Take Three: Triano, Alabi and Weems

We unearth the reason why Jay Triano is immune to heat, where Solomon Alabi’s proper place is, and which Raptor can best emulate the defense of Scottie Pippen.

Take 1: Jay Triano has everything to prove

Yesterday’s post brought about some interesting comments about Jay Triano. There’s generally been a soft sentiment towards him where fans give him the benefit of the doubt in every 50-50 situation. The only writer on this site that has been critical of him from day one has been phdsteve (returning soon with his Wednesday Rapcast), who has maintained that Triano is not the right man for the job. How much of last year’s success and failure is directly attributed to Triano is impossible to measure as there is no statistic which quantifies a coach’s ability. The Raptors were a team that beat the weak ones, lost to the good ones and played .500 ball against those in their echelon. There’s not a string of games one can point which would suggest that the team played beyond their ability; however, there were games where the effort didn’t measure up and that’s where the harshest criticism of a coach usually lies.

Here’s the equation which works in favor of Triano. In two years, he has a record of 65-82, with the GM confident at the outset of both seasons that the team had the potential to compete. Either the players didn’t deliver, or the GM put the wrong players together, or the coaching was way off. If you ask any sensible observer to rank the severity of those three points, you would find that the coaching will likely be deemed the least problematic. It’s not because it wasn’t a problem, it’s because the other two were spectacular failures. The only reason Triano is looking halfway decent right now is because the GM is looking equally bad and has publicly acknowledged that the heat heat needs to be directed towards him. Triano’s association with Team USA is also helping his street credibility, but that glow isn’t going to last long, and at some point Triano will have to produce tangible results. Hasn’t happened yet.

Take 2: Solomon Alabi should be ahead of David Andersen in the rotation

A while ago I suggested sending Alabi to the D-League in order to accelerate his development. Scratch that, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be backing up Andrea Bargnani. What is the point of giving a 30-year old David Andersen playing time ahead of a 22-year old who the organization touts as a great prospect. This year is already being dedicated to rebuilding and giving Andersen, who’s in the last year of his contract, minutes ahead of Alabi is wasting them in the name of ‘veteran presence’. If Andersen can provide that presence in the locker-room by influencing youngsters like Alabi and Davis to play the game the right way, consider his salary accounted for.

Alabi needs to be baptized by fire and throwing him out there in the heat of battle will allow him to hone his defensive instincts much faster. The sooner he gets acclimatized to help defense situations, rebounding positioning and the lot, the sooner he gets to be in a position to truly help this team, perhaps a year or so down the road.

Take 3: Putting wings on point guards

The GM and coach believed dribble penetration at the point of attack to be the #1 problem of the defense last year. What have we done to mitigate that? Leandro Barbosa isn’t going to help in that area, and Jarrett Jack was only marginally better than Jose Calderon at holding other guards down. In yesterday’s post, Jay Triano mentioned that athleticism was going to help in this regard, and the only way I see that happening is if we start putting Weems, DeRozan or Wright on opposing points in a Scottie Pippen on John Stockton type role – back off the point and use your length to still contest the shot. The last time the Raptors tried this strategy was with Jamario Moon, who happened to be a sucker for head-fakes, pump-fakes, hip-fakes, and eyebrow-fakes.

This kind of strategy can work well, but only if the defender in question happens to be an instinctively good defender, not just a tall athletic wing. Due to their experience, James Posey, Ron Artest and Trevor Ariza are more apt for this role, and it’s only with experience that the Raptors can hope to produce their own version of this kind of player, be it DeRozan, Weems or Wright. I’m thinking Wright is too good of a defender to “waste” on such an assignment and that he’s better suited to guarding the opposing team’s best wing. This assignment is more suited for Sonny Weems, who played the role in tiny bits last year. His patient style of play, enthusiasm for defense, lower center of gravity, and better defensive stance, make him more likely to succeed as a defender in a PG switch.

I realize that based on body-type, it’s natural to suggest that DeRozan is a better candidate for the role, but he’s still got a long ways to go in terms of sticking with people through screens. Until he is much more mentally aware of his own defensive positioning with respect to his teammates, and isn’t caught on his heels at the three-point line so often, Sonny Weems is my preferred choice. What do you think?

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