Some paragraph’s to tide over hump-day.
With the bulk of roster moves behind us, it’s time to determine what they meant and whether they went about improving the team in any sort of capacity. Usually a trade is a compromise where an area needing attention is being addressed by trading away surplus. The Raptors didn’t have much, if any, surplus heading into July, so how did they address what they perceived as their weaknesses. Most statistics point to the Raptors needing to strengthen their team defense, others point the finger at rebounding, while one can even state that an imbalanced offense centered around a singular player was the problem. Let’s have a look:
Perimeter Defense: Addition of Barbosa made us worse, but that was more than made up for by the acquisition of Julian Wright. How many minutes Wright plays depends on how effective Kleiza is, but if Barbosa and Wright play the same amount, I’m inclined to say that we got better overall. Barbosa’s defense has his critics, but so far it’s never been a major issue because the Suns have been able to hide him through matchups, good substitutions, and making his offense count more than his defense. If he’s used as predictably as Triano used Jack and Calderon last year, we’re in trouble because he’s not a player you play one quarter at a time. That kind of usage will hurt him on defense, and take away from his spot-picking offense. The importance of Triano is also a sentiment echoed by a very good article on Raptors HQ which focused on individual defensive ratings. Better.
Interior Defense: This is what Amir Johnson was signed for. With Bargnani a constant carried over from last year, the Raptors are banking on Johnson’s energy being contagious and him forming a good understanding with Bargnani. Any frontcourt combination with Bargnani will never be great defensively, but if an understanding is developed where Bargnani is tasked to do with some basic interior rotations, and Johnson provides the bulk of the help, there’s an outside chance that this might work. Waiting in the wings if Bargnani becomes a liability is Solomon Alabi who, if he’s not in the D-League, should be given an early call if Bargnani struggles, if for nothing else than to wake Bargnani up from his defensive slumber. Better.
Rebounding: The Raptors were 24th in the league in rebounding, and lost Chris Bosh, a good defensive rebounder who played heavy minutes. The starting lineup change seems pretty straightforward, Johnson for Bosh, and if the numbers are extrapolated over minutes played, we’re looking at an improvement here, but the likely scenario is that Johnson will need help covering Bosh’s 36 minutes. Assuming he covers 30 and Davis covers the rest, we should improve. But Johnson’s promotion to the starting lineup means that our second-unit rebounding takes a hit, here we have to look at Joey Dorsey, Solomon Alabi and David Andersen to carry the load. I’m inclined to say that unless Ed Davis has a stellar rookie campaign, our rebounding effectiveness remains the same. There is minor improvement at the small forward where Kleiza takes over for Turkoglu, the former has a 10.4 TRB% compared to 8.9 TRB% for the latter with very similar usage rates. Same.
Three-point shooting: This is one of those areas that seemed like it was a problem last year, but the stats don’t exactly bear it out. The Raptors were 6th in the league in percentage, but only 18th in attempts. On the surface those rankings aren’t exactly terrible, but if you consider that the Raptors are a team that relies heavily on the three-pointer, the attempts need to be greater. In our division winning season, we were ranked 9th in percentage and 11th in attempts. Although both had poor shooting seasons, the exit of Turkoglu and Belinelli will have a negative effect on our three-point percentage. Those shots will be transferred over to Weems and DeRozan, 13% and 25% three-point shooters, respectively. Worse.
Shot-creation: The top four in assists last year read: Calderon (5.9), Jack (5.0), Turkoglu (4.1) and Bosh (2.4). It is possible that we’ll lose three of those four players without adding another playmaker or double-team threat. The responsibility of shot-creation will fall on Jack and the wing portion of YGZ™, aka Weems and DeRozan. Neither has yet shown much in the way of providing lesser talented teamates with clean looks, but it’s early days. Despite Barbosa’s quickness and zeal, he can’t be considered a shot-creator since he’s a scorer well before an assist-man. Worse, to the point of being fatal.
Up-tempo: When that term is used it’s too often restricted to just offense which is incorrect. For the last three seasons we’ve tried to mix a brand of up-tempo basketball with whatever Chris Bosh gave us. The coaching staff had a dilemma, on one hand you had a franchise player that wasn’t suited to fast-paced basketball, and on the other the GMing philosophy was that it was central to the team, but there was no suitable point guard to lead the attack. In fairness, it was a mess. Leaving Jack’s inexperience running this sort of offense aside, this is the first time since 2006-07 that the Raptors can be considered a gunning team. There’s nothing much to be be excited about here since scoring was never our main problem, the hope is that the Raptors can adapt an aggressive up-tempo style of defense where they can pressure teams using their much-improved athleticism. If up-tempo is only taken to mean getting out on the break, it’s a total waste. This is another area where Triano’s coaching is of paramount consequence, he’s going to have to form an identity with this lot, something akin to the OKC style of defense. Better, but only if the coaching is right.
The general theme with this team is that there appear to be enough pieces to produce a brand of exciting basketball that can lay a foundation for the future. The catalyst here will be coaching and what kind of work ethic, seriousness, commitment to defense, accountability, and team spirit, Jay Triano can instill. It might be asking too much of Triano to have an impact like Scotty Brooks in OKC, Doc Rivers in Boston, or Larry Brown in Charlotte, but we need something close. This team needs to be tightly knit from the get-go, and nothing resembling complacency or indifference should be tolerated. If the non-basketball part of the equation is sorted out, the basketball part has a much better chance of succeeding.