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Three Questions For 2005-06: Part I

The new season approaches, and with it new questions for a new roster and coaching staff. With this year's team be able to build upon last year's Cinderella run? Or will the Sonics come back down to earth? According to basketball last year's team performed about 4 wins above their mathematically expected W-L record, so some regression to the mean could be expected this year.

There are three questions I have about this year's team. Today we'll address the first:

1. Can Bob Weiss teach a non-defensive roster how to play defense?

Last year Seattle finished near the bottom of the league according to Dean Oliver's defensive rating metric. This is important because of the common misperception that the Sonics had finally started to listen to ex-coach Nate McMillan and bought into the blue-collar, hard working attitude he showed so often as a player. The Sonics were much tougher in the frontcourt, setting hard picks and drawing fouls at a league-high rate early in the season; but as the season wore on it became clear that the Sonics lacked a player who could slow or stop star-quality wing players. Neither Ray Allen nor Rashard Lewis are accomplished defensive players; Despite averaging over a steal a game Luke Ridnour was often removed from high leverage situations for Antonio Daniels, who was a slightly better defender but still no stopper. Damien Wilkins showed promise in limited action near the end of the season. Hopefully he can become the perimeter stopper the team desperately needed last year -- the battle between Wilkins and Radmanovic for the backup swingman job should be an intriguing one. Will Weiss really sacrifice defense to start Radman at 4, as he has hinted? Only time will tell.

Exactly how Weiss intends to improve the deficiencies on defense is not yet clear, especially since the Sonics are returning essentially an identical team to last year's with only two journeymen ex-Clippers as free agent additions. In addition, average to poor defenders like Flip Murray are likely to play larger roles than they did last season, and the team still lacks shotblocking from the PF or C positions. Weiss' success as a head coach in his first year depends largely on his ability to teach this team to defend the perimeter and stop penetration better than they did last season.

This assignment should also be interesting given the loss of Sonic assistant coach Dean Demopoulos, who was brought on board originally to teach the principles of Temple's matchup zone defense. Demopolous accompanied Dwane Casey to Minnesota, and it isn't clear yet if the Sonics intend to move away from those defensive concepts or use their new assistant coaches to install a different system.