Continued from Monday:
Let's discuss some of the Sonic players and how you guys think they'll perform this season.
Let's start with Chris Wilcox.
Brian: Wilcox to me is going to have an up and down season which will frustrate a lot of people. His game is one which can be shut down when teams choose to plan their game around doing so because it relies so heavily on athleticism. The thing I am going to be watching for is not whether Wilcox gets shut down, but how much teams have to commit to doing so and how that effort takes away from their ability to guard other Sonics players. If we see a trend where Wilcox has several nights of 6 points, 5 rebounds but in those same nights Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis go off for large numbers then I think that we have to call them successful outings for Chris.
Big Chris: Wilcox has been in a funk all preseason, and I find myself standing at the front of the line of people wanting him to break out of it. Having a low post scoring threat will be key to opening things up for Ray and Rashard. This will be especially true if Mo Sene starts with regularity, as he is unlikely to be able to be reliable on the offensive end. I think this team's temperature will run according to Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison on many nights. You know what you will be getting from Ray and Rashard, the question is who will fill the rest of the void, and who can help carry the team when either the #1 or #2 are ineffective or hurt.
Joe: Wilcox at this time is a bit of an enigma. He played well in his 24 game stint last year, but has been underwhelming so far this year. He is very important to the Sonics as the third scoring option. If as he says, he is sort of cruising in the preseason, he better turn on the switch because Nick is having a great camp, and will take his minutes.
Scott: Iâ€™m not a huge Wilcox fan per se, as witnessed on this site when I called for them to hold the line during contract negotiations. Long term I think Nick Collisonâ€™s the better pro. The fact that he plays defense makes him a winner in my book.
Steve: I'm not as down on Wilcox as Scott but I'm not sure he really works with the starting unit. As long as Ray and Ra are out there, they're going to take most of the shots. Wilcox is okay as a post player but hardly dominant. He seems to score most easily in transition by outrunning his man rather than off scripted plays, so pairing him with the more uptempo second unit might increase his efficiency. So far the Sonics have played much better as a unit with Nick Collison on the floor.
Any comments on Earl Watson and Luke Ridnour?
Chris: I think we know roughly what these two provide, the question will be if they can continue to grow and raise their games to another level. I see their roles as less competitive and more complimentary, though there will be certain points where they will be both wanting more playing time. The key will be to go all out when you are on the floor and rest when they are not. Both operating at full speed 25+ minutes each a night will be a lot of fun to watch. And somebody tell Earl to move his face when those elbows come his way.
Joe: I think we know what Earl brings to the table because heâ€™s more of a veteran. Luke on the other hand needs to improve his shooting percentages and his defense (weâ€™ve been hearing reports that he is really working defensively in camp so far, and that the new defensive system is better suited to his skills) to take his career to the next level. This is a very important season for Luke as well, with his stated discomfort at sitting out the 4th quarters.
Scott: I think theyâ€™ll make a solid PG combination. Iâ€™d really like to see a third guy in the mix thatâ€™s got a bit of size to him, because Luke and Earl are not big. They each bring different things to the team, with Lukeâ€™s penetration and solid ball handling skill while Earl brings incredible on the ball defense and a great scoring mentality to the backup guard role.
Steve: I like the combination overall. Each has attributes that work with certain guys on the team and not as well with others. Ultimately it's a good pairing. Like Scott, the only thing I wish this team had was another ballhandler with size, preferably at the SF position. I think this team could stand to pass more. They don't tend to find the open man as well as I think they can.
And how about Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. We haven't discussed them much yet. Anyone?
Brian: Against Sacramento in the preseason Rashard Lewis displayed a defensive intensity that he has never shown before. He was for the most part matched up on Ron Artest and Lewis was arguably the dominant player in that matchup. Both Allen and Lewis are pretty automatic on the offensive end but this single game intrigued me. Rashard always seems to improve one aspect of his game and maybe Bob Hill got him to work on defense this summer. If both Lewis and Allen commit to defense then we have a good season, it is really as simple as that.
Chris: I would love to see Rashard begin to push Ray for the #1 scorer's role. Ray proved late last year that he can still carry a team. He worked hard over the summer where other vets might be tempted to coast, but he is not getting younger. Rashard creates incredible defensive mismatches. I hope to see him (and the coaching staff) doing more to take advantage of his size and skills. I think that by making Rashard more of the focus, you will see Ray Allen's effectiveness increase. I would like to see Ray being able to get more open looks on kick outs.
Joe: There are really only two major items for these two: commit to playing better defense, and stay healthy.
Scott: They need to score 45 points a game for this team to be successful. Ray is such a great leader for this team, I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s a more classy player in the league. Shard needs to step up on rebounding and the defensive end, of course with him that is the case every year with him.
Anyone else we haven't talked about yet that you'd like to comment on?
Scott: The success of this team this year goes back to Nick Collison. If he can give 30 minutes a night without getting into foul trouble weâ€™ll be a much better team. He doesnâ€™t really need to a force on offense, just be capable and get everyone involved. Its his presence on defense that is sorely needed.
Joe: So far during preseason the young player that has seemingly stepped up his game is Damien Wilkins.
