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Thread: Proper Positions & the Raps' Dilemma (Doug Smith's Opinion - Post 37)

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    Default Proper Positions & the Raps' Dilemma (Doug Smith's Opinion - Post 37)

    I've been thinking a lot about the value of players playing in their proper positions. Basketball is a beautiful game that, while allowing individual players to really dominate, shines brightest when it is played as a team game, and, importantly, when that team game is played according to proper positioning. I think, to explain ball to someone unfamiliar with the game, it's best to start by listing the five positions and their respective roles, while also mentioning that each position can be referenced by a number 1 through 5. The numbers, to me, highlight the strategic nature of the game. Play by the numbers, plan out the game, understand the nuances and techniques and become a master. Position-by-number facilitates this. The 1-5 designation underscores a system of relativity of each position upon which the game thrives, in comparison to the more atomic "Shooting Guard," "Point Guard" or "Center" way of looking at the game.

    The Raptors, as they have it seems since at least when Colangelo came in, have been so frustrating because they refuse to acknowledge this most fundamental aspect of basketball. With Bosh and Bargs, the Raps had 2 PF's who were being played at the same time. Two 4's, in other words, and no 5. The Raps, with Bargs, were fielding 1, 2, 3, 4, 4. That might work for stretches, and it did, but you can't play the game consistently like that. The corollary of this was that ever since Bargnani came in, the Raps have not really felt the need to go grab a starting 5, or even a quality back-up 5 (with apologies to Rasho. No question of his value, but the Raps needed someone younger. They needed a future at the 5) because in their mind, they had two 4's who could also play the 5.

    This is also exemplified by the insane fielding of Jose, Jack and Turk. When those three were on the floor with Bosh and Bargs, the Raps were fielding an effective line up of 1,1,1,4,4. Pure, unadulterated madness. The only reason it makes sense to field such lineups is if you think your players at their positions aren't better than the other team's players at those positions. You play 1,1,1,4,4, in other words, because you don't have confidence that your 1,2,3,4,5 lineup is better than the other team's 1,2,3,4,5, and you try to play according to mismatch instead. By playing unorthodox, you cede the upper hand: weaker teams create match up problems. The better teams play basketball. By playing an unorthodox style, the Raps were tacitly admitting they were weak.

    So who do the Raptors have now? Jack, Calderon, Barbosa, Weems, Kleiza, Derozan, Bargnani, Johnson and Davis. Also they have Banks, Wright, Evans, Dorsey, Anderson and Alabi. The Raps have a ton of talent that runs 9 players deep, but what they're lacking is a focal point - someone who causes problems for the other team, someone the other team needs to plan against, and try to create a mismatch for. In response they must place a bigger emphasis on team play than usual, and they must as much as they can play solid, fundamental basketball. If they were contending, they'd be excused for trying to play the mismatch game. However, they're rebuilding, so they might as well rebuild according to proper basketball technique. That is, 1,2,3,4,5. This will help the players get used to playing the right way - the way basketball was intended to be played - and it will improve their overall basketball IQ.

    Jack/Calderon
    Barbosa/Weems
    Kleiza/Derozan

    The above back court groups provide two effective and complementary units that should be played together, each player in a position in which they can excel. There are three issues, though, and each position has one. These issues are Jack's weak skills as a primary playmaker (as a 1); Barbosa's size/combo nature (really a 1.5) and Derozan playing slightly out of position as a 3. The issues, in my opinion, I've listed in descending order of importance. Playing Jack and Barbosa together mitigates each others weaker playmaking, while keeping them in their natural positions. This double-combo-guard lineup - which is admittedly playing around a bit with the pure 1 and pure 2 ideal - is made more appealing by the Playmaking/Playfinishing unit of Calderon/Weems/Derozan who can come on in relief. I have no big problems, really, with Derozan at the backup 3, given the players on the roster as is. With Kleiza, they can switch in and out according to the match up, one being highly athletic and mobile, the other being a banger with shooting skills. The reason i would start Kleiza over Derozan is the veteran nature of Kleiza and the stability he would provide the starting lineup. This is where the match up game should be played: not, as was stated above, in turning 4's into 5's, or 3's into 1's, but in recognizing which 3, or which 1 ought to be on the floor at a given time.

