- What Makes A Great Scorer?
- Top 10 Myths About Andrea Bargnani
- Jonas Valanciunas Is Like Two Cookies (and Amir)
- Is The Big Man Era Over In The NBA?
- What Would Einstein Say About the Raptors Trading for Rudy Gay?
- Seeing Through Colangelo's Reality Distortion Field (Part 1)
- Can The Raptors Contend Without Tanking?
- The Case Against Signing Steve Nash
- An Open Letter to Bryan Colangelo
- 5 Stupid Reasons NOT To Trade Bargnani
- The Gospel According to Allen Iverson
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Posted on May 21, 2013 | 2 Comments
So, Bryan Colangelo is no longer General Manager of the Toronto Raptors.
And while the incoming GM will have complete control over basketball decisions and report directly to Tim Leiweke, Colangelo is staying on as President of the Raptors, but will not have any say on basketball decisions.
If you’re a little confused about how this will work, you’re not the only one. Cathal Kelly, of the Toronto Star, wrote an interesting piece talking about some of the confusion. Meanwhile, Doug Smith is already sucking up to Wayne Embry, calling him the Babe Ruth of basketball (or something to that effect) and actually recommending he and Ed Stefanski stay on to run the team. Keep in mind that Embry is 76 years old and was the guy that traded Ron Harper and two first rounders for Danny Ferry and Reggie Williams, thus ending Cleveland’s march towards being a contender.
But I digress.
Now, I actually think that Colangelo would be very useful to an NBA team. While I don’t think he was a good team builder (or judge of basketball talent), his business acumen has been excellent. He kept the Raptors in the black despite constant losing, and certainly knows how to run a company.
I just don’t think he should be useful to THIS team.
Keeping him on just makes things way more complicated than they need to be. The roster is already a mess, with one of the highest payroll in the league and lowest performing team. They have more bad contracts than good, several of which might prove very difficult to even move. And they don’t have an All Star on the roster. Oh, and they either won’t have a lottery pick this year (after winning just 34 games) or next year, which is predicted to be one of the best drafts in the last decade or more.
It’s not as if the team situation is going to entice very many potential GM candidates.
In fact, I’d say the only team in a WORSE situation than the Raptors are the Nets. But at least they play in New York.
Add the fact that the old architect of the team is going to be staying on, and this might turn off a lot of people. Yes, I know that TECHNICALLY Colangelo will have no say over any basketball decisions, and I don’t doubt that is true. But how would you feel if you had to come in and fix a situation knowing that the guy who screwed it up will be standing there watching?
While I think Colangelo does have something meaningful to contribute, I just don’t think it’s worth the trouble keeping him on, quite frankly.
But this kind of screwed up situation has become the norm for the Raptors. Is it any wonder that the only two teams with fewer playoff appearances over the last 17 years than the Raptors are the Golden State Warriors, whose current situation looks lightyears better than the Raptors’, and the Charlotte Bobcats, who have been in the league eight fewer years?
I was as optimistic as anyone when Leiweke came on board, but so far, it’s the comedy of errors we’ve come to expect from MLSE and the Raptors. Maybe things will turn around for the franchise, and maybe this is where it starts, but it doesn’t look very good so far.
EDIT 2: Saw this Tweet: “@WolstatSun RT @bruce_arthur: Last thing: I was told this was not what Tim Leiweke wanted. It all seems very weird.”
So, keeping Colangelo on might not even have been Leiweke’s choice, which is VERY troubling. Leiweke was supposed to be in charge, but now that’s in question. Even more troubling is that Colangelo still has allies on the board. I don’t see this ending well.
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Posted on May 9, 2013 | 2 Comments
Note: This column was written before any of the second round games had been played and also appears on Raptors Republic.com
One round down and three more to go.
I absolutely love the playoffs. All my best NBA memories come from the playoffs. There’s nothing else in basketball like it. Purists bemoan the lack of team game in the NBA, the way the league can reward selfish play, how too many players mail it in during regular season games. It’s true. I can sometimes get bored watching regular season games where the players don’t seem to have much more of a stake in who wins than I do.
But the NBA playoffs is usually better basketball than you’ll see anywhere, including March Madness (that’s another column).
