Secondary Effects of Johnson Addition

6 mins read

Bryan Colangelo was at it again on Monday, sign-and-trading Carlos Delfino (with Roko Ukic) to the Milwaukee Bucks for Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems.

Quickly, my thoughts are as such: the Raptors and Delfino couldn’t close the financial gap in contract talks, so the Raptors did what they could to get something out of their restricted hold on ‘Loso. It sounds like fans have more of a problem giving up Ukic than Delfino in the deal, which I appreciate, but without retooling his shot and making serious strides with his court vision and leadership, Ukic wasn’t going to get any run behind Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon anytime soon. It always hurts to lose a young player with potential, but he no longer had a place on the Raptors and may get a chance in Milwaukee.

In Johnson, the Raptors get another tough big man to pair with Reggie Evans and Rasho Nesterovic as the substitution platoon. Despite not living up to his potential (allegedly) in Detroit, Johnson is still just 22 years old and has fairly large upside as a shot blocker and post defender. I’m a big fan, personally, and his toughness is a welcome addition. He’s also stronger offensively than Evans, providing a little more versatility in the rotation.

At the same time, as Raps Fan outlines, DeMar DeRozan is thrust into a bigger role. Essentially, losing Delfino (our supposed backup-SF) for another big pushes Antoine Wright into more SF minutes, leaving more minutes open at SG for DeRozan (or possibly, minutes for DeRozan at SF).

And finally, the Raptors acquired more team-specific upside than they gave up.

So I guess those were my not-so-quick thoughts on the deal. I like it, I love Johnson, and this is another Colangelo special.

What really sticks out to me looking at the new roster, though, is how the first and second units contrast pretty obviously in terms of style.

The first unit (which I am considering to be Calderon, DeRozan, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Bosh, and Andrea Bargnani…seems a fair assumption except for possibly DeRozan) is a flashy, floor-spacing, offensive-minded group. Everyone is capable of creating their own shot, moving the ball, and to a person they all have some defensive limitations. This is a group that should be among the most exciting, offensively-explosive sets of five in basketball, with the question being whether they can defend well enough together to keep their opponents from scoring in equally large chunks.

The second unit (some combination of Jack, Marco Belinelli, Antoine Wright, Johnson, Evans, and Nesterovic) is much less gifted offensively. Belinelli can shoot, Jack is a strong point guard, and the others (save for Evans) all have some offensive skills. Still, for the most part this is a group that gets by on toughness and defense, Belinelli excluded. It should be a group that rebounds well, hustles hard, and defends to at least a league-average level.

The contrast between the two groups couldn’t be starker. Evans, Nestervoic, and Johnson all seem like the type of bigs that would complement Bosh and/or Bargnani well on the floor, while Wright makes up for the defensive deficiencies of DeRozan and/or Turkoglu.

Obviously, a key challenge for coach Jay Triano will be to mix and match the units as the game progresses to optimize the team’s performance. I think it’s fairly evident that running the second unit out as a whole for extended time could be troublesome offensively, while sticking with the first unit for long stretches late in games could leave the team prone to defensive collapses. So Triano, now given a much more plentiful roster of talent than in his 65 game trial last season, faces much more difficult personnel and lineup decisions.

While I won’t pretend to know how these units will shake down, I think having Demar DeRozan come off the bench has almost become a necessity. Such a move would afford DeRozan more opportunities to develop his offense and would improve the starting unit’s defense with the addition of either Jack or Wright. Obviously, the minutes a group spends together matters more than an actual starter/reserve designation, so I might be better off suggesting DeRozan spend more time with the subs than the starters.

Regardless of which direction Triano takes the team in terms of lineup shuffling, Colangelo’s offseason moves have created a roster environment where Triano has options, to say the least. Finding minutes and combinations for 11 players is a blessing and a curse, and finding the best five-man lineups will be something Triano is evaluated on all season long.

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