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Posted on December 7, 2012 | 4 Comments
Toronto is burning.
Well, the Toronto Raptors are currently in one of the worst periods in franchise history. They have the second worst winning percentage in the entire league, and it’s a near certainty they will miss the playoffs for the 5th consecutive year. For those keeping track, that would be a franchise record.
Yes, that’s right. The Raptors took less time to start from scratch and get to the playoffs than Bryan Colangelo has taken trying to get the team he built back into the playoffs.
And it’s not as if there appears to be much light at the end of the tunnel.
Coach Dwane Casey, who was the golden boy last season after helping the team overachieve and become a half decent defensive team which was a vast improvement over what they had been, has been the focus of a lot of criticism and some are even calling for his head this year. His play calling has been subpar, his rotations unsuccessful, and most of all, his insistence on not only playing, but starting Andrea Bargnani despite his obvious struggles. The team is worse defensively, despite the addition of Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas. And they haven’t made the offensive improvements that were promised.
Casey wouldn’t be the first coach to do more with less, but struggle when given more. It takes different skills, as a coach, to get a bunch of nobodies to work their tail off and overachieve than it does to take more skilled players and have them compete. Casey’s never been known for his offense, and we may be seeing why. Most troubling, though, is the decline in defense. While Bargnani is partly to blame (as is DeMar DeRozan), there are much bigger issues.
Speaking of DeMar DeRozan, he seemed to turn into a different player the moment he signed his new contract. He has improved statistically on the surface, a deeper look tells a different story. He’s scoring a career high 18.2 ppg, yes, but he actually scored at a higher rate in his second season. And while his rebounding numbers finally look good, it’s in part due to the fact he’s playing 37 mpg, which is 14th in the league. In fact, the only career high he’s hitting is in three point percentage, which is still a rather poor .321.
His offensive rating is 6th on the team among regular rotation players, which is concerning considering he’s also 6th on the team in defensive rating and his defensive rating is higher than his offensive rating (it should be the opposite). For those scoring, that’s not good. Add in the fact that the team has performed better when he’s actually off the court, and you’ll understand why there should be great concern that he’ll be making around $10 million per season starting next year.
DeRozan’s backcourt mate, Kyle Lowry, has certainly put up nice looking numbers as a Raptor, including averaging nearly a rebound and a half more a game than Andrea Bargnani, who’s a full foot taller than Lowry. In fact, he and LeBron James are currently the only players in the league averaging at least 15 ppg, 5 rpg and 6 apg. Unfortunately, his decision-making hasn’t been great, thus far, his clutch play has bordered on terrible (shooting .286 in the clutch), and the team doesn’t actually seem to be better when he’s on the floor. To make matters worse, his defense has not exactly been as advertised.
Between he and DeRozan, the Raptors have one of the highest scoring backcourts, but also one of the worst defensively. Part of it is Lowry’s penchant for gambling for steals, but it’s not just that. And despite his struggles to make an impact in the win column, the Raptors still need him, and you have to wonder if he’s already looking for a way out of town. His contract isn’t up until 2014, but he’ll be able to be extend his contract this summer. If the Raptors give up a lottery pick this year, and he leaves, then it’s all for naught.
Lowry’s backup, Jose Calderon, who many hoped would be the best player for the Raptors coming off the bench, has put up almost All Star numbers when Lowry was out, but closer to D-League numbers as a reserve. Case in point, he’s shooting 10% less, when coming off the bench and dishing out nearly a third fewer assists. And his defense has reverted to pre-Dwane Casey days. Still, he is one of the few Raptors that has, overall, had a positive impact on the team, when he’s been on the court. Unfortunately, he’s 50/50 to last the season as a Raptor and probably less to be back next year.
Landry Fields played 5 games of absolutely horrible basketball before being sidelined due to surgery on his wrist. On the bright side, the problem he had might very well have been causing his poor outside shooting he’s suffered from, since his rookie season. On the downside, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever regain that form. He wouldn’t be the first player to get inflated stats playing for Mike D’Antoni.