Even though the Raptors didn’t make it to the real NBA season, that doesn’t mean Raptor fans shouldn’t watch. The playoffs are not only a hell of a lot more fun to watch than the majority of the 82 Raptor games we had to slog through, there’s a lot you can learn from watching them. Here is a list of what I’ve learned (or had confirmed):
THE SPURS ARE BUILT FOR THE PLAYOFFS
I’m in awe of the Spurs organization. I will fully admit it. There was a time when I would predict the Spurs would win the title and be right half of the time.
For twelve years, ever since Tim Duncan came on board, the Spurs were in the top 3 in the league in defense. Then, due to an aging core and lack of good defenders, their defense slowly fell out of the top 3, then top 5, then top 10. Last season, The Spurs ranked 11th defensively, allowing 100.6 points per 100 possessions.
Meanwhile, to compensate, they increased their offensive efficiency until, last year, they became the most offensively efficient team of the league, up from 14th when they won their last title.
Gregg Popovich, however, realized that if they truly wanted to have a chance at another title, they needed to improve their defense. Of the last 22 teams that won a title, only one, the Dallas Mavericks, wasn’t in the top 10 defensively during the regular season (read this article for more details on what they felt they needed to improve and why).
While they did come into the season with more of a focus on improving certain things to help their defense, what I think changed the complexion of the team defensively was when Tiago Splitter was permanently inserted into the starting lineup in the middle of December. That’s when the Spurs’ defense really started clicking. Splitter is a much better interior defender than both Boris Diaw and DeJuan Blair, who saw his playing time plummet after the demotion.
When Duncan and Splitter are on the floor together, the Spurs have easily the stingiest defense in the league. And to make matters worse for the rest of the league, they kept their offensive efficiency up so that, at one point before injuries hit, they had the best offense AND the best defense in the league.
Splitter turned his ankle against the Lakers, but should be back for tonight’s game.
Watching the Spurs dismantle the Lakers was a thing of beauty (unless you’re a Lakers fan), but what may have been most impressive was how they didn’t let up in game four, when they easily could have.
The Spurs never let the Lakers have a chance to think they could win the game. They came out of the gate playing hard and won every quarter. With close-out games like this, especially for a team that has easily won the first three, how hard a team plays at the start of the game is a good indicator just what kind of team they are. The Knicks came out in game four against Boston lethargic and looking like a team that believed they had already wrapped up the game and the series. And then they went on to lose the next two.
And that’s why the Knicks should never have been considered a contender.
The Spurs, though, are the leagues best chance to beat the Heat in the Finals. Not only is their offense the most efficient and beautifully designed, and their defense one of the stingiest, what their close-out game against the Lakers showed is that they are professionals who take their job seriously.
Before the start of game four, Kenny Smith said that Gregg Popovich wouldn’t have to tell his players to play hard. That they just would. And that’s why the Spurs would win game four, which they obviously did. Smith was basically saying that the Spurs players were all self-motivating, so there was no need to have to try and motivate them.
Getting back to the Raptors, how many times have we read that if only this player were motivated or that player were motivated, then the Raptors would be better. The trick is not to motivate the players on your team. The trick is to have players you don’t actually need to motivate.
THE NUGGETS WERE NOT BUILT FOR THE PLAYOFFS
The Denver Nuggets won an astounding 57 games with a roster of players that didn’t include one player who made the All Star team (although to be fair, Andre Iguodala is a former All-Star and Ty Lawson will probably end up becoming one). and without a top 5 draft pick. The Nuggets were the shining example for fans of all those teams that didn’t have an elite player, but still wanted a great team.
George Karl deserves a lot of the credit for the Nuggets vastly overachieving during the regular season. He maximized the team’s strengths and minimized it’s weaknesses. The team had very little interior scoring, and few good outside shooters, which would normally be a recipe for disaster in the NBA, but Karl realized he also had an athletic roster, one of the fastest point guards in the league and an undersized power forward with boundless energy.
Unlike a lot of teams that try to run, the Nuggets still played good defense (finishing 11th in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions and 11th in opponent field goal percentage), anchored by their best defensive player, Iguodala. The fact that they gave up the the 7th most points per game in the league is deceiving, since they also scored the most points per game in the league. One of the things that made them successful, though, was the fact that they took an amazing 43% of their shots at the rim, shooting 66.4% there. They were took more shots at the rim than any other team and had the 8th best shooting percentage from that range.
