Defending the wing

Safe to say we were pathetic at this last year. I remember doing game recaps and checking out box scores to find that Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker were being outscored by 60-90% on any given night, they ended up finishing 26th and 22nd in starter scoring for their respective positions. They were being torched and weren’t torching their counterparts nearly enough. Shawn Marion came and went without leaving a defensive mark that would make me feel sad about not re-signing him. I mean, when you let Caron Butler undress you like that at home, it says something. So how will we fare this year at the wing spots?

Manning the 2-3 spots for the Raptors last year were Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker and Joey Graham. This year we have DeMar DeRozan, Antoine Wright and Hedo Turkoglu. Forget defense, the first thing that jumps at you is that we have superior offensive firepower at the wings. We all know about Turkoglu (10th in scoring for his position) and have seen DeRozan’s potential; Wright’s a write-off but he still can’t be too much worse than Joey Graham on the offensive side of the ball. The 6′ 10″ Turkoglu adds size that can be utilized on both ends by a coach who recognizes the opportunity. I remember Phil Jackson using Toni Kukoc as a great defensive asset even though he was hardly a good defensive player. Kukoc (along with Pippen) was the Bulls’ trap-guy because of his length and got a lot of deflections just because he happened to be at the right spot on the court when those skip and point-to-wing passes were being made. He was a player whose good size was being used correctly by a good coaching staff.

I feel Turkoglu is a player that’s not given enough credit for his defense. He’s not an ultra-quick lock-down type defender, but he’s long and big, and more importantly, uses his head on defense which last year’s small forward (Moon) never did. In his life. Ever. I think Triano will appreciate the luxury of having a 6′ 10″ hedge-man who can make the return pass that much more difficult. If you put him on the floor with DeRozan and Jack you’ll get a 1/2/3 combination that’s athletic, strong and big. That to me is a huge improvement over last year where two of those three spots were leaking for 48 minutes a game.

I don’t know how DeMar DeRozan will fare defensively at the SG. It’s one of the toughest positions to defend simply because the skill level and athleticism of the players at the off-guard is tremendous. It is good to know that we have Wright waiting in the wings to help out the rookie. The natural comparison to last year would be with Parker who I feel (and as he acknowledged in the off-season) is only a good team-defender, what that means is that he can listen to the coach. Parker can tighten up on a player up but if that player is any good, he can drive by him on any given day. He doesn’t have the athleticism to be in two places at once and his recovery defense is non-existent. DeRozan is an upgrade athletically, the question is whether he’ll be disciplined enough to listen to the coaches, read the scouting reports and play to the weakness of the defender.

The 6’7″ DeRozan has the physical tools to defend but it all depends on how quickly his NBA initiation happens. He’ll be going up against Pierce, LeBron and Vince in the first month of the season so you’d think he’ll have learned the major defensive lessons early. Defense is about effort and commitment and since rookies usually find the offensive part tough, there’s no better channel to make up for your shortcomings on offense than defense. Just like Mo Pete did it. I think the major measuring stick for DeRozan will be how attentive he is to the coaching staff and whether he’s able to correct his early mistakes (which are bound to happen) quickly and thus earn the right to be on the court. If you can’t defend you’re a liability and Triano’s not going to fool around, especially if the effort and dedication isn’t there.

Turkoglu’s a defensive and offensive improvement over Moon. I’d consider Parker to be a better defender than DeRozan but that could change if DeRozan wants it to. The Parker of two years ago was an efficient scorer but last year’s version labored more than a cow giving birth to triplets. DeRozan is an unproven commodity but it’ll be awfully hard to be as inconsistent as Parker was last year. It’s a wash to start the season with DeRozan having the potential to be a much more productive scorer. This leaves us with Antoine Wright vs Joey Graham.

I haven’t seen Wright enough to comment on his offensive game but judging by his playoff performance and what’s coming out of coaches’ mouths, I’d say he’s a superior defender than Graham. Joey’s lateral movement reminded me of a closet; even though he went some ways in winning my approval through his hard-nosed offensive play to finish the season, he was still significantly below average in both departments. The worst you can say about Wright is that he sucks on offense but is an above average defender. So yeah, Wright gets the edge.

Don’t think I’ve forgotten about Belinelli, I just think he’s too much of a wildcard to be counted upon. I do love the “Don Nelson hated him and how that he’s on the loose he’ll show us how great he is” argument but that just isn’t true, the guy did get 21mpg last year so it’s not as if Nelson had him in solitary confinement and fed him through a keyhole for the whole year. Belinelli could be as good as Tracy Murray or Walt Williams or as bad as Tracy Murray or Walt Williams. I just cannot bring myself to expect anything particular of him.

I have my reservations with Jarrett Jack defending the off-guard, mostly because I don’t think he’ll be called upon to do that and also because he’s 6’3″. I think there will be enough work at the point to keep him occupied, but let’s play along for a minute. He’s a bullish player who can be posted-up but has the strength to push out the poster further out. However, a height disadvantage is a height disadvantage and at this level an off-guard with a reasonable jumper will be able to score on him whenever he feels like it. If you’ve seen him in Indiana you might’ve noticed his ability to draw contact on offense with a quick move followed by a hard-stop which bumps the defender slightly backwards, leaving him enough room for the mid-range jumper. I’m not sure about his blow-by ability but if his jumper is falling (and defenses will test that first) he’ll have the opportunity to create with dribble penetration against SGs. Sounds cozy enough but again, I just don’t think the off-guard is where he’s most valuable to us.

Overall, the wing defense has improved. I think we’ll be better at defending dribble penetration and have improved our athleticism and size to the point where we’re at least average. Turkoglu will improve production and DeRozan/Wright will at the very least wash out Parker/Graham. Will we have negative +/- at the 2/3? Can DeRozan learn to defend the off-guard? Is Turkoglu’s ability to play defense overblown? Is Wright as good as people say he is? Can Belinelli provide the scoring punch? Can Jack actually play significant minutes at the 2? These are just a few of the many questions that remain to be answered about our wings. Your thoughts are always appreciated.

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