9 Seattle Supersonics High-flying, hardworking Desmond Mason gets a shot at forming a dynamic backcourt with Gary Payton and perhaps becoming the team's next star

October 28, 2002

Winning the NBA slam-dunk contest doesn't always mark a player
for stardom; for every Michael Jordan there's a Harold Miner. As
a rookie two years ago Sonics shooting guard Desmond Mason won
the competition by leaping a human hurdle, teammate Rashard
Lewis, who was bent over and covered his head in his shirt, en
route to a thunderous one-handed jam. "In athleticism he's
probably in the top five in the league," Lewis says of Mason. "He
reminds me of Dominique Wilkins. He plays hard and can jump out
of the gym."

Mason's work ethic is what sets him apart from the Miners of the
world. He works hard and studies, just as he did as a studio art
major at Oklahoma State. (He sold a charcoal drawing of his
favorite actor, Al Pacino, to NBA commissioner David Stern for
$2,500.) So when he says that he learned something during his
up-and-down first two seasons in the league, you believe him. "My
rookie year was kind of an experiment," he says. "You get a feel
for your game and see what you can and what you can't do. Once I
found that out, I knew what I needed to work on. Last year I
became a little better shooter and a little better ball handler."

His scoring average jumped from 5.9 points as a rookie to 12.4
last season, and at times he was dominant. In an April 8 game
against the Clippers, Mason poured in 36 points on 16 of 22
shooting, including the game-winning jumper that clinched a
playoff spot for Seattle. His ability to take over a game is one
reason why coach Nate McMillan hopes Mason eventually unseats
starting shooting guard Brent Barry (another former slam-dunk
champion), who is coming off a season in which he averaged a
career-high 14.4 points and ranked among the top 10 in the league
in three-pointers, steals and field goal percentage.

Over the summer Mason didn't spend as much time in the gym as he
would have liked, because in August he married his college
sweetheart, Andrea, in Hawaii, and then honeymooned in Bora Bora.
But it was clear to McMillan in camp that Mason had heeded his
advice and found time to improve his ball handling. "I felt
developing that would make him a very dangerous player," says
McMillan, who even played Mason at point guard during camp. "He
looks very sharp."

McMillan is particularly interested to find out if Mason can team
with Gary Payton to give the Sonics the one-two punch they will
need to compete in the superstar-heavy Western Conference. "For
years we've always had two All-Stars here: Gary and Shawn Kemp,
Gary and Vin Baker, Gary and Xavier McDaniel, Gary and Dale
Ellis," the coach says. "We don't have that now. We have Gary.
Which of our young guys is going to emerge and develop into a
dominating player? Will it be Mason, will it be Lewis, will it be
Vladimir Radmanovic, will it be Jerome James? They'll all have an
opportunity." --Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES ELEVATION Former slam-dunk champ Mason had to come back to earth and improve his ball handling skills.

FAST FACT
Brent Barry made more threes last season (164) than any player
who has shot better than 50% from the field. (He shot 50.8%.)

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the SuperSonics

"With Vin Baker gone they are going to try to clear out the middle
to make room for their scorers to run cuts and pick-and-rolls.
Trading Baker [to the Celtics] was necessary: There was a bad
aura around him that carried over to the other players, plus he
demanded the ball and took a lot of time when he got it, which
bogged down the offense. But as a big man who can guard fours and
fives, he will be missed at the other end of the court. That lack
of force might keep Seattle out of the playoffs.... Against the
bigger teams they'll have to go with Calvin Booth's length or
Predrag Drobnjak's bulk at power forward; Booth missed all but 15
games last year, so they don't even know what they have there. I
know they were mad at Jerome James for signing a new contract and
then showing up in poor shape.... They'll be at their best on the
nights when they're able to go small with Vladimir Radmanovic as
a power forward on the perimeter.... I wouldn't make too much of
Gary Payton's contract demands. No matter what's going on off the
court, when the game starts he's yapping at everybody and running
the team as always.... Kenny Anderson will be a surprisingly big
help, because it's been years since they've had a true backup to
Payton. He should play at least 15 minutes a game and is
versatile enough to play shooting guard.... Brent Barry is a
steadying influence. You'll see him bringing the ball up and
initiating the offense at times.... I see a big improvement in
Desmond Mason's confidence, particularly with his jump shot. That
might be important, because they've got to be worried about
Rashard Lewis after he separated his left shoulder last spring
and aggravated it again this preseason.... Nate McMillan is
succeeding because he's a calm leader, which is how he was as an
NBA point guard. If he says something in a heated moment, his
players listen because he does it so rarely."

DEFENSIVE RATINGS

Tough D
PAYTON

Fair D
LEWIS
BOOTH

No D
DROBNJAK
BARRY

PROJECTED LINEUP
2001-02 record: 45-37 (fourth in Pacific)
Points scored: 97.7 (6th) Points allowed: 94.7 (12th)
Coach: Nate McMillan (third season with Sonics)

STARTERS PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS

SF Rashard Lewis 25 16.8 ppg 7.0 rpg 1.46 spg 46.8 FG% 38.9 3FG%
PF Predrag
Drobnjak 223 6.8 ppg 3.4 rpg 0.8 apg 0.48 bpg 46.1 FG%
C Calvin Booth 276 6.2 ppg 3.6 rpg 1.1 apg 0.87 bpg 42.7 FG%
SG Brent Barry 79 14.4 ppg 5.3 rpg 5.4 apg 1.81 spg 50.8 FG%
PG Gary Payton 10 22.1 ppg 4.8 rpg 9.0 apg 1.60 spg 46.7 FG%

BENCH PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS

G-F Desmond Mason 64 12.4 ppg 4.7 rpg 1.4 apg 0.89 spg 46.4 FG%
G Kenny
Anderson[1] 128 9.6 ppg 3.6 rpg 5.3 apg 1.86 spg 43.6 FG%
F-C Vladimir
Radmanovic 164 6.7 ppg 3.8 rpg 0.92 spg 41.2 FG% 42.0 3FG%
C Jerome James 262 5.3 ppg 4.1 rpg 0.4 apg 1.54 bpg 49.1 FG%
F Ansu Sesay 304 6.4 ppg 2.2 rpg 0.9 apg 0.33 spg 50.0 FG%

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)

ANDERSON WILL BE A BIG HELP. IT'S BEEN YEARS SINCE THEY'VE HAD A
TRUE BACKUP FOR PAYTON.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)