The team that shot the next most shots at the rim, the Houston Rockets, shot 37% of their shots there and shots 64.8% there, which was 14th in the league.
If you can play some defense, and can shoot that many shots at the rim, shooting that high a percentage, you’re going to be successful in the regular season.
But then came the playoffs.
While everyone loved the Nuggets during the regular season, there were questions about how they would perform in the playoffs. Nuggets general manager, Masai Ujiri, even stated outright that despite winning 57 games, the Nuggets weren’t contenders. And he was right.
The Nuggets have three major weaknesses that would come back to haunt them in the first round against Golden State. They can’t shoot from the three (25th in the league in 3 point percentage), they can’t defend the three (11th in the league in percentage allowed, but first in the league in 3 pointers allowed) and they have no one who can score in the paint in a half court set. Those three are all killers in the playoffs.
Golden State shot 40% from behind the arc as a team. Plus, they had one thing the Nuggets didn’t have. An elite player.
When the chips were down, the best shooter in the league today, Stephen Curry, was able to hit the big shots for the Warriors, whereas the Nuggets by-committee play meant that no single person was expected to step up and no one really did.
No one should blame George Karl for failing to get a 57 win team past the first round of the playoffs (too much- I think he definitely got out-coached by Mark Jackson), because that’s not what they were built for. If Denver had played a team that would have slowed the pace down, the results would probably have been even worse. The only reason the Nuggets even had a chance against the Warriors is because the Warriors like to run, as well.
ANDREW BOGUT IS MORE VALUABLE THAN DAVID LEE
When David Lee went down with a hip flexor injury in game one against the Nuggets, it was definitely a disappointment. Lee was in his 8th season and was playing in the playoff for the first time in his career. Lee was having probably the most satisfying season of his NBA career, up until then. He was on the best team he’d ever been on, and made the All Star game for the second time. He’s an incredibly hard worker, scored 20 or more points forty times, during the season, and led the league in double doubles.
But David Lee is a horrible defender.
How bad? Watch this:
That’s right. Opposing players actually shoot BETTER at the rim when Lee is defending.
That’s why the Warriors traded for an injured Andrew Bogut last year, despite the fact that he had only two seasons where he played more than 69, and had two where he missed more games than he played. The fact is, he’s a very good interior defender and fundamentally sound big man who rebounds, passes, can shoot from outside and score in the post when needed.
In game six against the Nuggets, he scored 14 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and blocked 4 shots, plugging up the paint and preventing the Denver players from scoring where they love to most, at the rim.
Bogut’s importance to Golden State getting to the second round highlights my theory that, despite the way the NBA has changed, having a good two-way center is still very important in the NBA.
It’s highly unlikely that Golden State gets past the Spurs, but Bogut is only 28 years old and is one of the keys as to whether or not the Warriors can build on their playoff success. If he can stay healthy and be somewhere close to the player he was in 2010, then Golden State has a legitimate chance to become a real contender.
YOUTH IS NICE, BUT VETERANS WIN
Anyone who watched the last few minutes of game six of the Warriors-Nuggets game saw what happens when you have too much youth on the floor in clutch situations. The Warrior players were basically handing the ball to Denver on offense, and the Nugget players seemed to completely forget how bad they are at shooting threes. There were more bad decisions made in in the last two minutes than during an Amanda Bynes Twitter session.
The only player on either team who didn’t play poorly was Iguodala, who was one of the few players on the floor that had been in big playoff games before. It was as if neither team wanted to win, and were begging the other team to take the game.
On a side note, I understand keeping Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on the floor at the end, since they are the “greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the NBA“, but why on earth would Mark Jackson leave the rookie Draymond Green out there, especially to throw an inbound pass in the dying seconds with Denver trying to smother every Warrior player? It’s not as if Golden State didn’t have some veterans on the bench who probably wouldn’t have wilted under the pressure. There’s giving your guys experience and then there’s hanging the team out to dry at the worst time. They were lucky. If they had been playing the Spurs, San Antonio would have wiped the floor with them in those last two minutes.
