It’s time to take a look at the season that was for the Raptors and hand out a report card.
Andrea Bargnani- C: Looked great some nights, listless on others. It has become clear the team cannot win with him at centre. For all the good he does as a mismatch offensively, he gives it all back by not doing the things a traditional centre does, ie. rebound, seal the middle, discourage penetration.
Rasho Nesterovic – Incomplete: Steady veteran has lost a step, but it is my opinion he wasn’t used often enough.
Patrick O’Bryant – Incomplete: Saw almost no time. Won’t be back.
Chris Bosh – B-: Came out like a first team All-NBA player. Was not the same guy during the second half. For whatever reasons – injuries, the dreaded outside distractions, perhaps the idea he didn’t want to risk his huge coming payday, Bosh did not lead the team and perform the way he is capable throughout the entire season. A+ for first two months, C for next two, D for the final two.
Amir Johnson- A: He was a revelation. One of the few players on the roster who came to work every night and attacked the glass and intimidated with a fervour. Must cut down on fouls, but proved himself as a solid rotation big. Not a starter on a good team, most likely, but a great third big in any rotation. Should be brought back, but not at all costs. Four years, $16 million would be a fair offer.
Reggie Evans- C-: Missed most of the year, then team went into a tailspin when he finally came back. Not his fault, of course, but club was better with Johnson taking his minutes.
Very limited player. Posting him up, as the Raps sometimes did, was simply put, moronic. Could be trade fodder with his expiring contract, or could be brought back to fill out the big man rotation, especially if Bosh leaves and a big doesn’t come back the other way.
Hedo Turkoglu- D: Only decent finished saved him from an F. He didn’t produce. Didn’t play hard, didn’t contribute enough, whined about not getting the ball enough (even though he really should have had it in his hands more). Just a dismal failure all around in year 1, but I don’t buy into the conclusion that this is the worst contract on the team. With a full training camp and a much bigger role offensively, he can still provide some value to the club.
Sonny Weems- A: The other big revelation. Weems was a throw-in who almost got released because he had an unguaranteed contract. Instead, he bided his time until getting his chance. Weems displayed a smooth jumper, top-shelf athleticism and a hunger to earn his keep. Jamario Moon did similar things here than turned back into a pumpkin. Will be interesting to see what Weems, likely with a bigger role, does next season.
Should the Raptors draft a swingman, it is also possible they use Weems as a sweetener in a deal that dumps a bad contract like Jose Calderon’s. Though a move like that could cause the long-suffering fans to riot.
DeMar DeRozan – C: Like most rookies, had a bumpy ride filled with peaks and valleys but showed more positives than negatives. Upside is unclear, but definitely appears to be a rotation NBA player. Great athleticism, must improve jumper and range.
Antoine Wright- C+: A hard worker and straight shooter. Got too involved in the offence considering he is a terrible offensive player, but stepped up as a defender on many occassions. Probably won’t be back with Weems and DeRozan needing more minutes, but did his job.
Marco Belinelli- D+: Far too inconsistent. Struggled to get minutes. Defence was an afterthought. Everybody expected more.
Jarrett Jack- B: One of the more solid Raptors. Played hard at both ends. Showed decent leadership and grit. Didn’t complain about minutes. Defence wasn’t as good as advertised, but his offence was a bit better than expected. Team needs to trade Calderon and cement Jack as the starter, plus get him a solid backup in the Kyle Lowry mold.
Jose Calderon- D: Could not guard anybody and took a step back offensively. His time in Toronto is about up, if anybody will take his ghastly contract. His shooting went South though his passing seemed to actually improve. Pounds the ball too much. Team would be much better with an offence that spreads it around more at a quick pace. Calderon isn’t the guy for that.
Marcus Banks- C: Didn’t get a lot of chances. I think he should have been given more time at Calderon’s expense, but played hard and well when called upon.
Provided a lot more than expected when he did get into games. Could be brought back for depth or like Evans, peddled as an expiring contract.
Jay Triano- D: The fact that the stats show this is one of the 20 worst defensive teams of all-time says it all. Does most things better than Sam Mitchell, but one key thing Mitchell did well – getting the team to show up and play hard every night – was glaringly absent under Triano.
An excellent assistant coach and X’s and O’s guy like former Raptor assistant Brian James, Triano’s body of work indicates he isn’t the guy to lead this team into the future.
In a league where men who act like boys want to be treated like men by somebody they respect, Triano just doesn’t have the background/authority/demeanour to gain that cachet.
May have been an assistant here for too long and players couldn’t adapt to treating him like a head coach.
Bryan Colangelo- D+: His moves looked great on paper. Nobody could have expected Turkoglu would play like such a dud or that Calderon would become a complete liability. But, pampering Turkoglu was clearly the wrong move and trying to reinvent the wheel might be way too ballsy a play by Colangelo.
Specifically, NBA history isn’t exactly littered with examples of contending teams who didn’t play any defence and didn’t have a traditional centre anchoring the middle.
The pieces just don’t fit and two keys to success are missing:
The good teams today have a dynamic swingman (some have two) that is an absolute must and the Raptors haven’t had that since Vince Carter. Failing to get that for the Raptors (Turkoglu in the past was good, but by no means a dynamite athlete or 20 point scorer every night) has really hurt this team.
Getting John Salmons to join the team (which basically happened before Salmons embarassed himself) would have gone a long way a few years ago, but Colangelo never recovered with a suitable replacement.
Mistake No. 2 was relying on the Bosh/Bargnani frontcourt. The other thing really good NBA teams have is an intimidator down low. Someone who discourages opponents from entering the lane and who dominate on the boards. Even a soft team, like the Raptors, can do OK if it has a great defensive big man or two. It doesn’t even have to be Dwight Howard or Tim Duncan-calibre player. An Anderson Varejao, Kendrick Perkins or Brendan Haywood would have been enough.