Brian: Nick Collison is arguably the most important player on the team this year. With the injury to Robert Swift he will be expected to log huge minutes and be one of the defensive anchors of the club. His consistant play will be counted on to offset the ups and downs of the young big men as well as Chris Wilcox. If he fails to deliver it will have a huge impact on the entire frontcourt.
Fans are going to love Mo Sene. While he does not have the experience to excel just yet I believe that he is one of the league's elite athletes and the potential for stardom is there. Let's put it this way: I think Chris Wilcox is about a top 20-30 athlete in the league. He's shown unfortunately that he doesn't have the mental game to make him a top 20 or 30 players. Sene is significantly better athletically than Wilcox. He may be top 5-10 in the league in terms of his physical ability to play his position.
Steve: Nick's the key to this season, especially after the injury to Robert. This team needs a frontcourt player or players to step up and be a force both scoring and rebounding. Nick can be that player. As Nick and Luke go, so will the Sonics.
Who will win the MVP?
Brian: Dwayne Wade
Joe: Dirk Nowitzki.
Scott: Lebron James. At some point heâ€™s not going to overlooked because of his age. While Nash has won the MVP the last two years, Iâ€™m not sure thereâ€™s a player thatâ€™s been more important to his team than James. This year I think they make the step and get to the conference finals and become a legit title contender, simply based on his talent.
Steve: Steve Nash. As long as he stays healthy and Phoenix is a #1-2 seed in the West it's tough to argue against him.
What team will be the biggest surprise?
Chris, Steve: Chicago Bulls
Joe: Houston Rockets, and to a lesser extent the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks.
Scott: Toronto Raptors. I think thereâ€™s a chance that the team that got the number one pick in the draft last year ends up challenging for a playoff spot this year. While I didnâ€™t like the TJ Ford for Charlie V deal if he plays up to his potential heâ€™ll be a game changer for them. Chris Bosh is one of the most undervalued players in the league, this is the year he really jumps to the forefront.
What team will be the biggest flop?
Scott: Iâ€™ll say the Hornets. I donâ€™t know why but I donâ€™t believe that getting Peja and Chandler is going to help them get over the top. Chris Paul is an amazing talent, but the two guys they brought in to play around him are just too brittle. Add in that theyâ€™re splitting where theyâ€™re playing even more this year than last and it wonâ€™t be a novelty this year and I think that could lead to some problems for them.
Joe: Philadelphia 76ers in the East; Golden State Warriors in the West.
Steve: New York. Their roster is a mess, their coach is an idiot, and the GM's worse than the coach.
Brian: The Clippers. I am not a big fan of Tim Thomas and believe that Sam Cassell is a player who excells in his first year, only to get caught up in himself after he achieves a little success. Those two are a bad mix for me and I don't think that they can repeat last season's success. Did anyone see that they declined the third year option on Yaraslov Korolev? What kind of franchise takes a huge risk on a player that they know is years away and then gives up their rights to him without giving him a shot to develop?
What player will have a breakout season?
Brian: Mo Williams, Bucks. Williams is almost unknown to the casual fans but the Bucks thought enough of him to trade TJ Ford away and hand the reigns to Williams and Blake. He won't be an all-star but he'll be a known name after making the jump from role player to legitimate starter.
Chris: Carlos Boozer.
Joe: Grant Hill.
Scott: Iâ€™ll be boring and say Shaun Livingston. I think he builds on his playoff success from last year and becomes a solid contributor on a very good Clippers team. His defense will continue to improve, which will keep him on the court more and more as the season goes on. If not Livingston, Gerald Wallace is a yaer without an injury from being a major star in the league.
Steve: I'm going to say Livingston as well.
Who will be this season's best rookie?
Steve: Probably Brandon Roy. He'll be getting all the minutes and shots he can handle, because Portland's got nothing else.
Scott: Brandon Roy. After him itâ€™s all going to be about who gets minutes. Adam Morrison could have a nice year, and heâ€™s a perfect compliment for Gerald Wallace.
Joe: Steve Novak â€“way out on a limb here.
Chris: Brandon Roy.
Brian: I'm going to go WAY out on a limb here and say Utah's Ronnie Brewer. Many critics will complain that the Sonics should have drafted him but in the case of Brewer I think that he is a great example of a player going to the perfect situation and system for their talents. Randy Foye would have been my choice except that the Timberwolves went out and signed Mike James for $5 million per year. Now James will get the priority over Foye who had the potential to be a much better player.
Which coach(s) are on the hot seat?
Brian: Jeff VanGundy. With Battier he has no more excuses but the PG situation will continue to haunt him.
Chris: Isaiah Thomas, Dwayne Casey
Joe: Dwayne Casey, Flip Saunders
Scott: Nate McMillan or maybe Doc Rivers.
Steve: Dwayne Casey and Isaiah. Nate has to show improvement of some kind but is probably safe.
Okay, last but not least; What teams will be in the NBA's Final Four?
Scott: Miami and Cleveland in the East. San Antonio and Dallas in the West.
Steve: Miami, Chicago, Dallas, and San Antonio.
Joe: Chicago, Miami , L.A. Clippers, Houston.
Chris: Dallas, San Antonio, Chicago, Miami.