I’ve always said the difference between a good team and a bad team is what they do in the last few minutes of a ball game. That’s why coaches tend to play veterans over young players, even when it seems to make no sense (cough*Casey*cough). They know that veterans tend to make better decisions than young players in the clutch.
Note to self: Figure out a way to determine how well veterans play in the clutch versus players with less experience.
The Raptors are a young team, but not that young. Both Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry have been in the league 7 years, now, and Amir Johnson just finished his eighth. The Houston Rockets they are not. Yes, Valanciunas was a rookie, and DeRozan just completed his fourth season, but I wouldn’t put too much weight on the idea the Raptors lost because they were too young. Adding more veterans to the team might certainly help, but doing that just to get into the playoffs doesn’t leave you many options to improve once you get there.
MAKING THE PLAYOFFS DOESN’T MAKE PEOPLE CARE ABOUT YOU
There is a line of thinking among some Raptor fans that if only they’d make the playoffs, they’d start getting attention outside of Canada and garner respect around the league. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.
Case in point, the Pacers-Hawks series.
If you watched that playoff series, then kudos to you, because you were one of the few outside of Indianapolis and Atlanta who did. And quite frankly, given the fact that they were the only playoff teams to finish in the bottom third in attendance, you were one of the few, including those in Atlanta and Indianapolis. And the Pacers are a good bet to get to the Conference Finals.
The Hawks won 44 games to make the playoffs for the 6th year in a row, have one of the best, all around big men in the league, in perennial All Star Al Horford, and will have more cap room than any other team in the league this summer. But no one cares about the Hawks. They’ll get in the news as one of the teams that went after, and failed to get, Dwight Howard, but then they’ll probably end up overpaying someone like Al Jefferson or Brandon Jennings, or simply re-sign Josh Smith for way too much money, and go back to being a mediocre team no one pays attention to.
Of course, if the Raptors had snuck into the playoffs, they most likely would have taken Milwaukee’s place as chum for the Miami Heat. Miami swept the Bucks, beating them by an average of 15 points over the four games. Let’s not forget that Milwaukee beat the Raptors in all three games they played against them. They have apparently the best interior defender in the league (see the video above), a “dynamic” backcourt, and the average age of their starting five is just 25 years old.
And nobody cares or talks about them.
And neither team is a place where free agents are lining up to go.
And no one is betting against either team falling into the lottery next year.
So while making the playoffs is nice, the whole “creating a winning culture” thing is overrated when you don’t have the talent to actually do something other than just make the playoffs year after year.
THE NETS ARE IN TROUBLE
Before the trade deadline in 2011, the Nets surprised the rest of the league when they traded Deron Williams, who most people didn’t even realize was available. Elite players like Williams are such a rare commodity that the Nets were willing to gut their team in order to acquire him. They traded Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, their 3rd pick, which turned out to be Enes Kanter, and a future first rounder for him.
While neither Favors or Kanter have set the league on fire, yet, they are both considered two of the leagues better up-and-coming big men. In fact, Bill Simmons had them 41st and 45th on his Top 50 Trade Value list. Deron Williams was just four spots better than Favors, on the same list, at 37th. I will admit that’s probably not the best way to argue a player’s worth, but the fact is that if you offer Williams or one of those two bigs to every team in the league, I’m guessing more than a few would pass on Williams and go for either Favors or Kanter. If you give them a choice between BOTH big men or Williams, I don’t know if there’s a team in the league that wouldn’t take the young big men. Including New Jersey.
Williams is still an elite player, but he has more than $80 million coming to him over the next four years. And there’s always the question of whether or not he can remain healthy. Even at his healthiest, he’s not the best defender in the league. When he’s hurt, which he has been for most of his time with the Nets, he’s a veritable sieve.
And you’d hope that when you pay him the kind of money he’s making, that he can help take the team past the first round.
But then you add Gerald Wallace, who the Nets gave up the 6th pick in the 2012 draft, which ended up being Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard. By the time the Nets traded for Wallace, his game, dependant almost entirely on his athletic ability, was already on the decline. This year, his game fell off a cliff. He averaged 7.7 ppg on .397 shooting (.282 from three). Oh, and he’s still owed more than $30 million over the next three years.