    The real problems begin when you look at the front court. Bargnani, Johnson and Davis are all 4's. Bargnani is big enough to play the 5, but doesn't play like one. Johnson and Davis can play like a 5, but neither are big enough to be effective. Like under the Bosh era, the Raps - other than Alabi - have no one to play the 5. No matter what, the Raps will be fielding a 4,4 frontcourt. Again.

    Bargs should really be starting at the 4. This creates a big problem, though, in that Johnson and Davis both need a lot of minutes. Davis in particular. So Bargs by default becomes the 5. Eventually, honestly, if Davis plays the way he can when he was a projected top 3 pick, I think Johnson has to be traded.

    Johnson, as good as he might ultimately be, is the odd one out of the three, as his skills would be largely redundant when Davis is taken into account. His contract is too large given the needs at other positions and the plethora of 4's currently on the roster. Portland has Camby, Oden and Pryzbilla at the 5, but no one nearly as good as Johnson to back up Aldridge, who can also play the 5. I would trade Johnson in a heartbeat for any one of Portland's Centers, and I think Portland would have to think twice about turning down an offer with that as a base. Obviously, this can't happen until December (or whenever the date is) when Johnson can actually be traded, but it's something I think would greatly improve the Raps. Other 5's need to be looked as soon as possible if those don't happen, so that the Raps' players can get used to - as soon as possible - playing together, as a team, in their natural positions. No sense in waiting until the next offseason to make adjustments, given the rebuilding that is necessary.

    Jack/Calderon
    Barbosa/Weems
    Kleiza/Derozan
    Bargnani/Davis
    (Starting 5)/Alabi

    If you're going to rebuild, it is crazy to rebuild around improper positioning. It's like replacing crutches with a wheelchair. It may look different, but ultimately you still need help moving forward. This means no Barbosa at the 1. No Weems playing the 3. No Bargs at the 5. That is unless you're in the middle of the game and adjusting according to the flow. But these are contingency plans and bonuses that good teams can fall back upon, not primary plans upon which they are dependent.

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    Raptors Republic Veteran Buddahfan's Avatar
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    The idea of the numbers is totally outdated in how the game is now played.

    Far too many of the stars today play multiple positions that I can't even count them all.

    In some offenses like the Triangle and even Princeton you don't even need a good point guard.

    The idea is to play for most of the game the best five man unit from your squad and not some numbers match up game.

    Mismatches on one end of the court create mismatches on the on the other. If your five are talented enough which is the goal then you win the mismatch game and the majority of games.

    If your front line is lighter in the pants then you can compensate with quicker and more athletic players rather than big not so athletic players.

    It is all about having the most talented players and the coaching staff figuring out how best to play those five most talented players together to win games.

    It is not about a handful of numbers

    Unless those handful of numbers happens to be five Lebrons

    Give me a starting unit of 3 KGs in his prime along with 2 CP3s, a decent bench and Phil Jackson or Pops as the coach and I could beat any team in the NBA probably 95% of the time.
    Last edited by Buddahfan; Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 04:28 PM.
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    I disagree entirely with the premise of the post (but I'm glad that the OP opened the discussion). The concept of 1-5 positions is outdated and incorrect, in my view, and understanding basketball positions in a more realistic way is a major interesting challenge.

    The basic divide is between defense and offense. How a player is best used on offense often diverges from who they are best suited to guard on defense. The classic example of this is the 'tweener' guard, such as Leandro Barbosa -- on offense, doesn't play as a point, but as a shooter, cutter, penetrator; on defense, must guard the shortest players. The traditional way of saying this is that he's a 2 on offense, a 1 on defense, but even this is misleading.

