After absorbing the reaction to the Granger article, part of me wanted to post a “Solomon Alabi for Dwight Howard makes sense” piece but I don’t think that would have gone over well. Instead, let’s move on and speak of Solomon Alabi and the depth at center, but before we do that, we must first talk about the depth at power forward.
If there’s a position that doesn’t need any more tweaking, it’s the four. With Amir Johnson signed to a big deal and ready to start, Ed Davis framed as part of the core which needs playing time to develop, and Joey Dorsey battling for the role of the 2009-10 Amir Johnson, the minutes at the four are accounted for. Even a 30-13-5 split of minutes amongst those three takes care of the position. Although Linas Kleiza can play the four in bits and pieces, by Colangelo’s own admission he was brought in to play the three and other than some very specific matchups, it’s hard to see him playing any significant minutes at the four.
Moving on the center position, let us assume that Johnson, Davis and Dorsey aren’t available to play the center. This leaves us with a depth of: Bargnani, Andersen and Alabi. Bargnani will likely play 35 minutes, just like he did last year, so the bulk of the minutes at center have been accounted for. This leaves approximately 13 minutes which could be distributed between Andersen and Alabi. Before I get castrated for not considering that our big men can play positions other than PF and C, thus opening up more minutes at PF and C, do ponder which of our big men can do that? Versatility isn’t their strong suit, at least not if you consider versatility to be the ability play something other than a big position (i.e., a small forward).
The Raptors can always juggle Bargnani, Johnson and Davis between positions, but their minutes are likely going to be set in stone simply because of their contracts and rumoured potential. So, after all this it’s apparent that we have approximately 13 minutes left to divvy up. Who do you give those to? A 30-year old David Andersen or a 22-year old Solomon Alabi. The answer to this, like everything else, depends on what the Raptors are aiming to accomplish this year. If the theme of the season is player development, then you can make a case that Alabi should be thrown in to the mix, if it’s providing a veteran presence (albeit, non-NBA experience), then you have to go with David Andersen. In other words, who do you want to be next year’s Patrick O’Bryant? David Andersen or Solomon Alabi.
Looking at this from a purely basketball point of view, you’d be inclined to think that Alabi’s shot-blocking and defense is of dire need to the Raptors, and you’d be right. Except that if you put any stock into his summer summer league performance, he showed that he’s not yet ready to contribute at the NBA-level. He’s got the physical tools to play defense but he didn’t do much to showcase them in the summer and remained largely inconsistent even on a possession-by-possession basis. He’s got a soft jumper but the coordination, confidence and comfort-level to unleash it just isn’t there yet. The footwork in the post is missing entirely and so is the ability to anticipate a steal-motivated double-team. Even if we give him the full 13 minutes spared by Bargnani, it will not be enough to fuel his development at a rate that will make him useful in 2011-12. And that is the reason why he should be sent to the D-League.
Sending Alabi to the D-League should not be considered a demotion, if anything, it should be considered a sign of the Raptors’ confidence in him because it shows that the franchise cares for him in the long-term, and that they don’t want him riding the pine and getting rusty. There’s a reason Patrick O’Bryant wasn’t set to the D-League last year, it’s because the Raptors didn’t have him in their long-term plans even though he’s only 2 years older than Alabi. Signing Alabi to a guaranteed contract and then sending him to the D-League will serve the guys he’ll be playing against plenty of motivation to go hard at him, and that should help him much more than being a cheerleader.