Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan - teammates soon?

Whenever this issue comes up there are the naysayers who maintain that the two cannot coexist on the same team. The arguments made are numerous. The popular ones include that they’re too perimeter oriented to complement each other, or that they play the same position forcing one of them to play out of position, or that the chemistry between them just isn’t there. Based on the evidence all arguments have a point and a counter-point, let’s examine this issue further. I’m not suggesting that they can or can’t play together; I’m merely exploring the thought.

Natural Position

Some experts like Jonathan Givony of Draft Express feel that the distinction between the PF and C in the modern game has eroded to the point where teams should have two big men and not worry about what position they play. Many disagree with that theory by pointing out that both positions should bring different elements to the game and that the role of each is well-defined enough that although there may be role-reversal, there cannot be duplication. Let’s go with this theory for a second.

On the offensive side in a perfect world they’ll both play PF because it happens to be their natural position. Bargnani made his mark in Europe there and Bosh has gotten numerous All-Star nods at the same position. Offensively, Bosh is able to take advantage of slower PFs and Cs using his quickness to get to the FT line or by creating space for his jumper. Defensively, he doesn’t have the bulk or width to defend centers and has a body-type more suited to defend the PF (or even slower SFs). Bargnani too has an advantage at the PF; he isn’t the greatest of jumpers and can use his height advantage far more frequently at the 4 than at the 5. Shooting over smaller players is his strength but at center he often encounters big men who match him in size forcing him to use the perimeter dribble to create the advantage, something he hasn’t mastered in three years.

Rebounding is where Bargnani struggles. He’s grown up playing the 4 on either block and has been asked to shift to the middle and assume the rebounding responsibilities associated with a center. He’s struggled with that as on most nights he’s trying to box-out the opposing team’s best rebounder. Would Bargnani fare better if he were guarding the smaller of the opposing 4/5 rather than the bigger? Bosh carries the brunt of the rebounding load on the frontline and is a very good rebounder for his position, the question is whether he’d do the same against Cs and in the process allow Bargnani to try his luck at rebounding against the usually smaller PFs.

I do think it’s a question of guarding the weaker player on defense for both of them. Checking their positional stats you can see that the waters between PF and C are muddied, it comes down to who has the easier defensive matchup on most nights and that’s where Bargnani’s disadvantage lies as I believe he’s more suited to guarding the PF than the C.

Perimeter Oriented

Yes, I know Bosh gets to the FT line but that doesn’t mean he’s not a perimeter oriented player. Both Bargnani and Bosh catch the ball from at least 15 feet out and work from there. Their primary offensive moves are of the face-up variety and both prefer the jumper, Bosh and Bargnani shoot 64% and 75% of their shots from outside respectively, that is a higher percentage than any other PF/C duo in the league. The main threat they pose is very similar: guard me tight outside or I’ll launch a jumper on you; if you guard me too tight I can get by you, whether I’ll actually do that or not is a different story. The ‘Twin Towers’ comparison to Duncan/Robinson isn’t correct because they don’t actually play like towers and control the paint, they’ve both got guard-skills and rely on heavy rebounding help from others (mostly due to Bargnani), something which is very, very rare in NBA frontlines. Rebounding is the crux of an NBA team and with this duo collecting only 36.4% of defensive rebounds and only 24% of all available rebounds, both near the bottom in the league, is this defensive pairing sustainable?

In Sync

I can count on one hand the plays where they’ve truly fed off of each other. A lot has to do with our offense favouring the guard/big two-man game which forces one of Bosh and Bargnani to just wait for something to develop in the elbow/wing area. It’s also our tendency to use Bargnani strictly as a 3-point shooter on most of the sets while Bosh and Calderon run the pick ‘n pop to death. Our offense under Mitchell and Triano has never managed to accommodate or mesh the skills that these two players have. I’m not sure how much it is due to the lack of sets featuring Bargnani-Bosh as the primary players and how much it is due to the limits of their or the coaching staffs’ skill.

Kobe/Shaq, Duncan/Robinson, Jordan/Pippen, Stockton/Malone, Magic/Kareem, Bird/McHale, Thomas/Dumars etc. It’s safe to say that the great NBA title-contending combos of the last quarter century have rarely been at the 4/5 and this is perhaps the strongest argument against the Bosh-Bargnani pairing. Simply put, the Ying to a big man’s Yang is usually a wing and not another big man.

I wrote a post earlier which called for the Raptors to get a post-up player who would play the game inside-out which would encourage cutters to cut. I was thinking of Bosh and Bargnani to be the post-up player and the cutter, whether that will remain a pipe dream should be known this year. Playing rinse-and-repeat with last year’s offense isn’t going to make-do this year. Triano needs to create a dynamic and repeatable property in the offense that involves Bosh and Bargnani gelling together instead of simply alternating touches every possession.

This missing dynamic is something I was hoping the O’Neal trade to bring forth but that effort failed miserably and only resulted in Bargnani’s growth as a player slowing down. This year Triano will have to apply his coaching powers to extract the maximum out of this pairing, something he failed to do last year after Mitchell had failed to do the same O’Neal and Bosh.

Finances and Coaching

Finances-wise, all we’re doing is committing 40-44M to our four best players (Bosh, Bargnani, Calderon and Turkoglu), this is a very common strategy as demonstrated by Orlando, Cleveland, Lakers and Denver to name a few so I don’t think those who feel that we overpaid for Bargnani have a real point. Is Nene, Wallace or Bynum worth the money? Arguing from a financial perspective is pointless; the question is whether Bosh and Bargnani can find harmony on the basketball court and whether Calderon is the point-guard to act as the catalyst. I firmly believe (just like I did last year) that coaching and point-guard play will have a large part to play in how successful the Bosh-Bargnani duo will be. Triano and his staff better find a way to create a system – a new one – which integrates these two unique players or else the team balance will shift to a point where we’ll be asking role players to perform above their abilities because the core isn’t contributing.

If we’re going to stick with this combo there needs to be a clear advantage to this madness, not just weaknesses which are there to be exploited. They need to be our bread-and-butter just like Duncan/Robinson were to the Spurs and just like Stockton/Malone to the Jazz. When the offense is running dry we should be able to go the Bosh/Bargnani well while still maintaining defensive parity, if not advantage. History has shown that this is a highly unusual method of building a contender but it is possible to have your two best players at the 4 and 5 while still contending.

In the end the math is simple: if the disadvantages outweigh the advantages then you have to end the experiment no matter how sexy it is.

Your thoughts are welcome.