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- The Case Against Signing Steve Nash
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Posted on May 21, 2012 | 3 Comments
After the first part of the Raptors final grades of the season, where we looked at Alabi to DeRozan, I’ve finally been able to post part 2 of this exciting (now) 3 part series. I even look at Jonas Valanciunas and talk about whether or not he has the potential to be a franchise player…
Gary Forbes: Needs Improvement
Forbes was supposed be a fairly key offseason acquisition for the Raptors. We’re not talking Hedo Turkoglu, here, or even Jason Kapono, but Forbes was thought to be a talented offensive player that just needed minutes to produce. Unfortunately he was as big a disappointment as anyone on the team, and by the end of the season was ahead of only Rasual Butler, who was waived, on the depth chart.
To be fair, Forbes was used too much as a backup point guard, when the Raptors were injury depleted at that position, and he is simply not suited for that position. He did shoot the ball from beyond the arc at a fairly respectable clip (.349) and showed a pretty decent ability to score and rebound the ball.
An interesting note. These are Forbes’ per 36 numbers for this season:
Now take a look at these numbers:
Those are pretty similar numbers. Forbes is a better 3 point shooter, rebounder and passer, but the second player gets to the line at a slightly better rate, and shoots better when there. He also is a little bit of a better scorer, but not really by much.
The second player is DeMar DeRozan.
It backs up what I’ve always said about scoring in the NBA. There are more players who have the ability to score, if given the chance, than people realize. If Forbes were given minutes and shots, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t equal DeRozan’s numbers, but with better defense, 3 point shooting and rebounding.
Now, I’m not saying that DeRozan doesn’t deserve more of a chance, since he’s obviously got more upside than Forbes, but it does highlight how important circumstances are for a player.
Needs To Work On: Basically just playing better. It’s not that he’s poor at anything. He’s a decent shooter who can create his shot half decently, and he’s actually a pretty good rebounder, but he just didn’t play very well.
Recommendation: It depends. Forbes has two more seasons on his contract, but I don’t know how much of that is guaranteed. Of course, it’s “only” for $1.5 million a season, so eating it isn’t out of the question. Still, he’s obviously got some talent and probably should be invited to training camp at the very least. If the Raptors draft or trade for a younger wing player, he won’t really have a place on the team and should be cut loose to find work elsewhere. He would probably have no trade value.
Aaron Gray: Exceeds Expectations
I’ve always thought Gray was a solid, if unspectacular player in Chicago and then in New Orleans. His biggest problem has always seemed to be his lack of potential. He is what he is and in a league where teams would rather take a chance on a big man with upside, Gray lost out in a numbers game.
He was signed by Toronto without a lot of fanfare, but he’s turned out to be one of the best free agent signings the team has ever had. Of course, his inclusion in that list says more about the lack of good free agent signings than just how good Gray was (note to self: future blog post on best Raptor free agent signings).
Gray was what he has been throughout his career: Solid, but unspectacular. He showed almost no offensive skill, fouled almost as much as he scored, and finished with a PER of just 11.1. But he also being the team’s best rebounder, a pretty good defender and brought a toughness to the center position not seen in Toronto in a while.
Needs To Work On: Making shots, and not fouling . Another one of those, “what you see is what you get” guys, so I doubt we’ll see much improvement with him, but he’s found a niche in the NBA and he’ll always have a job.
Recommendation: Keep. While I have no illusions about what kind of player Gray is, he is exactly what the Raptors need next season. He is the perfect backup/compliment to Jonas Valanciunas for several reasons. The biggest one (no pun intended) is that, because Gray is a legit 270 pounds, he can play more minutes against the Dwight Howards and Andrew Bynums of the NBA until Valanciunas adds some strength. Gray is also the type of veteran that you wouldn’t mind Valanciunas learning from. He’s professional, works hard and has a team first attitude.
Amir Johnson: Approaching Expectations
I always felt the criticism of his contract was completely unfounded and a bit ridiculous. Amir’s contract pays him less than the average NBA player, yet his PER has mostly been above 15 during his career, which is considered the league average. He’s a young, athletic, hard working big man that has been one of the few Raptor players that has consistently had a positive impact on the team. He’s also one of the few Raptors that you could plug into just about any team in the league and he’d play 20+ minutes a game. He produces whether he starts, comes off the bench, plays big minutes or spot minutes. Basically, he’s the type of big man every team wants to have on their team.
That’s why he came into this season with some expectations. Last season was the first that he got consistent minutes and even started the majority of games at power forward. For that, he contributed career highs in scoring and rebounds, and was considered the team’s most valuable player by most pundits and fans.