    Why is it misleading? Because there is not much distinction between a 2 and a 3, offensively. Some 2's or 3's dominate the ball, like LeBron or Carmelo, others get their offense from catching and shooting, like Jason Kapono, others provide offense in transition or from cuts, like DeMar DeRozan. On offense, Kobe has more in common with LeBron than he does with DeMar, even though Kobe and DeMar are the same height and are both '2's, in theory.

    Perhaps the best way to think of offense is in terms of a cluster of skills: shot-creation, ball-handling, shooting, offensive rebounding. Some of these skills suffer from diminishing returns (ball-handling, shot-creation); others the more you have the better (shooting in particular). The 5 positions, on offense, are an amalgam of these skills which is somewhat accurate, but can also be misleading. Bargnani is a good example of this. He is an unusually good shooter for his size, an unusually poor rebounder, and above average in terms of shot-creation. This suggests that he would benefit from being paired with an above-average offensive rebounder -- but should this be an offensive '5'? What IS an offensive 5? Someone who can't shoot well but can post up and rebound? Do we NEED someone who can post-up aside from Bargnani (who is pretty good in the post)?

    On defense, what you need is a way of handling their offensive threats. This means you need big strong tall guys who defend the post: you need a range of heights and quicknesses. The ideal defender is a few inches taller than the guy they are checking, and is just as fast and strong. In practice, this is hard to achieve, but the only way to get good defense overall is to have a range of heights and quicknesses. But nothing says that the tallest, strongest guy on your team, who will naturally defend THEIR biggest guy, has to be your best rebounder and post offense on the other end. There is a good reason for this stereotype, of course, but lots of guys violate it. Look at Zydrunas Ilguaskas, who is definitely a 5 on defense (which just means 'at the top end of height and strength), but is basically a mid-range spot-up shooter on offense.

    So how do the Raptors look on this analysis? Well, we can rank defense in terms of position 1-5, where the basic idea is they can at least slow down the best sort of players of a certain type:
    5 -- tall and strong (defend Howard, Shaq, Yao, Bynum etc.)
    4 -- tall and quick (defend Bosh, Garnett, Amare, Durant)
    3 -- strong and athletic (defend Lebron (hah!), Carmelo, Iguodala)
    2 -- long and fast (defend Kobe, Joe Johnson, Ray Allen, Chauncey Billups)
    1 -- fast (defend Paul, Rose, Deron Williams, Aaron brooks)

    The raptors defense looks something like this:
    5: Bargnani, Alabi (sort of maybe not really), Evans (a bit)... Dorsey? Sort of?
    4: Bargnani, Amir, Davis, Evans, Kleiza
    3: Kleiza.... uh... maybe Amir, maybe DeRozan if he's bulked up? Weems if the guy is short or can't shoot?
    2: DeRozan, Weems
    1: Jack, Calderon, Barbosa, Banks

    Of course, this is still pretty inaccurate, since it leaves out things like 1's who can post up and have to be guarded by strong people, or 3's who can't shoot and so the defender's height is less of an issue.

    On offense, I think the big question is to what extent the Raptors will have trouble creating shots for themselves. Bosh may have been a '4', in theory, but his main role offensively (aside from rebounding) was to create shots, which he did efficiently at a high volume. It doesn't matter whether this years raptors create shots from the 4, the 1, or what have you: those numbers are pretty much meaningless anyways on offense. Bargnani, Kleiza, and Barbosa are all shot creators, as are Jack and Calderon (the difference being the pg's don't just create shots for themselves), but the question is whether they can step into the gap enough to make up for Bosh and Turkoglu. I think the other areas (ball-handling, shooting, offensive rebounding) the Raps offense will have more or less in hand (although traditionally our rebounding has been poor-ish and this season probably won't be too different unless Davis steps up).

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    Bargnani is not a 4. He's a 5. Can we all stop repeating this myth?

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    Quote Tim W. wrote: View Post
    Bargnani is not a 4. He's a 5. Can we all stop repeating this myth?
    I'm with you Tim. Just because he likes to shoot 3's doesn't make him a 4, just an excuse.

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    I wrote on another thread that the concept of creating his own shot is totally misunderstood and misused.

