Raptors Player Profiles – Bigs

10 mins read

As promised, now that ESPN’s John Hollinger has released his player evaluations for the Toronto Raptors, I’m ready to share my take on his take.

On Hollinger
I know Hollinger gets a bad rap for a few things and there are vocal groups who don’t like him, but I find his written player profiles to be of value. For one, he sees a lot more data and video and basketball than I do, so I trust that he generally knows what he’s talking about (even if his once cutting-edge stats are now usurped by those of Basketball Reference, 82Games and more). In addition, when it comes to non-Raptors, it’s a handy first checkpoint for scouting, because his profiles do a good job wrapping up the players into simple generalities. (This obviously isn’t a healthy habit as a standard operating procedure, but for a first-glance it’s valuable).

Pay-Wall Caveat
With that long-winded introduction done, allow me one more unnecessarily wordy caveat – his player profiles are behind the ESPN Insider pay wall. As an ESPN Insider, I get access to the Hollinger stats and player profiles, while non-members, I believe, only get snippets. So in my reactions below, I kind of have to toe the line with respect to giving away too much of the “pay” content. Hopefully I’ve found a happy mid-way point between giving away his content and not providing anything of value.

I looked at Hollinger’s three “Scouting Report” bullets, wrote my reaction, and then read his “Analysis” portion to see if I missed any salient points.

Yesterday was part one examining the guards and wings, and today we’ll take a look at the big men.

Projected Starters – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas

Big Men
Andrea Bargnani
Hollinger Pro: Jump shooting; off catch or with dribble/jab; improved defender
Hollinger Con: Soft; rebounding
My Take: I was surprised to see Bargs get a bit of love for his improved defense because I assumed this would have been an element that flew under the radar of the national media last season. Still, playing at the four obviously agrees with him defensively, allowing him to worry about using his length to guard his man rather than focusing on help-D, where Amir tags in. Obviously the rebounding is an issue, but it’s something the team can work around by putting strong rebounders around him, which they’ve done with Lowry, Fields, and Amir all possibly joining him in the starting unit. Given the dichotomy in the Republic’s opinions on Andrea, there isn’t much point in diving in too deeply. After six seasons we know who he is for the most part but he still seems to make incremental improvements each year, leaving me excited to see how he looks with renewed health, a new season, and some new teammates around him.

Jonas Valanciunas
Hollinger Pro: Mobility; scoring near basket; rebounding
Hollinger Con: Strength
My Take: Hollinger doesn’t seem to know much about Jonas, but his European translation stats speak highly of his upside, however reliable those translations are. A good point made is that Jonas’ strong free-throw shooting portends potential as a mid-range shooter, which is important to keep in mind since the book all offseason has been about his skill as a dive-man exclusively. Jonas is obviously The Big Unknown this year (aka the Lethaluanian…apologies to Eric Smith, but I’m taking this from Kleiza and giving it to Jonas), but luckily for all of us we start to find out more soon (assuming his calf heals in time for early exhibition games).

Ed Davis
Hollinger Pro: Finishing; shot-blocking; rebounding
Hollinger Con: Can’t create; turnovers; strength
My Take: I disagree with a lot of Hollinger’s discussion about Davis being “a 5 in a 4’s body,” since, as you’ve probably learned by now, I don’t really feel the need to shoehorn guys into the traditional five positions. The fact that Ed can only score near the basket and is a strong rebounder doesn’t have as much to do with position as it does with role, and the profile Hollinger describes is one that fits well offensively with someone like Andrea Bargnani. Sure, Davis is much too weak to guard centers so he may rarely play with Andrea, but questioning his fit offensively seemed odd to me. The talk from camp has been that Davis’ shot is much improved, which is something I outlined all season as a must-have for him this year, and if that’s even remotely the case then Hollinger’s entire take here goes out the window, as he could then conceivably play with Jonas or Amir comfortably as a “more true four.” Either way, it’s make or break time for Ed, given the battle for minutes among the bigs this preseason. Then again, I’m notoriously a Davis-backer, so take my analysis with a grain of salt.

Amir Johnson
Hollinger Pro: Finisher; shot-blocking; rebounding
Hollinger Con: Foul-prone; post-game
My Take: Hmm, decent midrange shooter but poor finisher? Sounds like a fair tag-team partner for Ed, doesn’t it? I digress. While the discussion mostly focuses on Amir as a four, the Raptors pair him with Andrea often due to their complementary games, and in those situations Johnson is the center, period. Obviously, fouls and turnovers remain a problem, but given the depth this team has in the post I can actually deal with a high foul rate if it means the rebounding and defense stay at the levels we’ve become accustomed to. I don’t think there’s the expectation of 35 minutes for Amir any longer, so if we all except the fouls and embrace the rest of his profile, we have a very adequate starting center, albeit a non-traditional one.

Aaron Gray
Hollinger Pro: Rebounding; low-post play
Hollinger Con: Fouls; mobility/athleticism
My Take: Gray will probably find himself on the short end of playing time this year except in certain match-ups, as he doesn’t provide much that isn’t found elsewhere on the roster except for size. He’s an adequate short-minute fill in, especially against big opposition, but he doesn’t add a lot beyond rebounding. All of this is readily obvious watching him for two minutes, so you don’t need an ESPN Insider account to confirm that for you. I like Gray as a 12th-man type, but it will infuriate me to no end if he gets consistent run now that Andrea is back full-time and Jonas has been added to the mix.

Quincy Acy
Hollinger Pro: Leaping; rebounding; shot-blocking
Hollinger Con: Skills
My Take: So he might just be a bench player with a bit of flash and a bit of grit, you say? Fine by me for a second round pick, especially if Casey can coax meaningful defense out of him. Personally I’d like to see Acy get some D-League time to refine his offensive game and work on the team’s defensive principles as a four, but the unfortunate nature of sharing a D-League affiliate with other teams is that you’re not afforded the luxury of managing your own players closely (MUCH more on that in a future piece I’m developing). As it is, Acy will either be a high-rebounding D-League player or a regularly inactive practice body, neither of which should be considered disappointing for a second round pick, even one who was a college senior.

I think Arse is going to have something over the weekend, but regardless you should check back on the holiday Monday, as I’m kicking around the idea of live-blogging the Raptors v Madrid exhibition game. And as always, follow me on Twitter.

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