from anywhere and everywhere on the floor and could single-handedly keep the Sonics in a game. Off-balance, double-teamed, broken play, it didn't matter.
Johnson's 21st-ranked peak value came thanks to above-league-average PERs in all three of his seasons in Seattle, despite coming off the bench for most of those seasons. His best PER as a Sonic was a 18.4, which normally correlates to the second-best player on the team.
As for the playoffs, Johnson's Seattle career culminated with the epic 1993 playoff run in which the Sonics were jobbed against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals. In that infamous Game 7, Johnson led all Sonics in scoring with 34 points on 12/17 shooting in only 26 minutes. That was the upside of Eddie Johnson. The downside? Johnson had only two rebounds, no assists, no steals, no blocks, and six personal fouls.
In the end, the defining piece of Easy Ed's legacy in Seattle was Kevin Calabro's famous call when No. 8 hit from an unlikely spot: "Eddie Johnson ... FROM THE TOP OF THE LOGO!"
27. Michael Cage (1988-1994)
Peak Value Rank: 34th
Aggregate Value Rank: 14th
Playoffs Value Rank: 17th
Sonics Significance Rank: N/A
Michael Cage scored one more HafPoint than Eddie Johnson and the two were teammates for several seasons, but the two players couldn't have been more different. Johnson was an explosive but streaky player; Cage was an unspectacular but steady player who rebounded like a machine and added muscle in the low post.
Cage was a Sonic for six years and was a significant part of several winning teams, helping him rank a surprisingly strong 14th in terms of aggregate value. But while Cage's longevity helped him with his aggregate value, he ranked only 34th in peak value. That reflects the fact that while Cage was consistent and steady, he was never truly more than a terrific complementary player. He exceeded 10 PPG only once in his Sonics career (at 10.3 PPG), and in only one season did he hit the league average 15.0 PER (at exactly 15.0 in 1991-1992).
Cage doesn't have a Sonics Significance Rank, but if I had been able to find a way to quantify an epic jheri curl he would have been off the charts.
26. Dick Snyder (1969-1974, 1978-1979)
Peak Value Rank: 19th
Aggregate Value Rank: 31st
Playoffs Value Rank: 52nd
Sonics Significance Rank: 12th
Dick Snyder played five seasons in Seattle, but unfortunately for his trophy shelf and his HafPoints ranking, his primary Sonics stint came early on before the team was good. That lack of team success hurt Snyder's win shares, and thus his aggregate value. The other ding on Snyder's HafPoints came in his Playoffs Value, since he played only a handful of minutes in the playoffs for the Sonics.
The biggest driver of Snyder's top-30 rank is his 12th-overall significance rank, which is derived entirely from the fact that he was on the 1979 championship team. That's a bit cheap, since he played only 88 minutes during that playoff run, so he's probably a bit overrated here.
Those are the negatives, but on the positive side Snyder had a strong peak. In 1970-1971 Snyder scored 19.4 PPG, hauled in 3.1 rebounds, and handed out 4.3 assists. PER valued that season as a solid 17.4, and Snyder racked up a strong 10 win shares that season.
And, well ... since I never saw Dick Snyder play, I'm pretty much out of things to say about him. I will say that this basketball card image is a bit goofy. Is he dressed up to go yachting with Tom Burleson?
24T. Vin Baker (1997-2002)
Peak Value Rank: 20th
Aggregate Value Rank: 22nd
Playoffs Value Rank: 25th
Sonics Significance Rank: 24th (tied)
Sonics fans don't remember Vin Baker fondly, and it's hard to blame them. Baker was acquired in a three-way trade in which the Sonics gave up fan favorite and legend Shawn Kemp, and for four of his five seasons he was a lethargic, underperforming disappointment. Certainly for a guy with all-star talent and a max contract, this is a decidedly mediocre placing.
Yet it’s easy to let all of that obscure just how stellar his first season in Seattle really was. Baker came into Seattle and almost completely filled the Kemp-sized hole at power forward, putting up a stellar 19.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.0 BPG, and shooting an otherworldly .542 from the field.
As great as Kemp had been, Baker's offensive polish was a breath of fresh air. Kemp had thrived in the running game and using his athleticism to get to the hoop, but he never truly excelled in the half-court offense. Baker, on the other hand, had a bevy of low-post moves and a reliable outside shot that made him a polished, star-level half-court option.
In his first season Baker was awesome, and he put up all-star-level performance at a 20.4 PER and 10.4 win shares. If I chose to calculate peak value based on the player's single best season rather than two best, Baker would have ranked eighth overall in peak value. Yes, only seven other Sonics have put up better seasons than Baker's 1997-1998.
Of course, we all know what happened after that standout season. Baker gained weight and put up a shockingly subpar 12.5 PER effort in the shortened lockout season, and was awarded a max contract anyway. PER rates his last three seasons as a Sonic as 14.0, 13.0, and 14.1. Those are below-league-average performances, from a four-time all-star being paid a maximum contract and counted on to take the pressure off Gary Payton. Recently the New York Daily News published a great story detailing Baker's struggles with alcohol during that time, and certainly poor conditioning and alcohol appear to have played a major role in his premature decline.