    In my opinion the best way to talk about offense in this regard is "the ability to create his shot".

    The ability to create a shot is the ability to be able to get the ball in a position which gives a player the greatest opportunity to get off their shot successfully. To shorten it even more.

    A player who can get the ball in his sweet spot is able to create his shot.

    This is true regardless of whether he gets into that position as a result of dribbling or as the result of receiving a pass.
    Last edited by Buddahfan; Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 07:46 PM.
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    Buddah: I agree that creating a shot doesn't require dribbling necessarily, but I disagree that it is enough simply to receive the ball in a position to shoot. If someone can only shoot if they're open (as is often the case), and they become open as the result of something someone else did (e.g. the PG drives and then kicks), they didn't create the shot. If someone's 'sweet spot' is 'open on the three point line', the question has to arise: why are they open? If it's not because of something they did, they didn't create the shot, even if they're the one who knocks it down.

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    I don't think the labels of PG, SG, SF, PF and C are outdated; I think the definitions of the positions have evolved sufficiently for most purposes. Plus, most fans - and certainly, most front offices - realize it's dynamic; you can get away with a quick, score first PG if you can compensate with a tremendous, all-around talent that can pass, like LeBron, at the 3, for example.

    EDIT: Oh, and that being said, Bargnani is a 5. He's not a PF. The 4 and 5 are mostly interchangable anyway. It's mostly a matter of defensive assignment. For the most part, you either need one fantastic post defender and rebounder or two above average ones.
    Last edited by TRX; Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 09:57 PM.

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    Quote Buddahfan wrote: View Post
    Give me a starting unit of 3 KGs in his prime along with 2 CP3s, a decent bench and Phil Jackson or Pops as the coach and I could beat any team in the NBA probably 95% of the time.
    Only 95%? That would be an incredible team.

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    Quote malefax wrote: View Post
    Buddah: I agree that creating a shot doesn't require dribbling necessarily, but I disagree that it is enough simply to receive the ball in a position to shoot. If someone can only shoot if they're open (as is often the case), and they become open as the result of something someone else did (e.g. the PG drives and then kicks), they didn't create the shot. If someone's 'sweet spot' is 'open on the three point line', the question has to arise: why are they open? If it's not because of something they did, they didn't create the shot, even if they're the one who knocks it down.
    The guy or even gal, can't forget the WNBA, who creates off the dribble is dependent on what his teammates do with regard to proper floor spacing, setting screens, blocking out weak side help etc.

    All shooters rely to some degree on what their teammates are doing on a play that makes it easier for them to get to their sweet spot,
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    Quote ImissDelfino wrote: View Post
    Only 95%? That would be an incredible team.
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    Quote Tim W. wrote: View Post
    Bargnani is not a 4. He's a 5. Can we all stop repeating this myth?
    It's not a myth as the Raptors brass see Bargnani as a PF- str8 outta BC;'s mouth. Why do you think he tried to acquire another big man to play center ie Chandler. So Bargnani could move into his natural power forward position- those are BC's words verbatim, not mine.

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    Quote SirChillyMost wrote: View Post
    It's not a myth as the Raptors brass see Bargnani as a PF- str8 outta BC;'s mouth. Why do you think he tried to acquire another big man to play center ie Chandler. So Bargnani could move into his natural power forward position- those are BC's words verbatim, not mine.
    Just because Colangelo believes this myth, doesn't make it true. I sense a post coming on...

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    Chandler was going to be Bargnani's backup.

    No way that Chandler whose entire game has always consisted on offense of dunks and some good defense and rebounding was going to start especially with his recent history of spending so much time in medical rehab. In addition starting Chandler and moving Bargnani to the #4 would have basically wiped out Davis' floor time.

    So when Chandler couldn't be gotten BC went and got Anderson who while not as good a defender as Chandler at least appears to be able to stay healthy and has a bit of an offensive game besides dunks. Not there is anything wrong with being able to make dunks. However, the reality of it is is that the only time in Chandler's NBA career that anyone thought he was worth much of anything on offense was when he was playing with CP3 and being spoon fed alley-oop passes at the rim. To his credit Chandler was able to be there for the passes and usually catch and finish on them.

