If any of you are familiar with my work on Hardwood Paroxysm, first let me start out by thanking you profusely. Secondly, you hopefully remember the things I’ve written about the junior varsity high school basketball team that I help coach. I began coaching last summer and have been hooked ever since.
What I’ve learned from coaching is that the biggest assets to your success can often come from places you don’t expect. Maybe it’s a play you have your team run that didn’t go well when you ran it in practice. Maybe it’s a light bulb that goes off in your players’ heads where they finally get into the defensive help line that you’ve been pleading them to straddle for months. Maybe it’s your team manager telling a stupid joke to guys on the bench that totally relaxes everybody and gets them to just go out and have fun. Whatever it is, it can often come from the most surprising places.
Basketball is all about athletic ability, beating a guy to an area using that ability and imposing your will on the person in front of you. At least, it is for the majority of those blessed enough to be a superior athlete. For the rest of us, it’s about honing basketball skill, knowing how to play the game and a little bit of luck sometimes down the court.
On the team I coached this year, we had one of those kids that just found ways to make things happen. He wasn’t the best athlete on the court – ever. He was an undersized power forward who should have been far too slow and physically ungifted to play against wing players. He did a nice job of sliding his naturally slow feet. He was a decent dribbler but not someone who could create his own shot. He was a deadeye shooter as long as he had five seconds to get the shot off (not the easiest thing to do in basketball).
But for some reason, he was our most steady force on the basketball court throughout the year. We were a really good team. We finished the year 18-5 and 9-1 in league to win our first JV league title in years. We have a couple of guys who will play college ball and one of them is going to play at a big-time school. And yet, this un-athletic kid with good but not great skills ended up being the guy who made the most things happen for us.
He came up with huge offensive rebounds against guys he shouldn’t out-rebound. He made steals in our full court press that he shouldn’t have gotten to. He scored and scored and scored when we needed it most. He was by far our best player on the court in terms of outright production. And by looking at him, you would have never guessed he could do the things he did.
So what does any of this have to do with your Toronto Raptors?
Sometimes trying to find the guy that means the most to your success can come out of the places you wouldn’t expect. Obviously, Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani are the two most important pieces to the current and future success of this franchise. Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack are needed to run the show. DeMar DeRozan needs to Develop into a DeDamn good player in order for the DeRaptors to Dekick some tail.
However, the key to good runs the Raptors go on could be much more subtle. In my opinion, a guy like Sonny Weems can make all the difference. I’m a little biased because I’ve been a Sonny Weems fan since he was at Arkansas. His high-flying act of bravery and utter absurdity is so eye-catching that it makes all of the deficiencies in his game melt away from your consciousness.
I mean just look at it!
But it goes far beyond what basic stats can show you. Hell, it kind of goes beyond what most advanced stats can show you too. Whenever I watch the Raptors, I feel like Sonny Weems is a part of good things going on with the team. His 5.8 points per game scoring average and his 1/11 three-point shooting on the year don’t show it. His 10.7 PER and 98 to 113 offensive to defensive ratings don’t show it either.
Even though it’s not a perfect stat and it’s hard to quantify just how much it says about the basketball world, the +/- stat shows some real value in what Sonny Weems brings to the team. He’s not first or second or even third on the team in +/-, according to NBA.com. He’s actually sixth on the team in this oddity of a statistic. But if you take out a couple of bad garbage time performances by he and his teammates (i.e. – blowout losses to the Bobs, Hawks, Bucks, Pacers and Rockets), his positive +/- performances have been extremely valuable.
When he scores a double-digit +/- the Toronto Raptors are 6-1. Of the Raptors top 13 lineups this season, Sonny Weems is in seven of them. He’s also in four of the top six lineups for the Raptors this season.
Maybe that’s not shocking to you but I found that astounding. The Raptors are just a better team when he’s on the court. Can you really explain it either? No. He’s not THAT skilled of a basketball player. He can’t shoot outside. According to HoopData.com, Sonny is an above 60% scorer from inside 10 feet and 37% shooter from 10 feet and beyond. He’s not a very strong dribbler and his passing isn’t great. He’s a decent defender but he’s not exactly locking guys down.
However, he does bring one skill that is hard to measure. His excitement factor can energize a team, arena and entire basketball game. Just watch that video above again. If he gets the ball and has a chance to get to the rim, he’s going to put on a show. When a guy dunks in a game, gives it a little extra mustard and seemingly does it out of nowhere it can galvanize a team and help spark a run. It can start and punctuate great stretches of basketball. And that’s what Sonny Weems is capable of doing.
Should he be a starter by any means? Definitely not. Is he better in small doses? Probably yes. But one thing for certain is Sonny Weems helps this team win basketball games more often than he hurts them when he’s on the court.
It’s a fact of the Raptors that comes out of nowhere but sometimes that’s the best place to find exactly what your team needs.