October 16, 2001

The dangers of reading too much into preseason games

As I'm quite certain avid followers of the Sonic report would be quick to point out, I am quite a bit of a 'stathead'. In my opinion, part of the reason that statistics often get a bit of a 'bad reputation' amongst fans is because they are so often misused, or, more likely, misinterpreted, frequently by the media. Preseason stats can provide an example of this. To date, the Sonics have played four pre-season games, which is essentially the same as a week in the regular season. Yet there have been a number of far-reaching conclusions drawn from this limited statbase.

For example, on one Sonic message board I read, I saw one poster justify his concerns about Rashard Lewis by pointing out his 2 of 10 shooting performance this past Sunday at Phoenix. To this I can have only one response -- sample size. Look at things on a game-by-game basis, and you can find a number of statistical oddities which clearly are not exemplary of a player's or team's true ability. I have concerns about Lewis' ability to create his own shot and handle the ball, but I certainly am not in any way worried about his shooting. He's proven over a full season that he can put the ball in the hoop. One pre-season game is not going to change that.

Of course, it would be inappropriate for me to criticize someone else for this without admitting that I can -- and did -- fall into the trap. Vin Baker's numbers over the last three games have looked like those of the Vin Baker of old -- but unfortunately, the Baker of 99-01, not the all-star Baker. Perhaps my comments in my last column about Baker looking like he was back were premature. I will say, however, that I have generally based my Sonic thoughts on how players have looked during the open scrimmage and Clipper game. To a lesser extent, I have considered how players have 'sounded' while listening to the Denver and Memphis games on the radio, and only then the box score. And Vin has looked good when I've seen him. Of course, as I've said before, one of Baker's biggest problems is consistency.

Recapping Preseason Action:

Sunday, October 16 - at Phoenix 69, Sonics 62

Speaking of statistical anomalies . . . raise your hand if you expected the Suns and Sonics -- two teams known for their run-and-gun style, and, in Phoenix's case, not playing defense -- to play a game with point totals in the 60s. Don't expect to see it again. The Suns shot only about 35%, but that was far better than the Sonics, who shot only 29% from the field. On the upside, the Sonics forced the Suns into an astounding 28 turnovers. Earl Watson played for the first time and looked ok, and Gary Payton, returning from injury, played well with 16 points and 6 assists. On the other hand, in addition to Lewis, two others -- Desmond Mason and Calvin Booth -- shot 2-for-10 from the field, and the Sonics had 20 turnovers of their own.

Monday, October 17 - at Memphis 103, Sonics 99

A night later, the offense returned for the Sonics. The defense was pretty good too -- until the Grizzlies scored 37 points in the fourth quarter to come back and win down the stretch. The Sonics led by as many as 25 in the third, before Memphis rallied behind rookie forwards Shane Battier (five of five from downtown) and Pau Gasol (17 points, 9 boards). The Sonics mostly played reserves down the stretch, with Lewis and Brent Barry mixed in. Both shined, Lewis with 24 points, and Barry with 19 and 8 assists. Payton also had 18 points and 7 assists. Baker (2 of 10) and Booth (0 of 6) struggled offensively for the Sonics.

In news since the last column, the Sonics made their first cuts on Friday evening, a pair of Eddies -- Elisma and Gill. I had grown rather attached to Elisma, and thought he could be a valuable contributor to the Sonics this year. Obviously, Coach Nate McMillan and the front office disagreed. Jamal Kendrick was a huge surprise to survive even the first cuts, but his fine play against Denver saved him for about a week. Odds are that he and JaRon Rush, who hasn't really impressed thus far, will be the next cuts. Watson and Anthony Johnson still seem about neck-and-neck for the third point job, while Antonio Harvey seems to be easily outdistancing Art Long as the third power forward.

Barry is perhaps the Sonic who has impressed me the most this pre-season. Looking at the numbers, Barry has so far averaged an astounding 1.81 points per shot. He still seems to be the frontrunner to start at shooting guard, as well as perhaps seeing time as the backup point, with Shammond Williams not playing much during the preseason and struggling with his shooting when he has played. Payton also does not appear to have lost a step whatsoever from last season -- as if you thought he had!

Vladimir Radmanovic hasn't looked too great during the four exhibition games, though his talent is clear. Radman's transition to the highest league in all the land hardly seems complete, and he looks a little nervous as well. Predrag Drobnjak's transition has been completely different -- he looks as if he's played in the NBA all his life, and is very cool under pressure. Mason continues to be rather inconsistent -- sometimes it seems as if his jumper is really coming around, at others it appears that he couldn't throw the ball in the ocean from a boat.