Tag Archives: Jarrett Jack

A Closer Look: How Things Could Go Wrong For The Raptors

This is another guest post by my buddy Julian. Like me, he’s a huge NBA fan in Toronto, so he has a lot to say about the Raptors. He’s previously written about their offense and their defense, from a bit of an optimistic point of view. Now, he’s going to take a step back and look at what obstacles stand in the way of the Raptors’ success in 2009-2010. Enjoy. Also, tell him to start tweeting again – he may as well delete his twitter account at this point.

With all of the new faces in Raptors training camp this season, there are many reasons for fans to be positive, especially considering the terrible 08-09 campaign. Bench issues have been addressed, and arguably, more talent has been added to the starting lineup. While visions of sugar plum second-rounds are dancing in many a fan’s head, it’s important to look at the multitude of ways that this season could go sideways. The eternal optimist in me says that the Raptors will have an incredible, unexpected level of success this season, but that is probably not going to happen, and there are going to be a number of reasons why. Essentially, this article is going to look at the pitfalls and perils that are most likely to hinder the Raptors this coming season.

Rebounding

Rebounding!

Rebounding is going to be a very big issue for the Raptors. They simply do not have good enough rebounders to do well in this department. Jermaine O’Neal wasn’t a great rebounder, but he was better than Bargnani, and Shawn Marion, who was an excellent rebounder at the 3, was a much better rebounder than Hedo Turkoglu. While people may mention that we picked up Reggie Evans, he simply cannot see too much court time next season. His PER numbers and TS% numbers over the past few seasons have been terrible (Career averages 11.6 PER and 50% TS%). When you put Reggie Evans in the game, you hurt yourself in a different way. He’s a useful role-player who is able to change the dynamic of the team when he is in, but I don’t think he should receive more than 15 minutes a game.

Amir Johnson has something to prove, and is also a good per-minute rebounder. He hasn’t received all that much time in his young career, and he has upside. Detroit tried to push his development along by inserting him into the starting lineup, but it didn’t go all that well. His problem was fouling at an inordinate rate, which hindered his ability to stay on the floor. The interest in Amir is that he is athletic and tall, finishes well, and can rebound. Those are talents that the Raptors could definitely use, so watch for Amir to get some time to prove that he can play. This franchise would like to see him reach his full potential, but then again, so did the Pistons.

The guard positions are not great for the Raptors either. Jose Calderon doesn’t rebound very well, even by guard standards, and neither do Marco Belinelli or Antoine Wright. DeMar DeRozan represents an interesting opportunity for the Raptors, as his college rebounding numbers were pretty impressive. 5.7 rebounds in 33 minutes is good for a guard. Projecting stats from College to the Pros is very dubious, so take that with a grain of salt.

Prognosis: The Raptors still have a rebounding problem. With Shawn Marion leaving and Bargnani playing center I don’t really see the Raptors doing very well in this regard. Expect nights where the Raps play good defence and shoot the ball well, but still end up losing due to a big chasm in the rebounding totals.

Defense

Defense!

This is something that I’ve talked about in my prior article, and many different things have to go right in order for the Raptors to be good (read: top 10) defensively in the upcoming season. Firstly, the defense at the big positions needs to be a lot better. Jermaine O’Neal was the Raptors’ best big-man defender last season, and he is no longer with the team. Bargnani and Bosh, while not absolutely awful defenders, are not “anchor” material. Bosh has made a big deal out of getting physically larger this season, and one would hope that that would translate to better defense. Bargnani has also added weight, and has been working on his inside game this off-season. Things need to get much better, however, especially seeing as the Raptors want to play both of them on the court for long periods of time, due to their huge offensive potential. If Bargnani and Bosh don’t get better, expect a lot of layups this season. When players aren’t afraid of what is waiting for them at the rim, they are much more likely to take it inside, which is obviously the worst type of shot to give up.

At the two guard and small forward positions there are also a few question marks. Jose Calderon has just come off an admittedly terrible defensive season, and has used the summer to rehabilitate his hamstring. He has never been a particularly stalwart defender, however, and he should still see 30+ minutes every night, backed up by Jarrett Jack. At the shooting guard position, there are a few options. Marco Belinelli, DeMar DeRozan, Jarrett Jack and Antoine Wright are all candidates to play the shooting guard position, and there are only 48 minutes available at that spot. Jarrett Jack is a solid defender, Belinelli is a decent defender and Antoine Wright started part of last season with the Mavericks due to his defensive prowess. DeMar DeRozan is a bit of a mystery, but he certainly has the tools to become a very good defender. At the Small forward position, Hedo Turkoglu figures to get the lion’s share of the minutes, and he is an okay defender. He is long and tall for his position, but is a little slow, especially when guarding smaller players. His defensive awareness is good as well, and rarely does he look completely overmatched by the player he is guarding.

