Shape Up or Ship Out: Wings

Today we tackle the small forwards.

Based on the comments in yesterday’s post, I think some clarification is needed as to what the “All Good” category means. Most of the comments didn’t agree with DeRozan being “all good” because the literal meaning of the phrase was assumed, i.e., everything about him is good. Of course not, the category meant to indicate that everything about his trajectory is acceptable and if he improves at the same rate blah blah blah you get the point. So I’m changing the name of All Good to “As you were” meaning keep doing what you’re doing and you should get there. If that is also mistaken, my next step will be to change it to “Not Solomon Alabi” just to avoid any confusion.

Today we tackle the small forwards, or as I’ve incorrectly referred to them in the title as “wings”.

Sonny Weems: His shooting percentage between 16-23 feet fell 9% to 38% from the year before. An even more dramatic drop was seen in the 3-9 feet range where he fell 16% to 38%. The jumper is pretty much 80% of Weems’ game, and when that wasn’t falling he was utterly useless. Two things frustrated me about Weems: 1) He obviously has the athleticism, agility and body-type to be a good defender, yet he’s more or less a pylon because of a lack of commitment to the cause, 2) That lacking effort and seriousness came in a contract year after the Raptors took a flier on an unknown commodity, highlighted him in marketing campaigns, and even created a supporters group around him and his friends. The injury bug did hit him for 23 games, so that had something to do with his dip, but from I can recall he was quite crap right from the beginning. He was also slightly out of position playing the three and being guarded by taller guys, which could have impacted his shooting percentage. The problem in Toronto has always been that we’ve expected players to play beyond their means despite them sparingly showing any evidence of doing so at any point in their career – Weems fits squarely in that group. With due sensitivity to his injury and fairly young age (turning 25 very soon), I’m inclined to give him a “Shape Up” but…
Verdict: Ship out.

Linas Kleiza: Kleiza is a bench player thrust into a starting role by Bryan Colangelo. Sound familiar? Yes, of course, the two other Colangelo mid-level exception signings were escalated to a starting role as well: Jarrett Jack and Jason Kapono. Yes Bryan, I understand you blew the MLE on him, but that doesn’t make him a starter in the league. As seen in Denver, Kleiza is obviously a capable and productive role player who can pose (and has posed) mismatch problems, while being a real spark off the bench. In Toronto, he’s asked to face the other team’s starting small forward who is only too eager to test Kleiza’s slow-moving feet on close-outs, one-on-ones and in transition. The issue with Kleiza needs to be seen in context of the Raptors’ desperate need for three-point shooting – he shot 29.8% from three last year, and is a career 33.6% shooter from downtown. That would be acceptable if he was a consistent offensive threat otherwise, or a good defender. He’s neither. He can’t dribble more than three times without getting a nervous twitch, and his little fade in the lane is easily stopped by faking help or having a lengthier guy on him. In other words, he can’t make much of his bulk advantage at the three, and isn’t skilled or strong enough to take on fours. Despite all this, I’ll still take him on my team because he’s proven NBA bench stock. It’s time to move him there and use his strengths instead of letting his weaknesses be exposed, because he’s certainly better than an overpaid underachiever and can bring a sense of much-needed grit.
Verdict: Shape Up.

Julian Wright: Aah. Very good defender, surprisingly good ball-handler and playmaker, but above all a terrible, terrible shooter. In the modern NBA (or even in the old one), there’s little use for a guy whose man on defense will be allowed to roam as he pleases because he can’t make a jumper. Wright would make a great fit on a contender where he’s asked to play situational, assignment-specific ball. On the Raptors, he’s just a guy whose ceiling is only too evident, and doesn’t tempt a club to invest any time in him because players like these are found anywhere between pick #23-60.
Verdict: Ship out.

James Johnson: Not sold on the guy as some, but am willing to give him another look on account of him only playing a half a season of somewhat meaningful basketball. His defense isn’t up to snuff, but he does have the athleticism and length to improve. His ball-handling is above-average for his position and it’s easy to see that he can be a passing and scoring threat if his mid-range game improves. You have to wonder just how much more of an impact players like Johnson and Bayless can have if the Raptors had better outside shooting which would force the defense to spread, thus creating more room to operate for players adept at taking it to the rim. Johnson’s undecisive play in playmaking situations sometimes stains his labour as a passer. At this point I don’t see it as a weakness, but a room for improvement, especially for a man who just turned 24. Of greater concern is his sometimes carefree attitude on the floor, reminds me to much of Sonny Weems,
Verdict: Shape up.

Have a good Sunday. I’m going to watch a re-run of Barcelona’s spellbinding demolition of Manchester United.

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