Ranked #13, the Raptors were a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to FT shooting. Chris Bosh might have his critics, but one thing he did extremely well was get to the line, in fact, he was 6th in the league in attempts per game and first amongst power forwards with 8.4. Number two on that list was Amare Stoudemire who got his FTs in a much different way. Whereas Amare got his FTs after being fouled going to the rim on pick ‘n rolls with Steve Nash, Bosh created his FTs out of thin air through isolations. Bosh was a FT machine whose trips to the line will be sorely missed. What Raptor can step in and make up the difference?
Andrea Bargnani averages 4.1 threes and 2.9 FTs a game. That is a ratio which leaves a lot to be desired in terms of big man play. Even if you consider the two players he’s most often compared to, Dirk Nowitzki and Mehmet Okur, those numbers are telling of his passiveness. Nowitzki averages 1.5 threes and 7.2 FTs a game, and Okur, despite considered a “softer” big man, still averages more FTs than threes – 3.3 to 2.9. Expecting Bargnani to make up for Bosh’s departure is a long shot, unless he significantly alters his style of play, his love of hoisting threes will always surpass that of fighting his way to the FT line.
The man expected to carry the load has to be DeMar DeRozan. The rookie had an unspectacular season where he didn’t even get called to the rookie-sophomore game, but there is one thing he did excel at: getting to the line. The numbers aren’t mind-blowing, but he was 6th amongst rookies in attempts and first amongst off-guards. Amongst rotation players, DeRozan was second on the Raptors behind Bosh with 5.6 FTA PER 48. Again, the numbers are not such that they’ll lead you to believe he’ll be a regular Karl Malone, but considering the slashing force-the-issue type of game he plays, it’s conceivable that DeRozan could be one of those guards that lives at the line.
His finishing is still weak, as evidence by the number of times he gets blocked in a game, but that hasn’t stopped him from venturing into the painted area looking for contact. The summer league doesn’t tell you much in terms of a player’s quality, but it can shed light on what area of his game a player is working on. Watching DeRozan this summer one had to conclude that he’s not willing to settle for anything less than a good shot. The reason he shot a ridiculous 58% in summer league isn’t because he was draining his jumpers, it was because he rarely took them. In his 26 minutes of play in Vegas, he went to the line close to 8 times a game. That rate isn’t going to translate to the NBA level because of the higher level of competition, but his aggressiveness can.
DeRozan gets to the rim in two ways: by either playing off the ball and slashing, or coming at the defense in transition. Those are two surefire ways of getting the ref to blow the whistle in your favor, but there is a third way that is entirely missing from DeRozan’s game, so far. It’s putting the defense under pressure off of an unused or live dribble. That can only happen if DeRozan’s ball-handling improves to the point where he’s able to use his quickness without letting the ball in his hands slow him down. It’s an area of his game that was hard to evaluate in summer league because he rarely got to initiate the offense, and also because we had two points on our summer league roster that insisted on showcasing themselves.
The regular season will be a different story, assuming Calderon gets traded, Jarrett Jack will be the primary point guard and he’s going to need some help. Unless Marcus Banks finds himself in the thick of the rotation, DeRozan is going to be asked to handle more of the ball. We saw Belinelli used like that last year, and his departure paves the way for DeRozan to assume the responsibility on a more regular basis.
Amir Johnson’s PER 48 FTAs of 4.9 are rather disappointing, but that’s only because scoring was never his priority. If his offensive game has improved to a level where his FG attempts can go from 4.1 to 8.2, would his FTAs also double? Unlikely, because his foul shots generally come from banging on the boards and forcing big men to foul him in loose ball situations, an increase in shot attempts doesn’t mean he’s going to force other people to foul him. If anything, a defense might see him try and execute an offensive move and be very well content with that, considering he’s not even a top five offensive player on the team (DeRozan, Weems, Bargnani, Jack and Kleiza would be ahead of him).
Sonny Weems’ 0.9 FTAs aren’t much to smile about and the recent news that he’s working on his threes could mean even that number will go down (at least PER48 wise). Depending on how he is used, Linas Kleiza could be a difference maker. In his first season with the Nuggets, Kleiza was a far more paint-oriented player than he is now. His PER48 FTA was 7.7, behind only Carmelo Anthony when considering rotation players. Over the years his game has shifted outside and his FTAs have taken a bit of a dive, but as Colangelo has stated a few times, Kleiza was acquired to operate in the post so we could see his FTs return to his rookie rate.
As with every void left by Chris Bosh, the Raptors don’t have the luxury of having a player who can step in and fill the gap. Version 5.0 of Andrea Bargnani was supposed to be that player, but the evidence suggests that it’s not going to happen, so the Raptors will have to tackle the FTA issue just like every other one – as a team.
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