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Nick Collison was a pleasant surprise last season. After undergoing surgery on both shoulders and missing his rookie year, the 6'9", 255-pound forward blended into the Sonics' system well enough that, by the playoffs, he was consistently contributing at crunch time. Collison was, euphemistically, the "gritty, gutty" guy with the "lunch-pail work ethic." Which is to say he set screens, grabbed rebounds, slammed into guys and rarely, if ever, looked for his own offense. This was partly by design--with Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Vladimir Radmanovic, the team had plenty of scorers--and partly because Collison had that rarest of traits for an NBA player: a reluctance to shoot. "Last year I'd hide a little bit, just trying to be in position to rebound," he admits.
Determined to develop his catch-and-shoot skills, Collison spent his summer in Seattle working on two things: his 15-to-18-foot jumper and the pick-and-roll. He and point guard Luke Ridnour ran drills and played two-on-two every day against local college players. "I shot a lot of midrange shots, pick-and-pops," says Collison. "I feel I can be more aggressive offensively now." New coach Bob Weiss envisions Collison expanding his range even farther. "He's a decent three-point shooter," says Weiss, even though Collison missed the three treys he took last season. "I don't know if he has enough confidence to be taking the three, but before he's done, he's going to be a three-point-shooting big man."
For now Collison will be expected to provide consistent, heady play and physical defense at the four and five spots. "I don't know who will be my starting power forward," says Weiss, "but I know who'll be finishing, and that's Nick Collison." --C.B.
"They lost 15 points per game with the free-agent defections of Antonio Daniels and Jerome James, but they're not going to have trouble scoring; their problem will be defending. Other than their undersized power guys, like Reggie Evans, Danny Fortson and Nick Collison, they're not a defensive team at all.... [Former coach] Nate McMillan was able to demand that they play a little bit of defense by controlling the tempo. Bob Weiss wants to play at a faster pace, which may leave the guys out of position and too out of breath to care as much about D. The risk is that they'll become too one-dimensional, like Dallas has been.... I was blown away that Evans didn't get any decent offers this summer as a restricted free agent. What more does the guy have to do? I've seen him take control of key segments of games without scoring a basket--with an offensive board to keep a possession alive, a defensive stop or a defensive rebound to start the break.... I love the ease with which Luke Ridnour plays. He makes the same creative plays they used to get from Brent Barry but with fewer mistakes.... Vladimir Radmanovic wants to be a starter, but Seattle seems to understand that, like Indiana's Austin Croshere, Vlade's a classic tweener who's a terrific sixth man. Coming off the bench, he creates mismatches."
The Sonics' average of 18.1 assists last year was the NBA's lowest, and their 1,487 assists were the franchise's fewest for an 82-game season.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 52-30 (4th in West)
Points scored: 98.9 (11th in NBA)