That’s why this season has to be considered a bit of a disappointment for him. He started off alright, but his production quickly went down and he seemed to go into a funk that lasted until mid-February. It came out that he was having some off-court difficulties that were never discussed, but it was weird to see Amir play for so long without the passion he usually displays.
Thankfully, he did turn things around and ended up improving on some of the numbers he had last year (his scoring was noticeably down, however). Speaking of his PER, though, this season was the first with the Raptors where it was below the league average, and while I’m not a huge believer in the PER, it is a decent indication of a player’s general production.
Needs To Work On: Getting stronger and continue to work on his jumper. It was better from 3-9 feet, but worse from beyond that this season. He’s gotten stronger every season and that will help his defense.
Recommendation: Keep. He’s one of the only current Raptors that I would work hard to keep on the team. The reason is because he’s such a low maintenance player who will provide energy, work hard and produce whether he plays 15 minutes or 35 minutes. He’s the perfect third big man because you don’t have to worry about him and he’ll usually give a lift to the team every time he walks onto the court. And he’s not going to grumble or complain about his role.
James Johnson: Exceeds Expectations
When Colangelo traded Miami’s first round pick, the only asset, outside of the trade exception, the Raptors got in exchange for Chris Bosh, for James Johnson, Raptor fans were somewhat divided. Many thought Colangelo gave up a good asset for a bust. Others, like myself, figured the chance of finding someone better than Johnson at the end of the first round was slim. While I wasn’t a fan of the idea of the Raptors drafting Johnson with the 9th pick, back in 2009 (they were apparently thinking about it), getting him for what ended up being the 28th pick wasn’t a bad deal at all.
While Johnson did show some promise last season, not a whole lot was expected of him this season. He started the season on the bench, and when he did play, he played poorly. By the end of January, he had many questioning his future in the league, let alone on the Raptors. Then he turned things around and, except for a blip when Casey benched him and he struggled for several games upon his return, looked like he might have a future with the team after all.
While Johnson showed promise last year, he also showed some serious flaws in his game. He was a bad shooter with bad mechanics and while he was an excellent ball handler for his size and showed a vision that allowed him to play PG at times, he also displayed maddeningly poor decision making skills at times.
This season, Johnson started working with assistant coach, Tom Sterner and while it didn’t have an immediate impact, by the All Star break, he was starting to show real improvement. In fact, in 15 games in March, Johnson shot 50% from the field and went 5 for 12 from beyond the arc. Johnson is never going to be a great scorer, or even a good one, but he doesn’t have to to become a rotation player on a contender.
With Johnson’s defensive ability, as well as his ability to handle the ball, rebound and pass, he simply needs to be able to be able to hit open shots in order to be a good role player in the league.
Needs To Improve On: Continue to work on jumper and decision making. Johnson is 25 years old and is, for all intent and purposes, finishing his second year in the league. He’s shown improvement since being traded from Chicago and needs to continue to work hard.
Recommendation: Keep. Johnson probably doesn’t have a whole lot of trade value around the league, at least not by himself. It’s apparent that he’s never going to be a star but he’s got many skills that could eventually make him a very important role player for the Raptors. His defense, versatility and energy could make him very valuable.
Of course, like every other player on the roster, he’s not indispensable, so if a possibility comes up to improve the team, you shouldn’t think twice about including him in a deal.
Linas Kleiza: Approaching Expectations
The main consideration with Kleiza is that he had major knee reconstructive surgery less than a year before the season started, so any expectations about him had to be tempered with the fact that it often takes a couple of years, or more, to fully recover from microfracture surgery. What makes it even more difficult for Kleiza is that he wasn’t the fastest guy before the surgery, so and even slower Kleiza is going to struggle more on defense, an area he wasn’t great at to begin with.
Not surprisingly, Kleiza started off slow, and often looked completely different from game to game, which is actually to be expected from someone in Kleiza’s condition. There were times when he looked great, though, including a 30 point game which kicked off a February where he averaged 15 ppg while shooting .404 from three. Then he seemed to regress a little physically and missed a few games here and there with knee pain.
Still, while Kleiza didn’t have a good season, it was somewhat encouraging to see what he could do again when feeling healthy.
Needs To Improve On: Continue to rehab and strengthen the knee and improve his quickness, defense and ball handling. Kleiza has the ability to be a very good shooter, but it’s a crapshoot whenever he puts the ball onto the floor more than once.
