30 Greatest Sonics of All Time--The HafPoints Edition
Introduction and Methodology
Summary, Missing Notables, and Charts
Notes from an Alternate Universe
15. Brent Barry (2000-2004)
Peak Value Rank: 13th
Aggregate Value Rank: 12th
Playoffs Value Rank: 56th
Sonics Significance Rank: N/A
It might surprise you to see Brent Barry all the way up at No. 15 on the list of the Greatest Sonics of All Time; I know that it sure surprised me. Sure, Bones was fun to watch, deceptively athletic, a good shooter, and the motivating force for Kevin Calabro’s classic "Shocker" call. I loved the guy while he was in town. But Brent Barry, the 15th greatest Sonic of all time?
Actually, what's even more surprising than Bones' overall ranking is the fact that his on-court performance was even better than that. Barry didn't have much playoff run with the Sonics, and he doesn't impact the Sonics Significance meter, meaning that he received only meager results for the factors worth 30% of his score. Barry instead overindexed with impressive scores in peak value (13th) and aggregate value (12th) that have led me to re-evaluate him as a player with a new level of respect.
Barry came to town in the last of a series of trades that cycled starting shooting guards through Seattle as backcourt-mates with demanding starting point guard Gary Payton. Dale Ellis was traded for Ricky Pierce, Pierce was replaced as a starter by Kendall Gill, Gill was traded for Hersey Hawkins, and Hawkins was traded for Brent Barry. There are some impressive talents on this list--Dale Ellis ranks a few spots higher than Barry, and Pierce and Hawkins just a few spots lower--but I think there's a case to be made that Brent Barry was a better complement to Payton than any of those other two-guard luminaries.
But first, let's take a look at the numbers. Barry's13th peak value rank among all Sonics might seem high, considering he never once in his career averaged more than 15 points per game. But Barry's stellar 2001-2002 season serves as an illustration of Barry's well-rounded skills; according to PER only nine other Sonics have put up better seasons. Barry was a monster that season in every respect other than scoring, with 5.4 RPG despite playing in the backcourt, 5.3 APG despite playing off the ball, and 1.8 SPG without any sort of defensive reputation. His shooting percentages were also legitimately amazing, with a league-leading .652 True Shooting Percentage built from his eye-popping .508 field-goal percentage, .424 three-point percentage, and .846 free-throw percentage. All of this was good for a 19.3 PER and a stunning 12.1 win shares, both way out ahead of anything Xavier McDaniel or Tom Chambers did as Sonics. The more you know, right?
Barry went on to win two championships with the San Antonio Spurs and also played for the L.A. Clippers, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and Houston Rockets, but judging by PER Barry was at his best in Seattle. Given that, his compelling personality, and his continued support for basketball in Seattle, Bones fits nicely onto this list both from a subjective and objective standpoint.
The video shows Brent Barry highlights from throughout his career; much of it is from his time with the Clippers, but as the video goes on you get more and more Sonics content. Beware, there's some NSFW language in the backing music track.
Dennis Johnson came into the league as a little-known second-round pick out of Pepperdine, but he left it as a five-time All-Star (twice as a Sonic), a three-time NBA champion (once as a Sonic), an NBA Finals MVP (as a Sonic), and with a body of work that made him a 2010 inductee into the Hall of Fame. DJ might be better-known for his involvement with the Larry Bird Celtics teams, but he had a pretty spectacular run in Seattle as well.
DJ's legend is hard to sync up with his 26th peak value rank and 20th aggregate value rank. For all the adulation that he rightly receives for his accomplishments, apparently somebody forgot to tell the advanced metrics. PER has Johnson as a roughly NBA league-average player both as a Sonic and through his storied career.
DJ's best season statistically in Seattle was his last, at 19.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 4.1 APG. That is certainly solid, but he shot only .422 from the field and had nearly three turnovers per game. This translated to a PER of only 15.9; just barely over league average. That explains his low peak value rank; his low aggregate value stems from accumulating value over only four seasons in Seattle, one of which was his rookie season in which he played sparingly. For those casting about for torches and pitchforks, it's worth noting that PER tends to underrate strong defensive guards, and given that DJ was one of the best defensive guards of his generation, he's likely significantly better than PER would indicate.