Every so often, when I'm feeling too cheerful and need to be brought down a notch, I wonder how things might have gone had Baker sustained his all-star performance level throughout his Sonics career. Perhaps the Sonics' serious playoff runs would have continued for a few years longer, meaning that Gary Payton's prime would not have been as wasted. Perhaps, through some sort of butterfly effect, the Sonics may even have stuck around. Likely not, but it's hard to see the last four years of Baker's five-year Sonics career as anything other than a colossal missed opportunity for both him and the franchise.
24T. Antonio Daniels (2003-2005)
Peak Value Rank: 15th
Aggregate Value Rank: 36th
Playoffs Value Rank: 43rd
Sonics Significance Rank: N/A
I always enjoyed Antonio Daniels as a Sonic, thinking of him as a spark of instant offense off the bench despite his tendency to overdribble. Even with my bias, I was pleasantly surprised to see that advanced metrics like PER and Win Shares liked Daniels even more than I did.
Who would have guessed that only 14 other Sonics players put up better two-year peak stretches than AD? Daniels put up PERs of 19.7 and 18.0 while primarily coming off the bench in his two years as a Sonic. Those are stellar PERs, and the 19.7 is right on the edge of what you'd expect from an all-star. Those weren't flukes driven by limited minutes, either--Win Shares estimates that Daniels contributed 5.8 wins and 6.8 wins in those years, respectively.
This all leaves me in the welcome but completely unexpected position of saying that Daniels actually could have moved much farther up the list of all-time greatest Sonics had he played more than two seasons in Seattle and had a crack at more significant playoff minutes.
23. Ruben Patterson (1999-2001)
Peak Value Rank: 14th
Aggregate Value Rank: 38th
Playoffs Value Rank: 89th (tied)
Sonics Significance Rank: N/A
This is basically a parallel to the Antonio Daniels ranking, in that Ruben Patterson ranked shockingly well in terms of peak value and could have moved farther up the list had he stayed with the Sonics for longer than two years.
The big difference is that while I was pleased to see Antonio Daniels so high, I’m not a big Ruben Patterson fan and am pretty disgruntled that Ruben ranked so high. Patterson naming himself the "Kobe Stopper" was annoying, and based on the legal issues the odds of him being a complete scumbag are pretty high.
Still, this is why I’m using numbers and not emotion to drive these rankings. And honestly, when I look at his stat line for his two seasons as a Sonic, they do look pretty solid, with 16+ PPG, 6.7+ RPG, 1.5+ SPG, and shooting near or above .500 from the field. PER recognizes those seasons as better than solid, at 19.3 and 18.8, respectively, which is somewhere between an all-star and the second-best player on the team. Which ... okay, whatever. I still don't like the guy.
22. Bob Rule (1967-1972)
Peak Value Rank: 17th
Aggregate Value Rank: 24th
Playoffs Value Rank: N/A
Sonics Significance Rank: 16th (tied)
I was really, really hoping that Bob Rule would make the top 20. After all, he was drafted by the Sonics in the team's first-ever draft, made his debut in the franchise's first season, and was arguably the Sonics’ first real star. For all of these reasons, Bob Rule has a unique place in Sonics history and deserves to be remembered.
However, it just wasn't to be. Rule did put up strong peak and significance scores, boosted by seasons in which he peaked at 24.6 PPG and 11.5 RPG and earned an all-star selection. But despite all that, the remaining half of his score was hurt by the fact that he was playing with a new, unsuccessful team.
Rule's aggregate score (24th) was essentially built in only three seasons, and his win shares are low because his teams won only 89 games in those three seasons. That means that 30 percent of his HafPoints score is held back by a lack of time in a Sonics uniform and a lack of wins, and since the Sonics didn't make the playoffs during his tenure that's another 20 percent of his score that's a complete goose-egg.
I still think of Bob Rule as an all-time Sonics great, but ultimately on this list he just couldn't quite crack the top-20. Judging by his expression on his basketball card, he knows and is nonplussed. Sorry, Bob.
21. Lonnie Shelton (1978-1982)
Peak Value Rank: 29th
Aggregate Value Rank: 21st
Playoffs Value Rank: 13th
Sonics Significance Rank: 10th
Ahh, Lonnie Shelton. He's an interesting case, since his spot on the list is driven primarily by his Playoffs and Sonics Significance rankings (13th and 10th, respectively), which make up only 30 percent of his score. Those are fair rankings for him, since Shelton is a key element of Sonics history, on playoff teams that captivated the city. He was an all-star, a member of the all-defense team, and made high-profile contributions to the 1978-1979 NBA championship team.
At a glance, Shelton's statistics look pretty good, too. In 1981-1982, for example, he scored 14.9 PPG, pulled in 6.3 RPG, handed out 3.1 APG, and nabbed 1.2 SPG.
However, advanced statistics don't love Shelton--possibly because he was a strong defensive player, and outside of steals and blocks, defense is notoriously hard to measure. In only one of his five seasons in Seattle did Shelton put up a PER above league average (16.8, versus a league average of 15.0). That drove his tepid peak value rank of 29th, though his longevity on the team and the success of the teams on which he played gave him enough win shares to make his aggregate value a little more respectable.
Next: Greatest Sonics of All Time, Nos. 16-20