Recommendation: It depends.I don’t think there’s much of a need to trade Kleiza, but there’s also not much real need to keep him. Having a fellow countryman for Valanciunas would be nice, but not if that’s the main reason. He can be a very good three point shooter, when healthy, which the Raptors need, but his lack of defense means he can’t really play big minutes. And he should NEVER be on the court with fellow sieve, Andrea Bargnani. If the Raptors get an offensively skilled small forward, then James Johnson makes much more sense as a backup, and there would be no real reason to keep Kleiza.
Jamaal Magloire: Meets Expectations
When Magloire became the first, ever Canadian-born Raptor, there wasn’t a whole lot of rejoicing among Raptor fans. Yes, Magloire was a former All-Star center and the type of banger the Raptors have long lacked, but it’s been more than half a decade since he’s had much of an impact on the court. Magloire is the example of the counter argument to those who say that big men will only get better once they hit 27 years old. Magloire had his All-Star season at 25, by the time he was 28 was a part time starter and by 30 he wasn’t even a rotation player.
Magloire moves like a 40 year old, has never been a good offensive player and ended the season with a negative win share and possible the worst season of his career.
So why does he get a Meets Expectations? Because while he didn’t give the Raptors much production, he played inspiring, if not always effective, basketball, and provided a real toughness that was contagious. And he was a great influence on the younger players.
Needs To Improve On: The ability to stop aging. And if he finds out how, he needs tell me.
Recommendation: Keep. He’s got absolutely no value to another team and his days of playing regular minutes on an NBA are done. But he’s a great 3rd center for the Raptors because he can play extended minutes, if need be, and not embarrass the team, he doesn’t need time to be developed, like Solomon Alabi, and he’s a good veteran to have in the lockerroom.
Jonas Valanciunas: Incomplete
Yes, I’m aware Valanciunas didn’t actually play for the Raptors, this past season, which is why he gets an incomplete.
I was not one of the many latecomers to the Valanciunas fan club. I thought he was a great pick at the time and he looks even better a year later. In fact, many experts now believe that if Valanciunas came out this season instead of last, he would be the second pick in the draft. And this is considered a better draft than last season. In that sense, Valanciunas is a huge Exceeds Expectations. And while there are now many who wonder whether he might actually have franchise player potential, it’s really hard to figure out exactly what kind of impact he’ll have in the NBA.
He’s shown the potential to be a good, but not great scorer in the past season. I think he’s got the ability to one day average in the 20 ppg range with an evolving post game and expanding range on his jumper. He’s never going to be Hakeem Olajuwon but he should be better than Joakim Noah (who Dwane Casey recently compared him to), offensively, the moment he steps on the floor.
Defensively, Valanciunas has a 7’3 wingspan, the mobility of a small forward, has a great motor and the desire to compete on that end of the floor. On the other hand, I’m not sure whether he’s going to be a game changer on that end of the court, like an Anthony Davis projects to be. I think he’ll be a very good defensive player, especially after he gains some strength, but I’m not sure whether I see him as an elite level defender. He doesn’t have the shotblocking instincts that a Dwight Howard or Ben Wallace have and he’ll never be the strongest player on the court.
So if Valanciunas becomes a good, but not great, scorer and a very good, but not elite defender, does that make him a potential franchise player? Probably not, but then again, he hasn’t stepped on an NBA court yet, so it’s very difficult to gauge exactly how he projects. In many ways, Valanciunas could be compared to Kevin Garnett, who is probably someone who he should pattern his game after. Garnett was never a great scorer, only averaging more than 23 ppg once- he never had a great post game- and was actually never a great shotblocker, despite his size, mobility and defensive awareness. Garnett, though, became a franchise player by being playing to his strengths on defense and offense and outworking everyone else on the court.
Needs To Work On: Adding strength and post scoring. Valanciunas has shown enough development and potential, over the last season, to believe he has a chance to make an immediate impact for the Raptors. If he doesn’t get stronger quickly, though, he’s going to get eaten alive, and the Raptors so desperately need post scoring that if he gives them that, he’ll become invaluable sooner.
Recommendation: If there’s an untradeable player on he Raptors, it’s Valanciunas. He’s got the most potential of anyone on the roster, he’s young, athletic, has a high motor and a desire to be great. He’s even got a high basketball IQ, which separates him from a lot of other big men who fit that description. Barring the Raptors getting the first pick, on May 30th, the future of the Raptors is on Valanciunas’ shoulders. It’s an unfair burden to give a guy who was the 5th pick in a fairly weak draft and who most Raptor fans actually didn’t want, initially, but it’s the state the team is in, at the moment.
Which brings us to our final grade….
Next up, the final grade for the Raptors, as a whole. Hopefully before the weekend.
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