That's the downside, but DJ's upsides are incredibly compelling. DJ played 2,100 playoff minutes as a Sonic, and his teams won 35 playoff games and made two Finals visits, making him the eighth-most-important Sonic in terms of playoffs value. DJ’s amazing fourth overall rank for Sonics significance was driven by being a homegrown Sonics draftee, a two-time all-star, earning a second-team All-NBA nod, and two first-team All-Defense honors. Oh, and he also accomplished a few other minor things as a Sonic, but perhaps you've heard of them; he won a championship and earned the Finals MVP in that championship series.
This wasn't quite enough to nudge DJ into the top-10 list, but his playoffs and Sonics significance ranks are indicative of how and why we love him.
Sam Perkins is one of the most-beloved players from the Sonics' 1996 NBA Finals run, and I'm convinced that at least part of the appeal is his seeming contradictions. On the one hand, he was the team’s best option at center during its strong 1990s playoff run, but he came off the bench for ~75% of his regular-season games. He was a big player with a broad wingspan and the ability to contest shots inside, yet he was also one of the team’s best three-point threats and presented matchup nightmares with his outside shooting. He was unassuming and looked half-asleep on the court, but he was also a big-time performer in the playoffs and stepped up with huge shots in crucial situations.
The Sonics acquired Perkins in exchange for Benoit Benjamin and Doug Christie in one of the most lopsided trades in franchise history. To break it down a bit, the Sonics acquired a future playoff hero and the franchise's 13th greatest player by HafPoints in exchange for the 7-foot manifestation of frustration and inconsistency and a swingman who had held out and was several seasons away from turning into a serviceable player.
Big Smooth could have been a near-star with a bad team, but to his credit he was able to seamlessly integrate himself into those mid-1990s Sonics playoff teams as a fourth or fifth option. Despite getting fewer than 10 shots per game in Seattle, PER viewed Perkins as an above-average player with a peak of 17.0 PER in 1996-1997, which equates to performance that you'd expect from a second or third option.
Perkins’ aggregate value was helped by the fact that he was with the Sonics for five and a half seasons and with winning teams, both of which boosted his win shares total. Perkins’ playoff value, though, is what really drove this ranking, though, as he played 2,112 minutes and won 36 playoff games during his Sonics tenure.
One of the most astonishing aspects of Perkins’ time as a Sonic is that he completely transformed his game from a low-post threat to a three-point marksman. In his first eight and a half seasons in the league with Dallas and L.A., Perkins made 90 three-pointers; in five and a half seasons in Seattle, he made 592. That's a staggering reinvention for a player who had already defined himself as a post player as a North Carolina Tarheel, a Dallas Maverick, and an L.A. Laker.
This video is a highlight compilation from the second half of Game 5 of the Utah Jazz series in 1993. There's lots of great stuff here from other Sonics as well, but Sam Perkins is possibly the defining player here, draining several three-pointers and driving for an emphatic slam. I know I've said it elsewhere, but man, do I miss that 1993 team--it may have even been more fun to watch than the great 1996 Finals squad.
It’s easy to howl with outrage at the mere idea that Sonics legend Lenny Wilkens could land outside the top 10, but after looking into the numbers, I've concluded that it makes perfect sense. Let’s take a look.
To start with the negatives, Wilkens’ aggregate value is hurt by the fact that he played only four seasons in Seattle, with teams that were not very good. That lack of team success hurt both his single-season win shares (which divvy up a team’s wins to deserving players) and aggregate win shares (which accumulate with total games played). The real killer to Wilkens’ overall ranking, though, is the fact that he never made the playoffs with Seattle as a player, meaning that he basically has a goose egg for 20% of his overall score.
On the positive side, PER likes Wilkens, driving a solid peak value of 11th. While it doesn't help that Wilkens only has four seasons for consideration, all four of Wilkens' seasons in Seattle were keepers. Wilkens averaged between 17.8 to 22.4 points per game and handed out a low of 8.2 and and high of 9.6 assists per game in Seattle, with a high of 6.2 rebounds per game. In his 1971-1972 season in Seattle, Wilkens earned an all-star-level 20.3 PER and a very impressive 9.6 win shares. Had his other Sonics teams been more successful, he would have racked up more win shares. Those Sonics teams weren't great, but Lenny clearly was.
