Crosshair: Joey Graham

If you can’t beat Jamario Moon, you’re not good enough.

Part of what made Joey Graham look decent in his fourth year is the fact that he was terrible in his previous three. Sam Mitchell did his best to suffocate him which led many of us to believe that his career might be over after his rookie contract. He met with a revival of sorts under Triano who preferred him to Jamario Moon, if for nothing more than to get a good look at exactly what he could do for the club. Joey responded by showing glimpses of what we all knew was hidden deep inside him – a slasher with a brute affinity for the rim.

He was passable, even borderline acceptable but as with anything in life, consistency is what counts and he has a tendency to be absolutely invisible for quarters at a time. Since he doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do on a consistent basis, he becomes unreliable and therefore expendable. The question to ask before deciding on Graham is whether he was given a fair shot. Under Sam Mitchell he was the victim of an extremely quick hook and struggled to find his rhythm and role in the rotation. He played a total of 331 minutes last year but saw that number jump to 1541 this season, the most he’s played since his rookie year. He played 20 minutes a game, was the first or second player off the bench under Triano, and was looked for in the offense. I thought he was given a fair shot this year and yet only amassed an unimpressive 7.7 points and 3.7 rebounds, sadly these are career numbers.

There were moments where his game seemed to fit into what Triano was trying to do. Early on he was great at moving without the ball giving the point guard an option in the high paint area. He effectively used his physical advantage and surprisingly sound finishing ability against smaller players but as the weeks wore on, we saw less and less of that and more of Joey catching the ball at the wing and displaying a classic case of tunnel-vision by driving to the rim without ever looking for a secondary option. Sometimes the result was a spectacular dunk but in most cases the offense came to a halt as he was sealed off and searched for a mate to bail him out. It’s this inability of Graham that is frustrating, we know he can get to the rim but his decision making in the face of help is poor, this can be considered a major flaw for a player on a team which counts on ball movement.

His skill-set is hardly unique, there are players in the D-League, college and Europe that, like Joey, have a preference for the drive but unlike Joey, possess a more fluid offensive game. Losing him will not hurt us in any area and whatever he brought can be replaced and then some by bringing in someone like Carlos Delfino who possesses a better jumper, better defensive footwork, higher basketball IQ and an equally capable drive. My point is that there’s nothing Graham brought which can’t be found elsewhere and in better quality, except for maybe his physical strength.

Defensively, he was asked to guard tough matchups at his position and wasn’t terrible or impressive. His lateral quickness was an issue and when taken away from the rim in one-on-one situations he played recovery defense before he even got beat. He was asked to guard PF/C’s in certain situations (Magic, Rockets) and performed admirably, mostly because it allowed him to use brute physical strength rather than his quickness. The interchangeability and flexibility he provided was a welcome sight but it also spoke to our lack of depth at the big man position and I for one sure don’t want Joey playing the PF.

His ball-handling skills were weak coming out of college and he hasn’t improved on them. His jumper was average in his rookie year and it’s still average now, the same goes for his court-vision, guard skills and first-step. None of the things that needed to happen for him to be a rotational NBA player have happened and he’s still stuck with the same skill-set he had coming out of college. He simply hasn’t grown as a player nor has he stepped up to the challenge of claiming an NBA job. Losing the starting SF job to Jamario Moon and Carlos Delfino the year before last and then to Jamario Moon this year were the two low points of his low point filled NBA career.

The case for a Graham’s return hinges on the argument that he’s yet to realize his potential and that Mitchell’s suffocation is still holding him back. It’s an argument that carried a lot more weight before the season began but as of now, its very watered down. There’s a lot to like about his athleticism and my original evaluation of Graham was far more favorable than this but fact of the matter is that we need to improve both offensively and defensively at the wing positions and he simply can’t be option #1 at the backup SF. We have to do better. I was even mulling over offering him a contract in the 2-3M range but then I came to my senses, if it ain’t happened now it’s likely never to happen.

We need to find a SF who has a multi-dimensional offensive game and a consistent scoring threat off the bench. Kapono’s not cutting it and relying on Joey to be that is setting yourself up for disappointment. On the other hand we are a team that’s lacking athleticism which happens to be Joey’s strength but he’s yet to show that he can use his God-given ability to produce anything more than mediocrity and the Raptors can’t afford to wait any longer, the organization can’t be blamed for not giving him a chance. Judging by the fact that he wasn’t even mentioned once in Colangelo’s press conference we can safely assume he’s done as a Raptor. Danny Granger…Danny Granger…Danny Granger…Danny Granger…Danny Granger…Danny Granger…Danny Granger…

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