Prognosis: The team has a lot of work to do on the defensive end. They have a couple of players that can play great defense, but the problem is that a lot of them are bench players who don’t have much to offer on the offensive end.

Injuries

Injuries!

I know that injuries are very difficult to predict unless a player is chronically injured, but I don’t think I need to remind Raptor fans that the injury bug can strike at any time and nothing de-rails a team faster than a key injury to one of their top guys. There are, however, some legitimate concerns when it comes to the Raptors this season, at least in the short term. While the early reports are that Jose Calderon has completely healed his hamstring, there is a possibility that it isn’t 100% and it could be re-aggravated during the season. Bosh also has a tweaked hammy, and has a habit of breaking down as the season wears on. Hedo Turkoglu, the Raptors’ big offseason acquisition has a knee injury that is said to be minor (aren’t they always?), and is suffering from fatigue having taken very little time off this summer.

Prognosis: There are no major injury concerns with this team, and the Raptors do have much more depth this season, which should help out if anyone goes down with injury.

Hedo Doesn’t Work Out

Hedo!

A big question in the minds of some of the skeptics is whether Hedo Turkoglu will be able to duplicate the year he had two seasons ago, when he set career highs in PPG, PER, assists and rebounding. This past season was not as good as that season, as Hedo was not nearly as efficient. Hedo may be a very talented player, but there is no question that he isn’t very consistent, and his play doesn’t just vary game-to-game, but also quarter-to-quarter and season-to-season. Which Hedo will the Raptors get? Will it be the efficient Hedo that we saw two seasons ago, or will it be the 2-16 (FG-FGA) Hedo that showed up in many Magic games last season? The chemistry that Hedo had with Dwight Howard was incredible, and their pick and roll was one of the Magic’s best offensive weapons. Hedo would hook up with Howard via an alley-oop, often in spectacular fashion. Hedo also played into the Magic’s gameplan, because a lot of the time, some of the off-balance shots that Turkoglu would put off the rim would actually be “assists” to Dwight, who would get the offensive rebound and put it back in. There is always the chance that things don’t gel as well as they did in Orlando with Hedo, because Bosh, while a very talented offensive player, isn’t exactly the type of guy you can throw 12-foot high lobs to and expect him to throw it down, nor is he the dominant offensive rebounder that turns every miss into a make.

Prognosis: It will be interesting to see how well Turkoglu will work here in Toronto, because he is not the most reliable player. It seems to be feast or famine with Turkoglu; on his best nights, he is hitting shots from all over the floor, making plays and creating mismatches, and at his worst, is hogging the ball and shooting you out of the game. The Raptors need a whole lot more of the former.

Bargnani Regresses

Bargnani!

I think this is one of the nightmares many fans have going into this season. Bargnani looked incredible last season, shooting a career high 56% TS%, getting 15+ PPG, and finishing the year with 3 straight months of ~20 ppg scoring. Many fans and people with the organization believe that he’s out of the woods, and that he won’t go back to the horrific stretch of play that he had in the 07-08 season, but are we being a little too premature? Bargnani had a very bad summer for the Italian national team, where he scored a meagre 10.3 PPG on 40% shooting, including going 2/13 from 3-point range. The Italian coach was admittedly very poor, and there was a rift between the player and his coach (not dissimilar to the Bargnani/Smitch situation?), and Bargnani pulled no punches when he talked to the Italian papers about it. Bargnani seems to have some motivation issues, which can turn into morale issues, so the question is whether he can be motivated and positive enough to continue to play hard even when he has an inevitable stretch of bad games.

Prognosis: While the chances of Bargnani going back to suck-mode Bargnani that we saw in ’07/’08 is slim, the potential is certainly still there. Jay Triano still has to work his magic with the big man, and give him a clear, defined role, as well as plenty of minutes to prevent a repeat of two seasons ago.

Conclusion

I believe that there are a number of ways that the Raptors could self-destruct this season, but that doesn’t mean that they WILL. There will be many things that will go right for the Raptors, and those things may be able to cancel out, and overtake some of the weaknesses of the club. Also, some of these weaknesses may not even be weaknesses at all! Hedo may work just fine, and Bargnani could have a stellar season and there could be no significant injuries to any of the star players. This is simply a list of the most likely things that could hamper the Raptors’ season. At the end of the year, if the Raptors fail to make any significant progress, I think that at least a few, if not all of these factors will have come into play.

