Ridnour's development key to Seattle's surprising start


Saturday, January 1st 2005, 3:30 pm
By: News On 6


SEATTLE (AP) _ When Seattle SuperSonics coach Nate McMillan named Luke Ridnour his starting point guard, it wasn't just the player's aggressive style that factored into the decision.

It was words McMillan heard Ridnour say in an interview about wanting to be a successful leader on the basketball court that stuck with the coach.

So far, Ridnour is backing up McMillan's choice and doing a good job of running the surprising SuperSonics.

``I think he always wanted to be a special basketball player,'' McMillan said. ``That was part of my decision on starting him. A guy who was that committed at a young age, he is going to run your company right.''

Nearly one-third of the way through the season, Seattle is 20-6 and leading the Northwest Division. It's Seattle's best start since beginning the 1993-94 season 20-2, and it smashed pre-season expectations for a team that many predicted would be among the NBA's worst.

Their lone offseason move was acquiring forward Danny Fortson in a trade with Dallas, and that wasn't expected to vault a 37-45 team into a playoff contender.

Ridnour was handed the reins of a team determined to play all 94 feet of the court, and the SuperSonics have taken off. The style plays to Ridnour's aggressiveness at both ends of the floor.

Offensively, Seattle is sixth in the NBA in scoring (100.7 per game) and leading the league in 3-point shooting. Defensively, they are allowing 3 points per game fewer than last season.

``Everyone understands how each other plays,'' said Ridnour, averaging 8.9 points and 6.2 assists per game. ``And, for me, I'm getting more comfortable with everyone as the season goes.''

Some NBA observers have even compared Ridnour in his second season to a young Steve Nash, suggesting that Ridnour in five years could be as good as the two-time All-Star.

``That's not a bad guy to be in five years,'' McMillan said.

Ridnour's rookie season wasn't very enjoyable at times. Returning to the state where he was a prep standout _ he won two state championships at Blaine High School near the Canadian border _ Ridnour sometimes found himself the odd-man-out among five guards battling for four spots in the rotation.

When Ridnour did get a chance, his play was inconsistent.

In his first professional start against Denver, Ridnour turned the ball over eight times. Later in the season, he handed out a career-high 13 assists against Dallas. Ridnour shot just 41 percent with an assist-to-turnover ratio that was barely 2-to-1 last season.

With the departure of free agent Brent Barry to San Antonio, Seattle's guard rotation became less competitive. When McMillan named Ridnour his starter, roles became more defined.

``A year ago, we had five guards for four spots,'' guard Antonio Daniels said. ``Now, Luke knows he's going to start and I know I'm going to back him up. When you know what your role is, it's a lot easier to do it.''

McMillan never doubted Ridnour's ability and the decision Seattle made in taking him out of Oregon with the 14th overall pick in the 2003 draft.

From the start, Ridnour's businesslike approach and his frenetic style impressed his coach. When McMillan decided to become more of a full-court team, he had no hesitation choosing Ridnour and his aggressive style, even though Daniels had more experience and led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio last season.

``There are some guards, some guys in the league that they play a lot of possessions, but they don't play every possession. I think Luke, as far as I see, plays every possession at both ends of the floor,'' McMillan said. ``He is always in tune with what is going on offensively and defensively.''

When Barry left for the Spurs, Ridnour seized the opportunity. He spent the summer improving physically and working on his shot.

Ridnour said he added 7-10 pounds of muscle in his upper body through lifting weights and improved his conditioning to handle an 82-game season. His shooting is still developing. He is making 41 percent of his 3-point attempts and he isn't afraid to take open shots.

And the topper? His mop-top, curly blond hair, has been sheered to a shorter trim. It was just something to change, Ridnour said.

But it reflects another part of Ridnour's maturation as a point guard, and his teammates have taken notice.

``Luke is not a guy that has a lot of junk with him. He's focused in on his game,'' Ray Allen said. ``He's all about what his goals are and that helps out a lot.''