Second-year Sonic follows footsteps of Suns' veteran as NBA's top teams meet on Friday.
Sonics general manager Rick Sund likes to boast that the core of his team consists of young players who are unfinished basketball products.
“The team that we have now, if we stay together, is not going to be the same team in a few years,” he said. “Now you hope to hit on all of them, but if just one or two mature into the player that we have in mind, then you have something there.”
To the Sonics’ way of thinking, Rashard Lewis, if he continues along at his current pace, will draw favorable comparisons to Scottie Pippen. Vladimir Radmanovic is on track to become the next Peja Stojakovic. Rookie Nick Collison is a poor man’s Kevin McHale.
And then there’s Luke Ridnour.
Since starring at Blaine High and Oregon, he has always been linked to Steve Nash, the wiry-thin point guard who has steered the Phoenix Suns (19-3) to the top of the NBA standings this season.
“We loved the guy (Ridnour), just loved him in the draft,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said yesterday. “He has a chance of doing what Steve is doing. Normally few point guards can be dangerous offensively and run the team.
“You have the types that are dangerous with their shot but can’t get everybody else involved. The special ones can do both. Steve is one of those special ones, and it looks like Luke is getting to that point.”
The similarities between the dynamic point guards, who clash tomorrow when the Suns meet the Sonics (18-4) at KeyArena, begin with their backgrounds.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nash grew up in Victoria, B.C., about a couple of hours from Ridnour’s home in Blaine.
They share similar body types. Nash is slightly taller, 6 feet 3 to Ridnour’s 6-2, and he’s 20 pounds heavier than the 175-pound Sonics guard.
Nash, a two-time All-Star, was chosen 15th by the Suns in the 1996 NBA draft, and Ridnour was selected 14th by the Sonics in 2003.
They are elusive and exceptionally quick on the court.
But from there, the common thread begins to give way.
Nash had been an avid soccer player largely because his father and brother played the sport professionally. Then Nash picked up basketball and starred at tiny Santa Clara.
As a child, Ridnour had a single-minded pursuit to play in the NBA. But he also avoided the traditional collegiate powerhouses and played at Oregon.
Their NBA careers have taken divergent paths.
Nash didn’t earn a starting position until the Suns traded him to the Dallas Mavericks after his second season, while Ridnour has started every game in his second season.
“A lot of times, people compare me to Steve because he’s a skinny white point guard and, coming in, I was a skinny white point guard,” Ridnour said. “I’m not as skinny as I used to be, but that’s where a lot of that comes from.
“The way he plays, I kind of play like that. I took some things from him, like how he keeps his dribble when he goes through the lane. He made himself a good player, and I think that’s how I am. I’ve always played hard and played a lot knowing that for me to be good, I had to work hard.
“People will always judge you before they see you, especially here in the NBA and in the draft,” Ridnour said. “… I don’t think color has anything to do with it, but guys like myself and Steve Nash, we have to prove night in and night out that we belong because we may not look like everybody else.”
As a teenager, Ridnour routinely traveled to Seattle to play basketball against inner-city kids who doubted his abilities.
He grew up idolizing Gary Payton, but John Stockton gave him hope that he could make a living in a league where the majority of the players are black.
“John Stockton was the first one really, of late, that opened the door and had people thinking that point guards can come in all shapes, sizes and colors,” Ridnour said. “Steve Nash has opened the door up for guys like me. To continue to have guys have success that are small and not from major schools and are white, I think that opens the door for other people to look at this and believe maybe they can do it.”
Nash and Ridnour are nearly half of a small fraternity of white starting NBA point guards. The others include the Los Angeles Clippers’ Marko Jaric, Memphis’ Jason Williams and Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich.
“The numbers are low because I think it’s what people perceive when they look at you on the court,” Ridnour said. “I don’t think color has anything to do with it. Other people will try to make you believe that, but it’s not true.
“It does help having Steve Nash have the kind of success that he’s had over the past five years. People are always looking for someone who plays like that. And when you find someone, then the last thing you notice is color.”
Nash leads the league in assists (11 per game), and the Suns are the highest-scoring team (109.5 points).
Ridnour is partly responsible for the Sonics’ up-tempo attack that averages 100.2 points. He leads Seattle with 6.0 assists per game and has increased his three-point accuracy from 33.8 last season to 39.0.
“He can pick up some things from Steve. But as I told him, he has to create his own identity,” Sonics coach Nate McMillan said. “Not so much getting away from Steve as opposed to (getting) the team he’s with to play the style he wants that team to play because he’s the future.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Tale of the Tape|
|Stats are for this season.|