The defensive stopper is overrated

9 mins read

Injecting one good-to-great defensive player as a remedy for a poor defensive unit sounds like a bad strategy, and it is. Two years ago we added Jermaine O’Neal, a fine rebounder and a great shot-blocker and hoped that it would help our defensive fragilities, but little did it matter. Individually, O’Neal did well averaging 2 blocks and 7 rebounds in less than 30 minutes, but that didn’t help the Raptors from finishing bottom-third in league defense. Last year Antoine Wright, a very good defensive player in Dallas, was brought in to address the wing problem and the issue of dribble penetration. In the end it proved that Wright was more valuable as a poor three-point shooter than a defender.

There was also Reggie Evans, a poor man-defender but a decent rebounder, who was traded for to address rebounding. Due to injury and an unexplainable addiction to convert the rare rebound he got to a failed field-goal attempt, was about as useless as a Raptor ever was. Jamario Moon was signed out of the D-League because of his above-average defense and Sam Mitchell extended him for 28 minutes a game. It didn’t make a difference. Before that we acquired a tremendous defensive player in Jason Kapono who…just seeing if you’re paying attention.

This year the Raptors acquired Julian Wright in an offense-for-defense trade that saw misfiring sniper Marco Belinelli go the other way. Wright’s only chance of staying in the NBA is to become a defensive stopper, and sticking him on the Raptors isn’t going to help his reputation. If history is any indication, and unless Carlesimo has a significant positive impact on the Raptors’ defensive schemes, the Raptors will be a poor defensive unit under Triano and will make decent defensive players look bad because of their overall team defense. There is great value to these players, but only when the environment they’re being asked to apply their trade in is conducive to their talents. Our previous forays into the trade and free-agent market for defensive stoppers has been marred with a tinge of naivety, as we’ve expected good individual defenders to have a team-wide impact.

Pound for pound, the Raptors have replaced Chris Bosh with Ed Davis and Hedo Turkoglu with Linas Kleiza, the defensive gains in either of these switches can at best be described as modest. The position that is popularly blamed for our defense crumbling like a house of cards is the point guard, a position where we have actually gotten worse defensively with the addition of Leandro Barbosa. As hinted at, Julian Wright has been our only true defensive gain this summer which makes for a very bad omen. The Raptors have added Solomon Alabi to the roster and could see Joey Dorsey as part of a lengthier rotation, but to expect either to have significant impact (especially given the shortage of minutes at the bigs) is being sanguine.

The likely increase in Sonny Weems’ minutes could mean better defense at the wing, but he’s slated to be a bench player playing behind DeRozan and Kleiza/Wright. It’s conceivable to think he’ll be a good, if not solid, defender but what about the starting five?

Andrea Bargnani: Notoriously poor help-defender who tries to make up for it by playing good man-defense. The only problem is that he gets put in help situations ten times more often than he gets to guard a guy one-on-one. Poor rebounder. 5/10.

Amir Johnson: Aggressive rebounder, improving man-defender who over-commits and hasn’t yet learned how to defend without picking up silly fouls. 7/10.

Julian Wright: A very good defensive player who can anticipate the play, rebound well and has great athletic ability which he uses well. At only 23 and barring injury, his defense will improve with experience. 9/10.

Jarrett Jack: If this were rugby he’s be a great player. His excellent strength can be handy in pushing out a player who’s trying to get position on the block or needs to be bodied up tight on the perimeter, but his lack of quickness makes him an ill-suited defensive point-guard. 6/10.

DeMar DeRozan: Negotiating screens was a major problem last year, both because of his newness to the league and his lack of strength. A jumpy defender that is too often found to be leaning in the wrong direction or having his weight off-balance, giving his man freedom to go to any part of the court without significant resistance. 5/10.

There’s nothing in terms of personnel moves to suggest that we’ve improved more than five or so spots (if that) in league defense since last year, which means that the Raptors are banking on a different defensive philosophy to help the team get better on that end. Last year’s defensive scheme was little more than using junk defense for a full season, and the coaching staff has to be held accountable for that. The flavor of this year’s defense remains to be seen, it could be a greater emphasis on the matchup-zone or the 2-3 zone, both of which Triano experimented with last year. People get excited when they think of three-guard lineups because it speaks to a certain kind of offense, but there are defensive possibilities there as well. A team does compromise size, but it allow them to trap and press, something we haven’t even attempted to do and fairly so. After all, a lineup of Turkoglu, Jack and Calderon is as likely to execute a successful trap as Reggie Evans is to pass the ball after an offensive rebound.

What defensive techniques can the Raptors use with the personnel they currently have?

With Jose Calderon and a big TPE at his disposal, should Colangelo address the defensive needs, or should he rely on the coaching staff to implement an appropriate strategy and simply wait till next summer when the future is less murky?

Rudy Fernandez has publicly stated that he will not be coming back to the Blazers. Would you like to see him on the Raptors or are we already set at shooting guard? My opinion here is that we stay away from him because he’s another player that doesn’t play enough defense, is too focused on his own self and will complain if he doesn’t get playing time, something that is very likely if DeRozan and Weems live up to the hype.

I’ve never considered myself privileged enough to receive threats, but this weekend changed all that. Why? Because I was the only blogger that proclaimed that those three stooges in Miami wouldn’t win an NBA title. The justification for my answer was:

Chris Bosh’s bum knee will cause him to miss games, and there will always be better teams, even though they might not have stars.

Maybe the answer is more hopeful than likely, but it’s certainly not hot air. Bosh did miss 13, 15, 5 and 12 games in his last four seasons, and to suggest that his recent weight increase is going to wreak havoc on his knees isn’t unrealistic. Once you factor in all the travel because of his “new found exposure” and the toll of being both Wade and James’ full-time b*&^%h, I can see injuries in the mix.

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