When the Nets traded for Joe Johnson, this summer, they basically went all in on acquiring massively overpriced, declining talent. And he rewarded them with his worst season in more than a decade. And he has $69 million owed to him over the next three years.
By the way, Billy King, the Nets GM, just got a four year extension.
The Nets situation is a great one to look at, if you’re a Raptors’ fan. A lot of fans feel that the team can trade for an elite player, but just look at the Nets. Actually look at the 76ers and Lakers, as well. All three paid a high price to acquire their elite players (Williams, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum) and not one of them have had much success with them.
Trading away lottery picks in order to win now can also backfire. At this point, it seems like the Raptors didn’t give up a Damian Lillard for Kyle Lowry, but we won’t know what the final result will be for a few years.
And lastly, the Nets skyrocketing payroll should be a huge warning to the Raptors. Just because you spend the money doesn’t mean it will help you win. You need to spend the money wisely.
Let’s hope MLSE doesn’t make the same mistake the Nets did when they extended King.
PREDICTIONS FOR THE SECOND ROUND
Miami vs Chicago: Miami in five
By stopping the behemoth that was the Miami Heat during their win streak, the Bulls, even with Derrick Rose, showed that they matchup well against the Heat. But the Bulls probably won’t win more than one game against a Heat team that has been dominant all season.
Indiana vs New York: Indiana in six
New York has home court advantage, but Indiana has to be the favourite. The Pacers feature the league’s stingiest defense, allowing just 99.8 points per 100 possessions and should be able to control New York’s isolation driven offense. Indiana’s offense, though, is inconsistent, at best, and if David West doesn’t have a good series, the Pacers might be in trouble.
Oklahoma vs Memphis: Memphis in seven
While Russell Westbrook is a flawed player who can hurt the Thunder almost as much as he helps them, you can’t go from Westbrook to Reggie Jackson and expect to weather Westbrook’s injury well. Without Westbrook, Scott Brook’s rather rudimentary offense has been exposed and Memphis’ defense will give them fits. Oklahoma could still win the series, but someone other than Kevin Durant is going to have to come up big.
San Antonio vs Golden State: San Antonio in four
As I said earlier, if Golden State had played like they did in the final minutes of game six in the first round against the Spurs, San Antonio would have made them pay dearly. Golden State is definitely a team on the rise and one to watch for, but San Antonio is playing some of their best ball since they last won a title and mistakes are few and far between with this team. If Stephen Curry gets hot, they might be able to sneak a win in, but even that is unlikely.
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Posted on April 26, 2013 | 1 Comment
Dear Tim Leiweke,
First of all, congratulations on your new job with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. I know you just landed the job, but before you unpack your bags, there’s something you really need to do.
You see, I am a Raptors fan.
I have been one since the day David Stern announced Toronto was getting an NBA team in September of 1993. I followed them through their expansion days when Damon Stoudamire was thrilling fans with his adrenaline fuelled game, during the golden days of the franchise when Vince Carter was electrifying the league and taking the team to new heights, then through the dark days when Carter was traded, when Rob Babcock’s transaction record started looking like a textbook example of what NOT to do, and when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points on a 27 win team that seemed to have completely lost it’s desire to compete.
As the old saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn, and just a few months after Kobe eviscerated the Raptors, it did look like dawn was finally coming for a moribund team who hadn’t even sniffed at the playoffs in four long seasons.
Bryan Colangelo was coming to Toronto to run the team.
I admit, I bought into the hype. I quickly forgot about the criticism I threw his way while running the Phoenix Suns for trying to win with a defensively flawed roster and a coach that seemed to believe defense should be an after thought. I knew the importance of defense to any team hoping to win a title. Since they began keeping defensive ratings for teams, only one team has won a Championship without being ranked in the top 5 during the regular season. That’s going back 40 years.
There’s a difference between trying to be innovative, and simply ignoring common sense.
But I wanted to believe. That’s why I wrote off Colangelo drafting Andrea Bargnani off as a difference of opinion (I was vehemently against it). Sure, I thought selecting a big man who was a poor rebounder and had bad defensive instincts was a recipe for disaster, but I trusted Colangelo.