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Filed under A Closer Look, Guest Posts, Toronto Raptors

Looking Forward: Toronto Raptors

There were very high expectations in Toronto going into the 2008-2009 season. As a Raptors fan, I was as optimistic as I’d been in years after the team’s 3-0 start to the season. The idea was that a streamlined roster and the addition of Jermaine O’Neal’s defensive and rebounding abilities would finally give Chris Bosh’s team a taste of playoff success.

It didn’t happen.

When the team won just five of its next fourteen games, culminating in a shameful performance in Denver, head coach Sam Mitchell was sent home. Interim coach Jay Triano was given the task of leading the Raps to the well-over-.500 record expected of them. Unfortunately for us fans, though, the losses kept on coming. On offense, Triano placed an emphasis on picking up the pace and relinquished some play-calling control to his point guard. On defense, he had his guys funnelling players towards the baseline rather than the middle. All of the players spoke glowingly of him. This was nice, but none of it translated into wins.

Jermaine O’Neal didn’t play up to the standard we hoped for and he certainly didn’t click with Chris Bosh on offense. Jose Calderon was injured or playing hurt for the vast majority of the season. The team was downright frustrating to watch at times. When O’Neal was shipped out with Jamario Moon in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks, many fans were relieved that something was done to inject new life into the team. They went 12-15 to finish out the season with Marion, which sounds like an improvement until you look at how easy the schedule was.

At the end of the season, the team finished 33-49. For a franchise paying for a winner, this is disastrous. But why were so they bad?

I think it was fairly obvious that the Raptors were simply not deep enough and woefully unequipped to deal with an injury to point guard Jose Calderon. Roko Ukic, Will Solomon, and Marcus Banks rarely seemed worthy of being in an NBA rotation, watching their stints at the 1 last season. Anthony Parker did a surprisingly decent job running the point at times, but on a team that’s thin on the wing, having the starting 2 guard play significant minutes at the 1 isn’t ideal. I like AP and Jamario Moon (and think they’ll be fantastic off the bench for Cleveland next year), but they were overmatched almost every night last season in the starting lineup. The Raptors desperately needed someone on the wing who could create his own shot and even bringing in Shawn Marion didn’t change that. They didn’t get much production out of Jason Kapono and their frontcourt reserves were weak, too, at least until Pops Mensah-Bonsu was signed for the last 19 games.

This team finished 22nd in the league in offensive efficiency and 22nd in defensive efficiency as well. I don’t have to tell you that this meant significant changes were coming. We all knew Jose Calderon, Chris Bosh, and Andrea Bargnani would likely return, but the rest of the roster needed an overhaul.

It’s now August, and those three players have seven new teammates already. Bryan Colangelo has been as active as any General Manager in the league this summer, as he should have been, and this is the part of the post where I take a closer look at the moves he’s made:

1) Jason Kapono traded for Reggie Evans: Colangelo and Triano had talked about getting tougher in interviews and this move was a step towards that goal. Kapono is an overpaid shooter who does little else to help a team. Evans is an overpaid rebounder who does little else to help a team. The Raptors needed rebounding help and the Sixers needed shooting help, so it makes perfect sense for both sides. Kapono had worn out his welcome in Toronto and, while he probably won’t play more than 15 minutes a game, Evans could bring an attitude and energy that the team has been sorely lacking.

2) DeMar DeRozan drafted ninth overall. For a team that lacked athleticism and needed help on the wing, this pick was obvious. He’s only 20 years old, so Raptors fans should be cautious not to expect too much from him this season. It’s possible that we have a steal on our hands, though – he has a good mid-range game, tremendous hops, a great attitude, and seemingly limitless potential. This was a weak draft and the Raptors didn’t have one of the top picks, so coming away with a guy that fills a need and has upside has to be seen as a positive.

3) Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, and Nathan Jawai traded for Hedo Turkoglu, Devean George, and Antoine Wright: I wrote about Hedo Turkoglu and this complicated deal in earlier posts, so I’ll keep it brief here: The Raptors absolutely needed a guy like Turkoglu on offense. His contract, though, is very questionable. Antoine Wright should be a boost to the Raptors’ perimeter defense next season and the fact that this trade allowed the Raptors to keep the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions is a huge, huge deal. As for Devean George, I’ll get to him in a minute…

4) Jarrett Jack signed to a four-year deal: This is where the mid-level exception comes into play. Keeping it allowed the Raps to ink a quality young combo guard who just happened to be Chris Bosh’s roommate in college. They might have overpaid him a little, to make sure that Indiana wouldn’t match the offer sheet, but for a team starved for depth in the backcourt, it’s understandable. Jack is a more-than-solid backup point guard and he proved himself capable of playing the 2 alongside T.J. Ford last season. He has the ability to penetrate the defense, something that the Raptors sorely lacked last year after the trade of the aforementioned Ford. He’s also renowned as a consummate professional, a great guy to have in the locker room, and a leader on the court.

