2012 Off-Season Grades and 2013 Season Previews (Raptors)

Posted on October 28, 2012 | 2 Comments

Since I’m a little later than normal with the Off-Season grades, as well as the Season Preview, I thought I would do an expanded Raptors one, and then a quick one for the rest of the league. Hopefully that will start me off posting more regularly again.

As usual, I don’t do letter grades, which seem rather arbitrary (what exactly is the difference between a B and a B+?). And I take a rather holistic approach to the grades and previews. Looking at moves or rosters in isolation doesn’t make sense when there are 29 other teams they have to deal with and the goal is to build a contender.

Keep in mind that I’ve already graded all the teams on their draft picks, but I’m including the draft moves in the offseason grades.

TORONTO RAPTORS

OFFSEASON MOVES

Drafted Terrence Ross, Quincy Acy and Tomislav Zubcic

See Draft Report Card.

Signed Landry Fields to a 3 year, $18.75 million contract

- Most seemed to view this as a way to prevent the New York Knicks from signing and trading for Steve Nash (taking away an asset Phoenix apparently was apparently interested in), but since Nash signed with the Lakers, we have to grade this deal by itself.

Yes, Fields was overpaid, but that’s the price you pay when go after free agents. And if Fields regains his rookie form, and becomes the glue guy, at small forward, the Raptors are looking for then it’s worth it.

Traded Gary Forbes and a conditional draft pick to Houston for Kyle Lowry

- Lowry is a very good point guard and he’s got a very good salary for a starting PG. What the Raptors gave up to get him is still unknown. If it’s a low lottery pick (10-14), then it’s very good value. If it’s mid-lottery (5-9), then it’s dependant on who is available. If it’s a high lottery pick, then it’s a very good possibility the Raptors will regret making the trade. Lowry’s a very good PG, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever make an All Star team. I fear Raptor fans might be expecting too much of Lowry. He’s a good player, yes, but the difference between him and Jose Calderon isn’t huge. Lowry is a better defender and scorer, but Calderon runs an offense better and makes his teammates better.

Still, Lowry is 26 and the kind of PG that fans love. The acquisition of him will probably never be regretted, even if how much they gave up for him might be. Quite frankly, I’m guessing they give up a 10-12 pick this June, so that would be a good deal for Lowry.

Traded James Johnson to Sacramento for a 2014 second round pick

- On the surface, this is a bad move. The Raptors traded a guy they got for a first round pick for a second round pick. That’s obviously a downgrade, and even more so since Johnson had shown defensive potential and the ability to fill a stat sheet. While I’m not privy to exactly why Colangelo decided to basically dump Johnson but I’ve been told by someone who apparently knows that there was an extremely good reason to move Johnson.

Re-signed Aaron Gray

Every team should have a guy like Gray on their roster, and I’m actually surprised a better team didn’t snatch him up this summer. While he’s not exceptionally skilled, he’s a legit 7 footer who is one of the few big men in the league that has the size to bang with Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, the only two dominant centers left in the NBA. If Gray were playing 10-15 years ago, he would be way more in demand than he is now. But with so few legit centers out there, his services aren’t nearly as much in demand.

Unfortunately for Gray, how much he plays is very dependant on how quickly Valanciunas develops, and from his play so far in the preseason, Gray will play less than the 16 mpg he did last year, especially with the front court so crowded.

Signed John Lucas

- Lucas is probably the best third PG the Raptors have ever acquired. That’s important because he might end up moving up in the rotation should Jose Calderon get traded. Lucas is a very good shooter, a pretty good defender and a passible playmaker.  If he was 6’5, he’d be a shooting guard, but since he’s not, he plays PG.

Signed Dominic McGuire

- McGuire is the definition of an NBA journeyman, having been on four teams in 5 years. If he has any impact whatsoever on this team, then it probably says more about the talent level on the Raptors than anything.

SUMMARY

Possibly the biggest news of the offseason for the Raptors is what didn’t happen. Steve Nash never became a Raptor. I’ve already gone into why I thought signing Nash was a horrible idea. It’s hard to grade this non-event since it didn’t actually happen. I give Raptors management low marks for trying what was obviously a marketing-only move that could have hurt the long term prospects of the team, but the fact that they didn’t get him was a good thing. I think the best thing I can do is think of it as revenue neutral.

I’ve been questioned by many for my criticism of Bryan Colangelo, this summer, since you can’t really point to any of the deals he made (including the draft picks) and say they were bad. In fact, Ross, Fields and Lowry are all players that play “the right way”, and I can see being contributors to a contender, one day. That’s improvement over the 3 or 4 from last season.

My problem with this offseason is when you look at the offseason as a whole. Colangelo has gone on record and said that the “accelerated rebuild” is over and it’s time for the team to compete. And he acquired players that will help the Raptors do that, no doubt.

Unfortunately, while the team has a number of solid pieces, they simply don’t have the foundation to take the team beyond simply competing for a playoff spot year after year. That’s what’s called the mediocrity treadmill, something I’ve discussed here numerous times.