I trusted him when he built a team whose ceiling looked rather limited, even after they won 47 games and the Atlantic Division title.
I trusted him when he made move after move that didn’t seem to make a whole lot of basketball sense at the time, or in hindsight.
I trusted him even though the team kept getting worse despite the moves he made.
I trusted him when he signed a 30 year old defensively challenged small forward with a history of motivational issues and a declining game to a 5 year, $53 million contract, to add to a team of defensively challenged players and start in the same frontcourt as Andrea Bargnani.
I trusted that he didn’t REALLY believe that team could win 50 games that year, because it was fairly obvious to anyone outside of his office that wasn’t going to happen.
I trusted him when, after losing Chris Bosh and trading away Hedo Turkoglu, it became evident he was trying to build around Bargnani, because I trusted he would realize that this was a disaster in the making.
Well, after a franchise record five year playoff drought, a team with the payroll of a contender, but the roster of a borderline playoff team, after trying to sell an inefficient, inconsistent and massively overpriced Rudy Gay as an elite player, I’ve had enough.
After seven years running the Raptors, it’s clear that Colangelo has no clue how to built a championship team. Or he’s given up trying, knowing he can take advantage of the Raptor fans loyalty.
Raptor fans deserve better.
Over the last five years, the Raptors are 14th in the league in attendance, despite averaging only 30 wins. That’s loyalty. And I’d say that deserves to be rewarded.
First things first. Colangelo has to go.
He’s a fantastic salesman, but we’ve had enough of him selling us lemonade and trying to convince us it’s wine. He’ll no doubt give you the whole song and dance that he needs to finish what he’s started. That he should be given another year to see what this roster he’s built can do with a full season.
But do we really need a full season to see what this roster can do? Gay isn’t the elite player Colangelo pretends he is. DeMar DeRozan isn’t the All Star Colangelo envisioned him to be, and certainly not worth the extension he was signed to. Not with the one-dimensional game he’s shown so far. Kyle Lowry couldn’t even beat Jose Calderon for the starting position until Calderon was traded away. He’s not a bad point guard, but maybe there’s a reason two previous teams gave up on him.
We’ve already given Colangelo seven years. He doesn’t need eight.
I hear that you might be considering Phil Jackson to replace him. I admit, I have no idea whether Jackson would be any good at running a franchise, since he’s got no front office experience. At this point, however, I’d be willing to overlook it if it means ending the Colangelo era. Raptor fans are that desperate.
I haven’t seen such a lack of hope among Raptor fans in a LONG time. It’s worse than when Bosh left town. Most of them see this team for what it is. A last gasp attempt by Colangelo to keep his job by trying to field a team that he can sell as competitive, even though being competitive is basically the upside for this crew.
Give the fans something to hope for. Maybe it’s a shot at Andrew Wiggins or even Jabari Parker. Raptor fans will be patient if you give them a reason to be. More than anything, they’d really like a chance at this…
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Posted on April 19, 2013 | No Comments
This also appeared on RaptorsRepublic.
“If you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a shit.”
Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, Moneyball
So the Raptors did what Brad Pitt’s character could never do, in their win against the Celtics last night. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what he actually had in mind.
It was fanapalooza night and the fans were treated to a good old fashioned blow-out. And while I have often criticized Raptor fans for being too emotional and too wrapped up in the moment, but I’ve also defended them as being among the most loyal in the NBA. And the most vocal.
Some sports writers, who shall remain nameless, will often throw out a Raptor comment knowing they get a lot of response from fans.
You go to any NBA forum and the Raptor boards are always the busiest.
This year, the Raptors had the 13th highest attendance in the league. And while that may not sound like much to be proud of, keep in mind that every team ahead of them had a better record, and either were in the playoffs this year or made the playoffs last year. The Raptors haven’t made the playoffs for the last 5 years.
Speaking of the fans, there have been a number of comments on this site criticizing the writers here, including me, for being too negative. Some feel we should write more positive stories. Personally, I’ve always felt I simply wrote what I saw, whether positive or negative. With the team missing the playoffs for the 5th straight year, and a team that many feel is built for mediocrity, I think many of us can be forgiven if the “negative” outweighs the “positive” because that’s a reflection of the team. The team won 34 games for the season and were out of the playoff hunt almost a month ago. If it wasn’t for the Raptors taking advantage of a few playoff teams who treated the last few games as nothing more than an exhibition season, the Raptors might have ended up with the same winning percentage as last year, despite adding $20 million in salary and three “core” players to the team.