And the best small forward the team has been able to put on the court is Mickael Pietrus, a guy the Raptors signed for the veteran minimum last week because no one else would pay more than that for him. And he’s 30 years old so it’s doubtful he fits in the long term plans for the team.
And, finally, we come to Andrea Bargnani.
I know there are a few readers who feel I’ve been undeservedly harsh on Bargnani, over the years. For those that need a refresher, read this, this, this, this and this. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of his game and never have been.
I have felt rather vindicated, however, with more and more “real” NBA writers coming to the conclusion I reached a long time ago. In fact, what I’ve written about him is tame in comparison to some of the things that NBA writers have written about him recently. Here’s a sampling:
On the nights where Bargnani’s either not hitting or not attacking, he gives you virtually nothing; he’s an awful rebounder, a well-below-par defender and nothing to write home about as a facilitator. Those squinting at a tall guy with a beard camping out behind the arc and seeing fellow stretch-four-type Ryan Anderson, who paired so well with Howard in an inside-outside frontcourt for the Orlando Magic, would likely be sorely disappointed upon getting nightly looks at the 27-year-old Italian.
And that is just his offence. He has been poor defensively this year, and the Raptors have taken a major hit from last year. He is rebounding at the worst rate of his career this season, with DeRozan — a shooting guard who has grabbed a mere 6.7% of available rebounds over the course of his career — rebounding at a better rate than him.
It is time to stop judging Bargnani on what he might be able to do and start judging him on what he actually does.
Koreen went on to break down Bargnani’s offensive and defensive stats, showing that what he actually does is not a whole lot.
Search Google News for Andrea Bargnani and you’ll get article after article either criticizing his play or suggesting he needs to be traded. Raptors fans have been less kind. The last time I saw this amount of vitriol towards a current Raptor was when Vince Carter was trying to play his way out of town.
Now, I’ve never understood the fascination with Bargnani. Yes, he’s a 7 footer who can shoot and has the ability to do things on the court most 7 footer can’t. But his three biggest weaknesses as a prospect were poor defensive instincts, inability to rebound the ball and the fact that he rarely ventured into the paint. Individually, these should be major red flags for any big man. Put together, they should be a massive neon sign that blinks, “Don’t draft me!”.
It’s always frustrated me to no end when a team drafts a player with the hope of changing who he is. Like when a shooting guard gets drafted in hopes he can be turned into a point guard. Playing the point takes completely different basketball instincts that take years to learn. The PG position if far more than just being able to pass the ball. And anyone who has played the game or studied it should know that.
Same goes for drafting big men in hopes they can learn to play defense and rebound. By the time you get to the NBA, you either have the instincts and desire or your don’t. You can teach a big man how to shoot. You can teach him post up moves. You can even teach him hot to dribble the ball. But turning a poor defender into a decent one is next to impossible. And there have been more black men elected president than big men who were poor rebounders and defenders that helped their team win a Championship.
And the fact that Bargnani was allergic to the paint was not a good sign if you expected him to become a great scorer. Great scorers need to get to the line at a high rate. That way they can make up for their cold shooting nights.
Now, I’ve never blamed Bargnani for being drafted number one. I do blame Bryan Colangelo for it, though. And I blame him for sticking with Bargnani for the last 7 years, despite a mountain of evidence that says he shouldn’t have. In fact, I blame him for a lot of things, including the state the team finds itself in right now.
I think he sold the fans on false hope in the summer, making them believe the team was better than it actually was, and now is paying the price as fans revolt because the team isn’t where they thought it would be.
Now, I never thought the Raptors playoff hopes were realistic. I didn’t think the talent level of the team was as good as some did, which is why I suggested packaging anyone on the roster not names Valanciunas in order to move up in the draft to try and pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
So while Bargnani is certainly one of the major reasons the Raptors are struggling, he is really only a symptom of why the organization is in the position they’re in. The real problem is Bryan Colangelo.
Tune in next week when I discuss why Colangelo should not be GM of the Raptors, anymore.
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