How To Fix The Raptors (Conclusion)

Posted on December 3, 2009 | No Comments

When I started this, the team had lost three in a row and fans were grumbling.  Now they have lost five in a row, two of which include incredibly embarrassing blowouts and things have become almost apocalyptic. The calls to fire Triano, bench or trade Calderon, Bargnani or Bosh or fire Colangelo are reaching deafening heights (mixed metaphor, I know).

Now, there IS something wrong with the Raptors. There’s no doubt of that. They’ll never be a great team with the present personnel because they’ll never be a great defensive team with these players, and you can’t be a great team without being able to play great defense. It’s a simple fact. And with the Raptors losing by an AVERAGE of 20 ppg their last five games, something needs to be done right now, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

In my Prediction #2, I incorrectly stated that the Raptors started the 06-07 season with a 7-13 November. There are two things wrong with this statement. The first is that they only played 15 games that November, so they obviously didn’t go 7-13, and actually started the season going 7-14. Yes, that was the season they won 47 games and won the Atlantic Division. That was also the same season they had a complete roster overhaul when Colangelo came on board.

I just want to, again, reiterate that the Raptors started that season 7-14, as the current Raptors stand at 7-13.

There are some striking similarities between those two teams. The 06-07 team had just four returning players (Bosh, Calderon, Graham and Sow), and had a lot of European players (Nesterovic, Bargnani, Garbajosa and Parker, who, while not European, had spent the majority of his career in Europe). They struggled, at first, trying to find an identity, and fans and media alike started to make dire predictions and outrageous demands when they started the season badly.

Of course, there are two main differences between that team and this one. The 06-07 team was veteran laden, with only 4 players, in the top ten in minutes played, aged 25 or under, and the average age being 26.5 years old. The current team has 7 players 25 years of age or under with the average age being 24.8 years old. That’s a big difference, especially in the NBA. I just don’t think fans grasp how young this team is. The top ten players playing for Memphis average only a slightly less 24.4 years. This team is young and young teams generally don’t prosper in the NBA. On the other end of the scale, you’ve got the Spurs, whose top ten averages 30.2 years old. The Raptors have just one player who is older than the Spurs average- Turkoglu- who just barely makes it.

To make matters worse, only three players on the entire roster have ever played significant minutes on a team that has gone past the first round, and one of them is Nesterovic, who, at this point, plays just a little more than Patrick O’Bryant. And Wright didn’t exactly burn up the minutes during the two playoff series he played that went to the second round (one of them was against Toronto). So the team is young with very little playoff experience.

The other big difference between this team and the 06-07 team is that the 06-07 team had solid defensive players. Three of the starters were, at the time, above average defenders, especially team defenders, and T.J. Ford and Bosh were not bad defenders. Average, at worst. On the present team, the BEST defender in the starting lineup is probably Bosh, who is probably just slightly above average defensively.

Before the season started, I predicted that the Raptors would end up being a half decent defensive team. Not a ringing endorsement, but one, with the roster the Raptors have, that seemed a little far out. It seems even more so, now. The biggest reason, in my opinion, that the Raptors are as bad defensively now, is the play of Bargnani.  I know, it’s become common around here for me to bash Bargnani, but he’s become the elephant in the room that I have to talk about.

I’ve stated many times, including in my last couple of posts, that I’m not a big Bargnani fan. I thought it was was mistake to draft him and I don’t think a soft, jumpshooting 7 footer who rebounds on a semi-quasi-inconsistent basis and who can’t seem to understand defensive rotations or even box his man out is ever going to be a very good player no matter what he does on the offensive end.

It’s not like Triano hasn’t noticed what I have. In the last ten games, he’s played less than 30 minutes in half of them, after playing less than 30 minutes only once in the first ten games. He’s been playing less in the fourth quarter, as well, especially in close games, as his defensive deficiencies are hurting the team more and more.

If anyone has to go, it’s got to be Bargnani. Moving him to the bench or cutting his minutes even more is going to kill his confidence and make him even more untradeable. It’s not that he can’t be a valuable contributor, but not on this team, and it’s easier to get rid of him, than trade everyone else. Unfortunately, I don’t know if now is the right time to do anything. Trade options are at a minimum at this time of year, and dumping Bargnani for nothing isn’t going to help. I think Colangelo needs to start looking at trades in January and try and change the defensive culture of this team. My guess is that he already is.

In the mean time, we just to hold on. Maybe a temporary lineup change to shake the team up. If I was Triano, I might start Jack, Johnson and maybe even Belinelli for a game or two. Just to shake the team out of it’s funk. That’s not to say Triano should do it. It’s just what I would do. But I’m not an NBA head coach and don’t pretend to be.

Despite what fans may think, the Raptors still have plenty of time to turn things around. It’s not as dire as it seems and the apocalypse isn’t coming. It just seems that way.

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