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Upgraded roster is no help for

The SK Knights are off to a mediocre start this season despite upgrading its roster during the offseason.

The Knights were projected as the favorites to win the title this season along with the KCC Egis and the ET Land Elephants. Despite high expectations from fans and experts, SK head coach Shin Sun-woo had downplayed such expectations prior to the start of the season.

“We’re not one of the favorites to finish atop the league standings,” Shin had said. “Our goal is to reach the playoffs. I will be content if we manage to maintain a .500 winning percentage early on in the season.”

SK is nursing a 4-4 record after eight games, good for fifth place in the 10-team league. It’s as Shin predicted in training camp, but three of the four wins have come against the lowly Mobis Phoebus, Daegu Orions and KGC. Such a start to the season has raised questions about SK.

But SK has plenty of chances to turn some heads this season. The Knights boast a star-studded lineup capable of competing against the top teams in the league.

SK acquired free-agent shooting guard Kim Hyo-beom and center Terrence Leather during the offseason. Kim and small forward Bang Sung-yoon are two of the best shooters in the league.

Leather and all-star point guard Joo Hee-jung have been one of the best inside-outside threats in the league.

The starting lineup of Joo Hee-jung and Kim Hyo-beom at the guard positions and Bang Sung-yoon, Kim Min-soo and Leather in the front court is one of the top offensive starting fives in the history of the KBL.

Despite having several run-ins in the past, Leather’s character has not come into question so far this season.

Instead, Leather is averaging 21.9 points per game, which is good for second best in the league behind Samsung’s Aaron Haynes (31.3).

Leather and Kim Min-soo have been reliable in the front court and if they get stopped, Kim Hyo-beom is waiting in the wings to score from the perimeter.

So the question of why SK is off to such a mediocre start despite boasting one of the best starting fives in the history of the league remains. Some suggest a lack of unity on the team.

Shin has placed emphasis on getting his players to play as a team game instead of focusing on individual goals. But getting five talented players to sacrifice individual glory for the good of the team is easier said than done. It takes time for the players to get acclimated to each other.

“There’s a big difference from last season when the star players on the team seemed eager to take over games on their own,” said former head coach Choi In-sun. “Although they successfully got rid of last season’s problem, they have yet to find their identity yet. It’s a process that takes time.”

Said MBC color commentator Choo Il-seung: “When watching the SK Knights, it’s difficult to find players who are willing to sacrifice for the good of the team and take care of the dirty work. Their attack is mostly based on isolated one-on-one plays.”

Another area of concern for the Knights is their front court, which lacks size. Without a better game plan, SK may continue to struggle against teams like Dongbu, Samsung and KCC, which boast legitimate big men who can dominate the paint.

With the 2010 Asian Games coming up, SK - which does not have any national team players - can improve their record and also get some team training in during the Asian Games break (Nov. 11 to 28).


By Lee Jung-chan, Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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