5) Rasho Nesterovic signed to a one-year deal: This is where the bi-annual exception comes into play – the Raps got themselves a solid backup center for only $1.9 million. This move came as no surprise to anyone following the Raptors, as Rasho had publicly expressed his desire to return to the team. Rasho is a very good post defender and can score on the inside occasionally. He fills a need and, at that price, there is nothing to complain about here.

6) Devean George traded for Marco Belinelli: When George was included in the Turkoglu deal, most observers assumed he would only see spot minutes on this Raptors team, with his main role being mentoring the young guys and regaling them with stories about Shaq and Kobe from his time in L.A. It is quite impressive, then, that Bryan Colangelo was able to flip this 31-year-old for the 23-year-old Belinelli. The young Italian is no sure thing, and the Raptors had to give Golden State cash equivalent to George’s salary, but the fact is that the Raptors gained a player who should crack the rotation and gave up one who probably wouldn’t have. In Belinelli, the Raptors have a guy who can be the shooter Toronto lost when they traded Kapono. In George, it seems the Warriors have someone who will complain about playing time. Winner: Toronto.

The Raptors made one other significant transaction this off-season, one that didn’t involve any players changing teams. This was signing Andrea Bargnani to a five-year, $50 million contract extension. I’ve already defended this decision, but I will add this: even if you are not fond of this move or some of the Raptors’ other personnel decisions, you have to hand it to their ownership for being willing to shell out the money. You have to hand it to Colangelo, as well, for recognizing that the team needed a makeover and that his star player wanted to see the boss bring in some reinforcements for him. The Raptors have a new core of players now, with Bargnani, Calderon, Turkoglu, Jack, and DeRozan on board for the long haul. The Raps now must hope that these guys click and that Bosh wants to be a part of this group for the next few years.

There are just a couple of questions left for rest of the off-season. The first is what will happen with their backup point guard trio of Roko Ukic, Quincy Douby, and Marcus Banks. With none of them slated to receive significant minutes, it is likely that at least one of them will be moved before the start of the season. Secondly, there’s still one roster spot left on the team. This spot could be used on bringing back fan favourite Pops Mensah-Bonsu, or perhaps bringing in a defensive-minded wing like Ime Udoka.

Regardless of what happens with the last roster spot, we now have a pretty good idea of what the Raptors will look like next season. Based on the look of this roster, the offense should be vastly improved. If Triano uses these pieces properly, the team should be a lot more fun to watch on the offensive end. The Raptors are loaded with guys who can hit shots and pass the ball. Plus, I know I’m not the only one looking forward to DeRozan’s dunks.

Defense, though, is still a big question mark. Can the Raptors make key stops when they need to? Can they rebound the ball after forcing a tough shot? I’m not entirely sure yet. One good thing is that the point guard defense will improve – Calderon should be healthy again and Jack is able to stay in front of people. On the wing, Antoine Wright is known as a solid defender, but Belinelli is not and DeRozan, while he has the tools, will probably take some time to learn. Unfortunately, Turkoglu struggles on D, especially at this point in his career. As for the bigs, Bargnani made some strides last year, but he still has lots of room for improvement. Bosh is decent on D, but still sometimes gets abused one-on-one and his lack of strength can hurt him. Coach Triano wants Bosh to aim to make the all-defensive team this year and Raps fans have to hope he bulks up some more before the season starts. Evans and Nesterovic should help, for sure, but they will not have as much of an effect as significant improvement from the young guys who play most of the minutes.

John Hollinger has predicted that this will either be a huge success or a horrible failure. I’m not sure that I agree. The Raptors have made vast improvements on one side of the floor, and probably improved on the other, too. It’s easy to say they’ll improve on last year’s record, but how significant will the improvement be? If everything goes right and they effectively hide their defensive weaknesses, they could be the 4th or 5th seed in the East. If the group takes too long to gel and Triano fails to instil in them a strong defensive identity, they could be fighting to make it into the playoffs. The safest bet is to say they’ll end up in the middle with a 5th-7th seed. I’m not into pretending I know what’s going to happen, but I can’t wait to find out.

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Filed under Free Agency, Looking Forward, Toronto Raptors, Trades