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Posted on November 30, 2009 | 33 Comments
Well, as I predicted before the regular season started, the Raptors have finished the month of November struggling out of the gate. I also predicted that Raptor fans would be clamouring to `fix’ the team by this time, and that seems to have come true, as well. It’s been happening on and off all season (not coincidentally, peaking when the Raptors lose), and started to really hit it’s stride with that horrifying, horrifying loss against Charlotte that I didn’t even want to talk about, and has reached a climax after their second three game losing streak.
It’s no secret what the main problem is. My four year old daughter, who is under the mistaken impression (although one I am reluctant to correct) that I play basketball with those NBA teams she sees on TV, can see the Raptors are struggling on defense, to put it mildly. Already, the Raptors have allowed Orlando, San Antonio, Indiana, Charlotte, Miami, Dallas to score more points on them than anyone else in the league so far. Yes, nearly one-third of the teams the Raptors have played have scored more points against the Raptors than anyone else. And the Raptors came out with a win only once (against Indiana).
Another problem is rebounding, especially trying to keep opposing players off the offensive boards at key times. If the recent games showed anything, it’s that boxing out is a term many Raptor players think refers to the day after Christmas. If it wasn’t for Bosh fighting with Dwight Howard for the league lead, Toronto’s rebounding issues would be even a bigger problem than they are.
Of course, it’s one thing to point out problems, it’s another to try and fix them. Since none of us are on the coaching staff (as far as I know), and can’t actually take Bargnani aside and show him how to box out or which man to rotate to on defense, Raptor fans have come up with other ways to fix the Raptors problems. Today, I’ll discuss the ways, other than through trades, that have been brought up on various websites, to improve the Raptors’ fortunes.
CHANGE THE STARTING LINEUP
One of the most common demands fans have made is to alter the starting lineup. It started almost immediately when Jose struggled and comes up whenever they play a bad game (why doesn’t it happen after wins?). The call to trade Calderon quieted when he started putting up his expected numbers, but also because Jarrett Jack wasn’t exactly impressing with his play. That’s also changed fairly recently, of course, and now people are again talking about thrusting Jack into the starting lineup. Big surprise.
There are three fairly common and seemingly well backed up arguments about lineup changes that I’ve heard/read recently.
Moving Jack into the starting lineup would improve the defense of the starting lineup. The cost, of course, is on the offensive end, where Calderon is the better passer and shooter. Proponents of this point to the fact that Turkoglu can initiate the offense more, which would increase his value on the court. It’s really hard to argue the facts of this argument, because it’s all true. Jack is a better defender and would improve the defense of the starting lineup and moving Calderon to the bench would improve the offense of the second unit. It isn’t a perfect solution, however, which I’ll get to later.
One of the most common calls is for Triano to bring DeRozan off the bench. That in itself seems like a sound idea, except there’s a second part to that equation. Who do you start in his place? Well, since defense is the main problem, the most common call is for Antoine Wright to step in and start. He’s got the reputation as the best defender on the team and started for the 50 win Mavericks last year. Of course, there is the small issue of his shooting percentage, which might very well be the worst among any rotation player in the league. He’d need a perfect game from the field against Washington just to get UP TO 30%. That’s really, really bad and what’s even worse is he doesn’t seem to realize he’s shooting badly and continues to take forced shots that are not going to bring his average up. No, Wright needs to play less, not more.
Belinelli is probably playing the best basketball of all the shooting guards, and is actually been half decent, for the most part, on defense, so it would seem that he would be the best player to start at shooting guard. Unfortunately, his two best attributes (shooting and playmaking) are already well supplied by other starters and much more needed coming off the bench. Starting Belinelli might help the starting unit, but hurt the team as a whole, and not make the best use of Belinelli’s skills.
Weems has played sparingly and is second on the team in shots attempted per minute (shooting at a higher rate than Bargnani), so perhaps giving him more minutes might not be the best idea.
