A Proposed Signing of an Ex-Piston

Which ex-Piston can fill multiple gaps on the Raptors roster while fitting in Project Youth?

OK, here me out on this one. There’s two things the Raptors need to address this off-season: three-point shooting and defense. This has to be done acknowledging that the “window of contention” isn’t coming for another couple years, if it ever does. Defense is too broad of a concept to be addressed by a single signing, but assuming the Raptors address that through someone like Tyson Chandler or some other acquisition via trade, there’s still the issue of three-point shooting.

Only one player shot above 35% last year and that was Jose Calderon (36.5%), everybody else was poor. Bargnani with a career-worst, 34.5%, Barbosa at 33.8%, Kleiza 29.8%, James Johnson shot 24%, DeRozan with a miserable 13.2%, second on the team was the streaky Jerryd Bayless who came in at 34.8%. These are all wing players who are generally responsible for supplying this skill. As a team the Raptors were a league-worst 31.6%. Contrast this with Dallas’ 36.5% three-point shooting last year, and you what comes into view is the obvious but often forgotten concept of floor-spacing, an element which Casey’s movement-heavy offense needs to succeed. With the Raptors unable to make opponents pay for congesting the lane and doubling without fear of penalty, it’s not a shock the Raptors were 21st in offense last season. And remember, offense was supposed to be our strength! That belief was based on the year before when the Raptors had the league’s 5th best offense, and you might not be surprised to hear it was also a year the Raptors shot 37.1% from three – 6th in the league.

Is there correlation between three-point shooting and efficient offense? A quick glance at the numbers say “probably”, but we’ll have Liston look at those in detail another day. In a perfect world, the Raptors wings would all shoot a healthy percentage and Bargnani would supplement the shooting even more, but that isn’t happening. Teams also tend to bring three-point shooters off the bench (James Harden, Jason Terry, J.J Redick etc.) but on the Raptors that role belongs to Leandro Barbosa, who is more inclined to set up the three than make one, although he did make his fair share of big shots last season. Sonny Weems teased early in the season and faded as winter grew stronger, now he’s on his way to Europe.

The question is, should the Raptors import a long-range sniper, and if so, who? The former part of the question is probably more important. Do we need to attempt to win games? Logical answer is no, but even if the season is a purely educational one, shouldn’t we at least study with the right books? Answering in the affirmative, I will suggest the Raptors try to make a play for Arron Afflalo (LA Times profile). For those who haven’t seen him much, here’s a rundown of his game thanks to John Hollinger:

+ Tough, strong defender with outstanding fundamentals, but a limited athlete.

+ Good outside shooter, especially from corners, who has adjusted to pro 3-pointer.

+ Not a quick or elusive dribbler; struggles to create own shot and finish at rim.

Afflalo makes for a decent stopgap because of his defense, but if he’s going to be a viable long-term starter, he has to make a greater impact at the offensive end. Fortunately, there’s a path to doing so that he already embarked upon last season: becoming a 3-point specialist.

Afflalo hit 43.4 percent of his 3s, his second straight season at better than 40 percent. Clearly he can stroke it. The problem is he regularly steps inside the arc — only 43 percent of his shots were 3s. Usually for a specialist with this kind of accuracy, it will be well more than half.

Afflalo isn’t being asked to create shots off the dribble or anything; in fact, he had the fourth-lowest Usage Rate at his position. He’s just choosing to step in off the catch too often, and it’s the wrong choice. He has to be a high-efficiency 3-point sniper in this role. If he’s ducking in to shoot 2s or drive to the basket, he’s not nearly as great a threat.

I liked him in his Detroit days, and now he’s found his niche in the league – defense and three-point shooting. He’s like a younger version of Raja Bell, and a saner version of Ron Artest but at the off-guard. Unlike Julian Wright, his man can’t leave him to double-team the power forward, the center or simply chat up the cute girl sitting courtside, and unlike Weems he’s committed to defense and has honed a valuable offensive skill. At 25, he’s the right age and fits in well with Project Youth. Once Barbosa says his goodbyes next summer (or at the deadline), Afflalo can step in perfectly.

The problem is that last season he started every game for Denver and would expect a starting role wherever he goes. He’s also stated that he would like to return to the Nuggets, where he has received a $2.9M qualifying offer. Instead of deluding ourselves that James Johnson is a possible answer at small forward, what about going for Afflalo as the two guard, and moving DeRozan to the three? DeRozan can’t get much worse defensively so I don’t buy the argument that his defense will suffer at the small forward spot. Here’s an interesting tidbit from his pre-draft camp which I think still holds true: as athletic as he may be, his agility is poor and no matter where you play him, he’ll make the same defensive concessions:

DeRozan had shockingly poor numbers in the agility and sprint tests for a guy who is supposed to be a “raw athlete” who plays above the rim. Harden scored better than DeRozan in the standing vertical, and had a longer wingspan and standing reach, despite being about an inch and a half shorter.

The agility and sprint scores for DeRozan were below the average for shooting guard prospects. Given that DeRozan’s status in the top-10 hinges on his athletic ability, one has to suspect that he might fall down a few draft boards, especially since he is coming out as a freshman. Also, one has to be concerned about his defense when his agility score is much worse than Harden, especially with Harden being considered the smarter player.

So, if moving DeRozan over to the three is a wash defensively, you can now make a case that his offense will suffer due to being guarded by taller defenders. Sure, I’ll give you that, but if DeRozan is the star that we’re expecting him to be, the least he should be able to do is score regardless of wing position. And it’s not unreasonable to imagine that DeRozan, once he establishes himself, will face the opposition’s best defender every night. In that case, his position is moot.

You want to shore up the defense? Do it by plugging the holes on the perimeter and install a big who can rotate. Then you get to mess around with all the zone combinations you want knowing you have rebounding guards and a frontline which likes to hit the glass. On the other end, spread out the defense and let the one-on-one players like DeRozan (not there yet, but will be), Bargnani and Davis see what they can do. Throw in a little motion-offense with a pinch of a three-point threat, a scoring punch off the bench, and now you have a team instead of a bunch of a guys looking to get theirs.


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