Of course, it won’t surprise regular readers of this blog that one of the biggest problems I have with what Colangelo did in the offseason is more what he didn’t do. Again. He failed to trade Andrea Bargnani. We’re now entering year 7 of the Great Bargnani Experiment, and at this point, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. His fascination with Bargnani’s skillset has hampered and will continue to hamper the franchise until both are no longer with the team.

So while, individually, his moves have looked good, GMs need to be mindful of the big picture, and I don’t particularly like what I’m seeing. Especially since Colangelo, again, seems focused on having “financial flexibility” next summer. Colangelo’s relationship with cap space is like that of a girl whose boyfriend constantly cheats on her. Everyone around her knows he’s no good, but she forgives him every time and believes him when he says he’s sorry and that this time it will be different. At some point, you need an intervention in order to save her from a life of misery. Colangelo needs an intervention. Or walking papers. Preferably the latter.

OFFSEASON GRADE: NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

SEASON PREVIEW

Looking solely at this season, the addition of Kyle Lowry will no doubt have the biggest impact on the team. He immediately becomes the team’s best player, brings the defense and attitude that Raptor fans want, and will be able to finally replace Jose Calderon, which Colangelo has been trying to do since day one.

While Lowry’s confidence is a huge plus, it can also be a detriment, as he tends to force the issue too often, something that was an issue when he was drafted. We’ve already seen this on display in the preseason and it’s something that will frustrate at times during the regular season.

While Lowry is the key to the immediate future for the Raptors, the most important addition to the Raptors is Jonas Valanciunas.

I was an immediate fan of the the pick right from the start, but I assumed that it would take Valanciunas at least a month or two to be able to step into the starting lineup. While I put very little weight into preseason performance (I still remember watching Fennis Dembo tear it up in a preseason game the summer after he was drafted, and came away believing he would be a good player for the Pistons), it seems obvious that Valanciunas is more NBA ready that initially believed. He’ll still struggle, no doubt, and have setbacks, but I would be surprised if he didn’t make the All Rookie first team. His defense and rebounding were always good, but his offense, although still in need of a lot of work, is farther along than I expected. These two moves impressed me not only with his confidence, but his skill…


Now, there are times he looked uncomfortable on offense, and it’s important to note that neither of those moves were done on a 7 footer. Tyson Chandler was able to completely neutralize him. It’s important to temper expectations, but I think Raptor fans finally have something to be truly optimistic about.

After a lost season, Ed Davis looked like he had found his footing, showing passion and even an offensive touch that made one optimistic that he might continue the development we saw in his rookie season. Unfortunately a fall during practice prevented him from getting back on the court the last three games. Hopefully he’ll be able to continue his progress in the regular season.

With Davis’ improved play comes a problem. A rather crowded front court. And only 96 minutes of playing time to go around.

Casey seems insistent on staying with Andrea Bargnani despite play during the preseason that is far more reminiscent of the majority of his career (inefficient scoring, bad rebounding and ineffective defense) than during his “13 game” heyday. He’s going to eat up at least 30 mpg.

Amir Johnson has probably been the best big man for the Raptors during the preseason (with a very good looking jumpshot) and will eat up his usual 25 mpg.

Valanciunas has played so well during preseason, it’s hard to imagine him averaging less than 20 mpg, and I’m going to guess that it will be closer to 25 mpg.

That just leaves 16 mpg left to split between Davis and Aaron Gray, so something’s got to give. And unfortunately the odd man out seems to be Davis. His rookie contract and potential probably makes him a more valuable and moveable asset than Amir. Plus we know Amir is comfortable in the role he’s currently playing. There’s no telling if Davis will be happy with a reserve role when it’s time for him to extend his contract.

But that’s for another post.

I haven’t talked about the wing positions, yet, but preseason was a mixed bag. DeMar DeRozan looked improved on offense, with a new post up game that is better suited to DeRozan’s skillset (and weaknesses), and did show more activity on defense for the first few games, but he still made little impact outside of the scoring column.

Landry Fields so far does not appear he will be worth his controversial contract. His defense and rebounding have been decent, but his three point shot that people were hoping he’d regain has been nowhere to be seen.

Ross should improve upon his lacklustre preseason, but the wing positions, which many were hoping might be a strength, will still be an issue.

SUMMARY

A lot of Raptor fans are optimistic about the upcoming season, and in some ways they have reason to be. Valanciunas might very well be the best player drafted by the Raptors since Chris Bosh. The talent level is definitely better than last season and the defense SHOULD be even better.

But the Raptors have a roster full of complimentary players and no one to compliment. If they speed up the pace, as promised, they won’t have the advantage of fewer possessions to hide their lack of talent and eek out a few more wins than they should. They will compete, but simply don’t have the talent to be able to win consistently.

PROJECTION: 35 wins and 10th in the East

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Comments

  • Stephen Waugh

    I think you’d like to read this:
    The Annual GM Survey: A Reminder That Conventional Wisdom and Experts Are Often Pretty Stupid
    http://www.behindthebasket.com/btb/2012/10/28/the-annual-gm-survey-a-reminder-that-conventional-wisdom-and.html

  • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

    Awesome article. Thanks for the link. I read the GM survey and didn’t really think much about it, but he really hit the nail on the head. It makes you question the intelligence of some GMs. Of course, you just have to see some of their moves to do that.

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