The real key for Wilkens, though, was his Sonics significance score. He racked up points for being a Sonics coach, winning a championship as a coach, earning three all-star berths as a Sonic, and winning an All Star MVP award as a Sonic. Wilkens is one of the most beloved and legendary Sonics of all time, which is reflected in this ranking.
While ranking 12th among all-time Sonics may seem low for Lenny Wilkens, I think the component rankings make sense--he was a really good player in Seattle, but for a short period of time, for teams that didn’t make the playoffs. In terms of significance, though, as a player and coach, Wilkens was absolutely crucial--the third most significant Sonic of all time.
11. Dale Ellis (1986-1991, 1997-1999)
Peak Value Rank: 10th
Aggregate Value Rank: 9th
Playoffs Value Rank: 18th
Sonics Significance Rank: 15th
Dale Ellis is a strong contender for the title of the best pure shooter to ever wear the Sonics uniform, which is a pretty strong statement for a franchise that saw the likes of Fred Brown, Ray Allen, and the immortal Dana Barros up close.
Ellis had the full range of shooting skills. He had limitless range and was completely reliable from a standstill, coming off picks, or even shooting off-balance. At a rangy 6'7" he could get off his shot in most circumstances, and had a gorgeous release that helped him achieve shooting percentages that were amazing given his penchant for the outside shot. He was one of those players who was so automatic that even when he wasn't hitting it felt like he was just one shot away from starting a new streak.
Of course Ellis was a bit of a one-dimensional player who didn't bother much with trivialities like defending, rebounding, or passing, but within his dimension he was all-world caliber. And besides, why should Ellis pass the ball? It's not as if he had other
lovable ball-hogs offensive threats around him like Tom Chambers, or Xavier McDaniel, or ... huh. Never mind; time to dust off this graphic again.
The Supersonics acquired Ellis through an act of absolute larceny committed on the Dallas Mavericks, where Ellis had been teamed with future Sonics greats Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins. The Sonics stole the player who would become their seventh all-time scorer from the Mavs in exchange for underachieving and relentlessly mediocre Al Wood; in response, Ellis immediately transformed from a bench player for the Mavs into the Sonics' leading scorer, rocketing from 7.1 PPG to 24.9 PPG in the proces.
Ellis' scoring numbers during his 4 1/2-season stretch in Seattle during his prime were truly epic. He never scored less than 23.5 PPG during a full season as a Sonic, and somehow shot above .500 from the field--which, again, is an amazing feat for an outside shooter.
In his 1988-1989 all-star season, Ellis peaked at a career-high 27.5 PPG while shooting .501 from the field, and an astonishing .478 from three-point land. That 27.5 PPG is the second-highest scoring season in Sonics history, well ahead of anything Gary Payton or Shawn Kemp put up, and behind only Spencer Haywood's 1972-1973 season. PER penalized Ellis for his lack of versatility, but Ellis still put up between 19.0 and 19.7 PER in all four full seasons as a Sonic, and his 1988-1989 peak was an impressive combination of 19.7 PER and 10.8 win shares.
Ellis had some off-the-court issues with alcohol and fisticuffs (including an off-the-court fistfight with McDaniel), and so he was traded straight up for Ricky Pierce, who of course made this list as an offensive icon in his own right. But Ellis did come back for an encore on the tail end of the Sonics' 1990s playoff runs as a bench player, in the process falling only one year short of playing with Seattle in three different decades.
Clearly Seattle agreed with Ellis; he promptly became valuable as a sharpshooter and designated offense off the bench in his return, putting up a surprisingly strong 16.6 PER (better than any season he turned in after his first Seattle stint) and leading the NBA by shooting .464 from the three-point line. The magic faded the next season (after which he was traded to the real Magic, in the Horace Grant deal), but it was a fitting send-off for the 11th-greatest Seattle Sonic as judged by HafPoints (and 10th on Steve Stearns' all-time Sonics list).
Next: Greatest Sonics of All Time, Nos. 6-10