The thing is DeRozan is actually not playing too badly and is the best rebounding wing the Raptors have. On a team where your starting center and small forward average a COMBINED 11 rebounds a game, it’s important to have a good rebounder at SG. He’s also shooting a decent percentage, and gets to the line at a pretty good rate. Basically, he’s the best combination of rebounding, scoring and defending that the Raptors have at SG. He doesn’t demand a lot of shots and his athleticism is a great compliment to the rest of the starters.
There have been a few vocal supporters of benching Bargnani on a few websites, and it’s a move that does make a lot of sense. Replacing Bargnani with, say, Amir Johnson would immediately bring improvement to the starting lineup’s two biggest weaknesses. Bosh has shown he’s big enough now that he can guard (and often does) the opposition’s biggest player. The Raptors can spare the scoring in the starting lineup and Bargnani would give the Raptors more scoring off the bench.
The main problem with benching Bargnani is Bargnani himself. He’s never played well off the bench, and there’s a real danger in shattering his confidence. Bargnani’s production seems to be directly tied to his confidence, which he’s never displayed a whole lot of. He’s always been affected by things around him more than other players. Bargnani didn’t start producing consistently until he was thrust into the starting center position, due to Jermaine O’Neal’s injury. He knew, no matter what he did, he’d stay on the floor because there basically wasn’t any choice. Sure, it may seem like a lame reason, but when you give a guy a $10 million a year contract, you need to protect your investment. And Bargnani is way more valuable to the team when he’s producing than when he’s not.
The other problem with benching Bargnani in favour of Amir is that Amir is currently 4th in the league in fouls per minute. Chances are, it won’t be long, anyway, before Bargnani is brought off the bench since Amir won’t last long before committing his first foul or two. Really, what’s the difference between Bargnani starting and coming off the bench after 5 minutes. He’ll still end up playing the majority of the minutes, and if Amir starts, there’s a better chance he’ll be in foul trouble during the fourth quarter, when he’s most needed.
The thing about making any starting lineup moves is that it reeks of panic. Consistency is one of the main ingredients of success in the NBA, and on a team with so many new players, maintaining a consistent starting lineup is the best thing that Triano can do. It would be easy for Triano to make a knee jerk reaction and make some moves, but he should be lauded for staying consistent.
Another issue about making lineup changes is they don’t tend do do a whole lot in the long run. No matter who starts, it’s not as if the player’s minutes are going to change much. No matter where Bargnani plays, he’s going to end up playing around 30 mpg because the Raptors need his scoring and don’t have anyone else that can stay on the court that long. Besides, do the Raptors really play that badly at the beginning of games? Is starting Jack really going to help the Raptors late in the third, when they sometimes let the other team go on a run?
No, unfortunately changing the Raptors starting lineup isn’t going to help matters. Not with the roster the Raptors have, which I’ll get to later.
Some Raptor fans seem to ignore the fact that the Raptors have three below average defenders (yes, I’m admitting that Calderon has been below average this season defensively), and a rookie, in their starting lineup and put the blame on Triano.
Fans of bad teams seem to think that changing coaches is a magical elixir. It’s not. Look at the bottom three teams in the Eastern Conference: New York, Washington and New Jersey. All three (up until the Nets fired Lawrence Frank) had excellent coaches that Raptor fans have either wanted to hire at one time or another, or pointed to as the type of coach the Raptors should hire. Now, neither New York or New Jersey have an overly talented roster, but the Knicks are certainly playing below expectations, and the Nets are two, with two possible All-Stars on their team (if their record were better), in Harris and Lopez.
No matter what Raptor fans may think, changing coaches isn’t going to change what needs to be changed on this team.
I’m reading this stupid, stupid idea again over at Raptors Republic by Raptor fans who apparently know less about the NBA than my four year old daughter (see above). I wasn’t even going to dignify this suggestion until I read a number of comments about it. Anyone who thinks signing an over-the-hill, undersized ball hog who can’t play defense anymore to a team that needs to improve it’s defense and chemistry should be banned from even watching basketball games because it’s obvious you get about as much out of it as Antoine Walker does from a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting.
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