And then I really listened to Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins talk during the game.
If you listen to any Raptor commentator, and take what they are saying to heart, reading what any other Raptor writer, outside of Doug Smith, has to say would probably be jarring. You see, the Raptor commentators are Raptor employees. When Michael Grange was interviewing Bryan Colangelo, in the halftime feature, this was an employee interviewing his boss.
They HAVE to say positive things about the team or else they’ll be fired.
That’s why you heard Leo Rautins refer to Andrea Bargnani as a workable asset that has trade value, and not the unwieldy contract that will be nearly impossible to move.
That’s why they kept talking up the Rudy Gay trade as if it was such a great move for the team, and not a panic move that is meant to save Colangelo’s job. The organization knows the criticism being levelled at them, and they have an avenue to dispute it without argument.
Of course, there was a game last night, and while Boston came into it with the same level of interest as the Hawks and Bulls before them, the Raptors did have the professionalism to give their fans a good send off.
There wasn’t really a Raptors that didn’t play well, but the player of the game was probably Jonas Valanciunas, who finished the night with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. As usual, he got to the line and played hard every minute he was on the court.
In one sequence, Valanciunas beat every other player up the court to catch a lob from Kyle Lowry for a fast break dunk. If anyone is worried that the Raptors playing a faster pace is not conducive to playing Valanciunas, I suggest you watch this play.
One interesting moment. After a play where Valanciunas fouled Shavlik Randolph, first John Lucas approaches him to explain why it was a foul, and then Alan Anderson. A good sign that his teammates want to help him, and that he’s open to their help.
While Valanciunas had another good game, teams are obviously starting to scout him. All four of his turnovers were due to Boston doubling him and either taking the ball from him or making him pass it. Next year is going to be a big adjustment as teams start sending double teams at him.
Another of Valanciunas’ weaknesses is his penchant for fouling, which is normal for rookie big men. After his second foul in the first quarter, Dwane Casey, as usual took him out. One criticism I’ve had of Casey all year long, is he’s too by-the-book when it comes to removing players with fouls.
It was the last game of the year. Wouldn’t it be a good time to let Valanciunas play with two fouls and see how reacts? What’s the worst that can happen? He gets another foul and sits the rest of the half.
While it’s obvious the Raptors played well, one issue I have with them is the number of times they take a quick three early in the clock. Last night, many of them went in, but that’s hurt them a lot over the course of the season. When you’re hot, that shot is fine. When you’re not, it can be a killer.
I could talk more about the game, but whether you like it or not, it was a meaningless game to finish off a pretty meaningless season. While ending the season going 7-1 might seem like a great thing, how a team plays at the end of a season generally has no bearing on how they do the next season. Worst of all, though, if there was any question before about whether MLSE would pick up Colangelo’s option, this probably seals the deal. And that’s not good news for any Raptor fans that care about building a REAL winning team.
So with the season over for the Raptors, I suggest that everyone watch as much playoff basketball as possible this spring. And make this past season a memory.
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Posted on April 15, 2013 | No Comments
This article also appears on Raptors Republic.
In a season that has been mostly disappointing, there have been a couple of bright lights for the Raptors. The biggest one is probably the play of Jonas Valanciunas. While he did have a couple of bumps in the road, including a couple of injuries that have caused him to miss a total of 19 games so far, most Raptor fans have a lot of optimism regarding his future.
The question is whether or not it’s warranted.
Let’s compare his current numbers to some of his contemporaries.
- 8th in scoring
- 2nd in field goal percentage
- 4th in free throw attempts and made
- 8th in free throw percentage
- 3rd in rebounding
- 3rd in blocks
- 5th in blocks per minute
- 3rd in double doubles
Those are obviously very great numbers, in comparison to the rest of the league’s rookies. To me, he seems a very good bet to me the All Rookie 1st team, which would make him the first Raptor to make it since Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa (wouldn’t that make a great bookend to Colangelo’s tenure in Toronto- most importantly let’s just get rid of him already).
