Greatest of All-Time: 1988 Seattle Supersonics

Photo: Rick Stewart/Getty Images

In their swan song, Dale Ellis, Xavier McDaniel, and Tom Chambers build on a surprisingly deep playoff run with an underwhelming ending to an improved season.

Edited by Joanna Nesgoda

The 1987-88 season was a transition year for the NBA. The Magic Johnson-Larry Bird Era was coming to an end. Michael Jordan was the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and scoring champ, and was on the cusp of a championship era of his own. Charlotte, Miami, Minneapolis, and Orlando were awarded expansion franchises that debuted in the following seasons, expanding the league to 27 teams. David Robinson was the first overall draft pick and this was the last NBA draft to go over three rounds.

One of the most unrecognized trios in NBA history continued their under-the-radar run. Following an overachieving run to the Western Conference Finals, the ’87-’88 team may have been considered an underachieving one.

It began with the 1987 NBA Draft, where future Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was traded for Olden Polynice and two future draft picks.


1987 NBA Draft - the Pippen vs Polynice trade (via Jean-Sebastien Blondel)

The Sonics started the first two months of the season off much like the previous one: a .500 team, with three 20+ points per game scorers (Dale Ellis – 25.8, Xavier McDaniel – 21.4, Tom Chambers – 20.4). They seemed to turn the corner at the beginning of the year (the month of January) with a 10-3 record, but it was all for naught, as a 2-11 record in February brought them back down to earth.

In mid-February Xavier McDaniel was named to the 1988 NBA All-Star Game, while Dale Ellis participated in the Three-Point Shootout.

Though the Sonics ended the season on a better note than the previous one, it was by and large the same team. That is, until the playoffs started.

Unlike the previous playoffs, the ’88 playoff team fought hard, but ended up alternating losses and dropping out of the first round to the second seed Denver Nuggets, 3-2.

Some digging shows a few statistical traits. The ’88 team owned a 32-9 home record, but a 12-29 road record. It was one of the greatest home/road splits in the NBA. It’s not clear why that was so, as they’re scoring and defense literally flip-flopped from home to road also. In the end, it was a pretty solid, but somewhat underachieving team.


1987-88 Bulls V Sonics (via blackadam06)

Outside of an All-Rookie First Team selection for Derrick McKey, there were no accolades. This ended the two-year run for the X-Man/Ellis/Chambers trio, as they were broken up when Chambers was traded to Phoenix in the summer.

DEPTH CHART

PG SG SF PF C
S Nate McMillan Dale Ellis Xavier McDaniels Tom Chambers Alton Lister
R Sedale Threatt Danny Young Derrick McKey Olden Polynice
R Kevin Williams Russ Choene
R Clemon Johnson

STATS

Player
GP
GS
MPG
FG%
3FG%
FT%
RPG
APG
SPG
BPG
PPG
Dale Ellis
75
73
37.2
0.503
0.413
0.767
4.5
2.6
1.0
0.1
25.8
Xavier McDaniel
78
77
34.7
0.488
0.280
0.715
6.6
3.4
1.2
0.7
21.4
Tom Chambers
82
82
32.7
0.448
0.303
0.807
6.0
2.6
1.1
0.6
20.4
Derrick McKey
82
4
20.8
0.491
0.367
0.772
4.0
1.3
0.9
0.8
8.5
Nate McMillan
82
82
29.9
0.474
0.375
0.707
4.1
8.6
2.1
0.6
7.6
Sedale Threatt
26
0
13.6
0.519
0.143
0.833
1.3
2.0
1.3
0.2
7.5
Kevin Williams
80
9
13.6
0.442
0.143
0.844
1.6
1.2
0.8
0.1
6.3
Russ Schoene
81
2
12.0
0.458
0.293
0.810
2.4
0.7
0.5
0.2
6.0
Alton Lister
82
55
22.1
0.504
0.500
0.606
7.6
0.7
0.3
1.7
5.6
Sam Vincent
43
0
12.7
0.474
0.385
0.767
1.1
3.2
0.5
0.1
4.5
Olden Polynice
82
0
13.2
0.408
0.000
0.639
4.0
0.4
0.4
0.3
4.1
Danny Young
77
0
12.3
0.408
0.286
0.811
1.0
2.8
0.7
0.0
3.2
Clemon Johnson
74
26
9.8
0.467
0.000
0.688
2.4
0.2
0.2
0.3
1.6

What are your thoughts? Vote in our poll below and leave comments letting us know where you think the 1988 team ranks in the all-time Sonics teams!

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