    BC was trying to do that deal mostly because he wanted the "fat man" Diaw.

    It could turn out that that deal was the best one that never got finished though I would still have liked it to have been completed.

    We shall see.
    Last edited by Buddahfan; Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 07:28 AM.
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    Bargnani is a center. He plays better at the 5 spot because he has a bigger speed and skill advantage over other centers! Plus last year he was pretty good in the post against other 5s. Not like putting him at the 4 will take away his responsibilities for rebounds.

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    I disagree entirely with the premise of the post (but I'm glad that the OP opened the discussion). The concept of 1-5 positions is outdated and incorrect, in my view, and understanding basketball positions in a more realistic way is a major interesting challenge.

    The basic divide is between defense and offense. How a player is best used on offense often diverges from who they are best suited to guard on defense. The classic example of this is the 'tweener' guard, such as Leandro Barbosa -- on offense, doesn't play as a point, but as a shooter, cutter, penetrator; on defense, must guard the shortest players. The traditional way of saying this is that he's a 2 on offense, a 1 on defense, but even this is misleading.

    Why is it misleading? Because there is not much distinction between a 2 and a 3, offensively. Some 2's or 3's dominate the ball, like LeBron or Carmelo, others get their offense from catching and shooting, like Jason Kapono, others provide offense in transition or from cuts, like DeMar DeRozan. On offense, Kobe has more in common with LeBron than he does with DeMar, even though Kobe and DeMar are the same height and are both '2's, in theory.


    I think this is the best post I have read on RR since I have been reading this board. Of course, I may be influenced by the fact that I agree with the points above...but a lot of the arguments and debates I see are based on somewhat specious logic.

    Is Bargnani (insert any Raptor name here) a 5? I don't care if he a 5 or a 4 or a 3, or what position you put him on...will he create scoring opportunities for himself and others, will he box out his man, and negate opportunities for the offensive unit he opposes. Will he create mismatches, AND take advantage of them.

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    Bargnani is not a 5, he calls himself a 4 and the only thing that makes him a centre is his height. As per the original poster I got a couple of points.

    I agree with premise the of the 1-5, simply because the two best teams last year exemplified that classification.

    Lakers: 1.Fisher 2.Kobe 3.Artest 4.Gasol 5.Bynum. All play their positions differently and they compliment each other. Their 6.Odom is an undersized 5. and plays a 4/5 game which is a good thing for a player coming off the bench.

    Boston: 1.Rondo 2.Allen 3.Pierce 4.Garnett 5.Perkins. Big baby is an undersized 5. Wallace is a stretch 5. The rest of their bench can play as hybrids between two positions.

    If these are the model teams, you want to build your starters as your best match-up players. Your bench should be made up of versatile role-players.

    So..for the Raptors.
    1. Jack (traditional 1). 2.Derozan (2/3) 3.Kleiza (4/5) 4. Bargnani (4/5) 5. Johnson (undersized 5).

    Bench: Davis (traditional 4). Barbosa (undersized 2). Weems (2- undersized 3). Calderon (traditional 1). Wright (A 3 who is much more effective as a 4).

    Bench Warmers: Anderson (stretch 5). Alabi (traditional 5). Dorsey (A 4 who plays like a 5.) Evans (A 4 who plays like a 5).

    So, essentially the team has starters who'd be versatile bench warmers on a contender. The bench is made up of players who are either limited by their size or talent and play out of position. This is the teams failure with players who don't match up well against the competition.

    My favourite Raptors starting squad of all-time. 1.McGrady 2.Christie 3.Carter. 4.Oakley 5.Davis. (1999-2000) Is a talented traditional starting 5, something this team should build towards.

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    With respect to the Lakers

    Kobe has played both the #2 and the #3
    Artest has played both the #3 and the #4
    Gasol has played both the #4 and #5
    Odom at times as played the #3, #4 or #5. He played the #5 a bit after the Lakers got sick of playing Kwame. but before they traded him for Pau.