Of course, basic stats don’t tell the whole story, and can often be misleading, so let’s dig a little deeper.
His Advanced Stats are also good. While he’s only got the 11th highest PER, among all rookies, and 10th in Rebounding Percentage, he’s 3rd in True Shooting Percentage, 4th in Win Share and 5th in Block Percentage.
Let’s see how he compares to a former Raptors big man who ended up becoming a perennial All Star, Chris Bosh:
|Jonas Valanciunas||Chris Bosh|
|Per 36 Minutes:||Per 36 Minutes:|
|13.3 ppg||12.3 ppg|
|9.1 rpg||8 rpg|
|Advanced Stats:||Advanced Stats:|
|PER: 15.4||PER: 15.1|
|TS%: .612||TS%: .513|
|REB%: 15||REB%: 12.8|
|Block%: 4.1||Block%: 3.1|
|Win Share/48: .126||Win Share/48: .119|
Bosh was a year younger than Valanciunas, when he came into the league, but it’s interesting to see how Valanciunas has an advantage in nearly all of the numbers, more than can be accounted for simply him being a year older. There are some who have questioned whether Valanciunas will be an All Star, but I think it’s not only a good possibility, I think, depending on health etc, I think it’s a good probability.
Valanciunas has shown the makings of a very good post game and his ability to get to the line is a great indicator of whether he can become a good scorer. Free throws attempted divided by field goals attempted is the best indicator of how well a player can get to the line, and it’s not dependant on how many minutes a player plays and how involved in the offense he is.
Top top scorers in the league generally have a FTA-FGA ratio of, at least, .350. Big men tend to have a higher ratio, especially big men who score inside. In Chris Bosh’s rookie season, he had a .405 ratio.
Valanciunas has a rate of .486. That means for nearly every two shots he takes, he gets to the line once. That’s the best rate among all rookies this year and that’s a great sign that he’ll be able to manufacture points, as he develops his offensive game. Add the fact that he had the 12th highest free throw percentage of any rookie center in NBA history (6-10 and taller), and that that’s even more encouraging.
For your post up center able to hit free throws at a decent rate is so important, especially at the end of games. Interestingly, Brook Lopez, who was an All Star this year for the Nets, is 11th all time for rookie centers, in free throwpercentage (Lopez also had a FTA-FGA ratio of .484).
On a side note, if Shaquille O’Neal had hit even 70% of his free throws, over the course of his career, he would have scored nearly 2,000 more points, which is the equivalent of scoring 24 ppg over an entire 82 game season.
Back to Brook Lopez, he’d be another good player to compare Valanciunas to, not just because they play in the same era, but because Lopez was 20 when he came into the league, and was also a rare, back to the basket center.
|Jonas Valanciunas||Brook Lopez|
|Per 36 Minutes:||Per 36 Minutes:|
|13.3 ppg||15.4 ppg|
|9.1 rpg||9.6 rpg|
|Advanced Stats:||Advanced Stats:|
|PER: 15.4||PER: 17.9|
|TS%: .612||TS%: .568|
|REB%: 15||REB%: 15.8|
|Block%: 4.1||Block%: 4.9|
|Win Share/48: .126||Win Share/48: .112|
Now, Lopez had a little better stats, right across the board, including, interestingly enough, in rebounding, an area which he has been below average in the rest of his career. Lopez had the advantage of playing on a team with two All Stars (Vince Carter and Devin Harris-in his only All Star appearance), both of whom could shoot the three.
Still I think it does give an indication of what the future could hold for Valanciunas. Considering the scoring touch he’s shown, as well as his ability to rebound the ball and defend, as well as his renowned work ethic, I don’t see how you can argue he won’t one day make an All Star team.
To end things off, I thought I would see how Valanciunas compares, historically, with other 20 year old, or under, centers statistically.
Valanciunas is 1st all-time in true shooting percentage, 9th in ppg, 10th in rpg, 3rd in free throw percentage, 9th in PER, 9th in Block% and 6th in Win Share/48.
While the future may not be very bright for the Raptor franchise as a whole, at least we have Valanciunas. And that’s a lot better than a cookie.
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