Packing a 1-2 punch: Sessions steps in, excels at both guard positions
It’s a lot to ask of the 56th pick in the 2007 National Basketball Association draft, a player who was fortunate to be drafted at all.
Hey, Ramon, we need you to play both the point guard and shooting guard spots. Michael Redd goes down for the rest of the season; can you slide over to start as the 2 guard?
Then Luke Ridnour gets hurt.
Wait a minute, Ramon, we need you at the point again. Can you score 44 against the Pistons?
Ramon Sessions has done all that this season while learning on the job in his first extended pro basketball experience. His latest revelation was a 44-point, 12-assist, five-rebound night against Detroit in the Bucks’ 126-121 overtime loss on Saturday.
It was the first time a Bucks player had gone for 40-10 since Sam Cassell finished with 40 points and 10 assists in a double-overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls on March 3, 2001.
“It was like a layup line out there,” Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva said of Sessions’ performance. “He’s a tremendous player; he’s 22 years old and he’s only going to get better.
”We need him to be that aggressive at all times, especially when we have key players missing.“
Even Bucks coach Scott Skiles was impressed.
”He was able to penetrate and get right to the point of the rim,“ Skiles said. ”That’s where he’s very good; Ramon’s a very good finisher.
“It’s one thing to run a high pick-and-roll and beat the initial guy, but he did an outstanding job of keeping the pressure on them. Even when guys came at the rim, he was able to do his reverse layups and he was very creative in there.”
Sessions didn’t flinch when Ridnour went down on the last play of practice on Thursday. Ridnour suffered a fractured right thumb that will keep him out around four weeks.
It meant a switch back to Sessions’ regular position and a battle against Pistons all-star Allen Iverson, who finished with 27 points and nine assists while leading Detroit’s late-game surge.
“I was wishing we could have gotten the win instead of those 44 points,” Sessions said. “I went about it as a regular day. Things didn’t really change; everybody just had to step up a little more. I was just trying to get guys shots and get my shot when I could.”
In the previous two games, Sessions drew the primary defensive assignment against two all-star-caliber shooting guards: Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks and Vince Carter of the New Jersey Nets.
Johnson shot 8 for 23 as the Bucks beat Atlanta, and Carter excelled with a triple-double, even though he hit only 3 of 12 shots in the Nets’ 99-85 victory over Milwaukee.
“That was a tough one,” the 6-foot-3 Sessions said of being matched up with the 6-6 Carter, an eight-time NBA all-star. “I grew up watching him. To go out and play against him was a dream come true.”
Sessions’ ascent this season has surprised many observers, after he played in just 17 games with the Bucks as a rookie and spent time in the NBA Development League. The former Nevada player and native of Myrtle Beach, S.C., showed glimpses with a franchise-record 24-assist game against Chicago at the end of last season, and also with a buzzer-beating shot to beat the Washington Wizards.
But it was hard to know how significant those achievements were, coming as they did at the end of a dismal Bucks season.
His numbers this season are more telling and could earn him a multiyear deal in the offseason, although it will be a challenge for the Bucks to sign the soon-to-be restricted free agent.
Sessions is averaging 11.4 points and 4.5 assists in 25.1 minutes per game, having started 50 games and making 10 starts. It’s likely he will continue to play at both guard spots, particularly when Ridnour returns from his injury next month.
In his six starts since Redd was injured and lost for the rest of the season on Jan. 24, Sessions has averaged 20.8 points and 6.0 assists.
“I think Ramon naturally is a guard,” Skiles said. “I don’t think he really is a 1 (point guard) and I don’t think he’s a 2. I think he’s just a guard. That’s the way the league used to be; guys did both.
”I like guys like that. Actually his best minutes have come when there’s been another point guard on the floor with him.
“But you’ve got to put on a little different hat sometimes when you’re the primary ball-handler. When you’re playing off the ball, you can look to do some other things. He’s done a nice job of balancing it, particularly for a guy who’s basically in his rookie year.”
Sessions doesn’t have great range on his jump shot but is adept at getting into the lane and finishing at the rim or drawing fouls.
And he is making his free throws, hitting 80% of his attempts (173 of 215). Most amazing, his 215 attempts rank second on the team, behind only Richard Jefferson’s 303 free throws.
Sessions set career highs with 18 free throws made and 21 attempts against Detroit, and both were team bests for the Bucks this season.
“He needs to continue to work on running our whole offense instead of just sort of his plays,” Skiles said. “He’s getting better all the time. Anybody can see that. And his performance (Saturday) is very impressive.”
Sessions played for Tulsa in the D-League last season and benefited greatly from the tutelage of former DePaul coach Joey Meyer, who was the team’s coach. Sessions averaged 21.1 points, 7.6 assists and 6.5 rebounds in 24 games with Tulsa. After being recalled by the Bucks on Feb. 1 last year, he suffered a broken left hand that kept him out of the lineup for three weeks.
Sessions hopes to continue a tradition of Bucks second-round picks who have found success. Redd was the 43rd overall selection in the 2000 draft, and promising forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was the 37th overall pick last year.
As the No. 56 pick in 2007, Sessions wasn’t far removed from the 60th and final pick in the draft. The Bucks acquired that draft choice in a February 2005 deal that sent guard Mike James to the Houston Rockets, a trade that was made to clear salary cap room to sign Redd to a multiyear deal.
“Being in my situation last year, being picked 56th, I really didn’t know what to expect, if I’d be around,” Sessions said. “I’m just trying to maintain and be ready every game.”