    The Lakers preference along with probably every other team in the league including the Raptors is to play their five starters in the positions that they are best suited for

    With regard to the Raptors if we are to use the outdated numbering concept

    Bargnani is a #5 straight up.
    Johnson is a #4 - He is in no way shape or form a #5 according to the outdated numbering scheme.
    Kleiza is a #3 in the NBA which is after all what we are talking about
    Calderon is a #1
    DeRozan is a primarily a #2
    Jack is combo

    The problem here in addition to the numbering concept now being outdated is that fans think they know more than the professionals who are running a team as to what position a player is best suited for. This is total nonsense.

    Unfortunately the reason that a lot of fans and even writers get thrown off track here is because a team will play a player out of position for extended periods of time if they think that that is beneficial to the team as a whole given the team's roster makeup. Al Horford being a prime current example. So as a result of this fans and writers say that the Hawks are playing Horford out of position which is true is a fantasy world but in fact the Hawks are playing him in the position best for the team given the reality of the Hawks current roster.
    Last edited by Buddahfan; Thu Sep 16th, 2010 at 10:31 AM.
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    Quote malefax wrote: View Post
    Buddah: I agree that creating a shot doesn't require dribbling necessarily, but I disagree that it is enough simply to receive the ball in a position to shoot. If someone can only shoot if they're open (as is often the case), and they become open as the result of something someone else did (e.g. the PG drives and then kicks), they didn't create the shot. If someone's 'sweet spot' is 'open on the three point line', the question has to arise: why are they open? If it's not because of something they did, they didn't create the shot, even if they're the one who knocks it down.
    I see your point of view which is what most people say. However, as I have posted I happen to disagree with the general concept here.

    When you position yourself to receive the ball in your sweet spot you are doing the same thing as when you dribble to the sweet spot in terms of the ultimate goal which is to make a basket.

    It is not as simple as you apparently think to position oneself properly behind the arc in order to receive a pass and shoot the ball successfully. Otherwise that is all that everyone would do.

    There is a lot less margin for error in shooting a three point shot than there is to shooting a five foot jump shot otherwise shooting percentages on three point shots would be at least as high as they they are on five foot shots, which of course they are not.

    Maybe I wasn't clear before. Creating your own shot in my opinion does not mean just getting yourself in position with the ball to take a shot. It means getting the ball in a location and body position where you have an above average chance of making the shot.

    If the league average say is 45% on two point shots from the elbow and a particular player only shoots 30% from the elbow in my opinion they are not creating their shot when they shoot from the elbow. Johnson is an example of this. Last season he shot pretty poorly on his jump shots from the elbow, especially visa visa his other shooting. So to me when he got the ball or dribbled the ball to the elbow and then took a shot he was not creating a shot in either case because it was a lousy shot for him.

    A player can dribble the ball all you want before taking a shot, but if it ends up being a bad shot; i.e. below average chance of going in, they are not in my opinion creating their own shot.

    Anyone on the court at any time that they have the ball can take a shot, but obviously the team wants their players to take a good shot with an above average chance of going through the rim.

    Bottom line is that I define creating a shot to mean: Getting the ball in a location via a pass or to a location via a dribble and body position where you have at least an average percentage chance of making the shot. I could care less how you get there with the ball.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Buddahfan wrote: View Post

    Bargnani is a #5 straight up.
    Johnson is a #4 - He is in no way shape or form a #5 according to the outdated numbering scheme.
    Kleiza is a #3 in the NBA which is after all what we are talking about
    Calderon is a #1
    DeRozan is a primarily a #2
    Jack is combo
    Why is Bargnani a 5? Is it his style of play or his height? If Howard is a 5 and Nowitzki is a 4, Bargnani is also a 4.

    Johnson is a 5 the same way Big Baby is a 5. They are both undersized but their game is limited to 5ft from the basket.

    Kleiza is a 3 for Denver and will most