Monday, November 19, 2007

Grading the Raptors

A few things for you Raps fans to read…

This one about Chris Bosh in his funk
This one about the Raps playing predictable.

I don’t know if I completely agree with that last article though, as it’s not like the Raptors were doing a bunch of wild and crazy things last year. I believe that scouts started to take the Raps serious around New Years and the Raps still had shooters, and still ran the pick and roll, and opposing teams still knew it was coming, and the Raps were winning. Sure it might be nice to throw in a small wrinkle or two, but that is not the reason why the Raps are at a disappointing 5-5.

I have been mentioning Garbo the past few days, and I think really to sum everything up, the Raptors need to settle on a solid 9 man rotation. The depth of the team is really nice, but Phoenix does not have the best depth and they are one of the big three teams in the league. Dallas uses 9 men on a nightly basis. Look at the over achieving Celtics, winning with some of the worst depth in the league. So yeah, depth is nice, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be 9 players that take you to the dance. But which 9 players for the Raps is the tough question.

And let me add that I am not a fan of playing players based on matchups. At least, I am not a fan of changing that 9 man rotation based on it. Here is the thing, players need consistence. Garbo had a great game against Indiana, but didn’t play against the Warriors. I am quite sure it was due to the Raps worried about match-ups (hence 6-1 Juan Dixon getting some burn) but that now means against Dallas this week, when that game Garbo had against the Pacers would REALLY help, he might have lost the mojo due to riding the pine on Sunday. Consistency is needed here. The only player on the team that I view as a match-up type of player is Rasho.

So let me try to break down who should be in the 9 man rotation while also doing a 10game grade, a look at all 15 players and giving them a grade on how I think they have been performing…

The 9 Man Rotation

PG ) T.J. Ford B+
So far, so good for the most part. I don’t think he is getting the kind of help from his friends that he needs, but compared to a year ago when he was running out of control and missing every shot both inside the paint and outside the three point line, he is playing right now in late 06-07 form. He is also doing a good job in figuring out when the team needs him to pass, and when he needs to shoot. The outside shot is still not as consistent as it needs to be, but it is better. My big issue with T.J. has been some questionable late game decisions. Look, Ford is capable of hitting a big late game shot, but other players on the team are also capable and more then likely will be more consistent taking them. As Parker ever had a late game shot? Since he is the teams best 3 point shooter, shouldn’t he get some consideration for taking it? But so far, Ford seems to be trying to be the guy in that situation, when I feel it should be someone else. So room for improvement, but last year at this time he would have gotten a C-, so this is a huge step up with plenty of time to go.

SG) Anthony Parker A-
A rough start to the season, turned around the moment that his shot started falling. Now, AP is already back into that 06-07 form with even some more room for improvement to look forward to as the season grows. He has looked a step slow on the defensive end, as opposing players have been able to break down all of our players off the dribble (yesterday vs Golden State it happened every play I think) But Parker is still our best defender, and when he is on the court, the Raps flat out have more composure. Now let’s get this guy 36-40 minutes a game instead of 30-36.

PF) Chris Bosh C-
Really if you want to understand the problems the Raptors have been having, look no further then CB4. And that knee injury is not around any longer to blame. While the first 3-4 games could have been viewed as just “getting into rhythm” games, that ship sailed and now we are clearly in the “he is in a funk and we don’t know why” land. It has been said in the past that Bosh needs practice time to perform at a high level, and he has not gotten much of it yet this year. But he didn’t get much last year ether, and was still performing better at this stage. The problem is that when Bosh is on the court, the offense flows threw him. The lack of ball movement can be attributed to the fact that Bosh is struggling. The teams 5-5 record can also be attributed to Bosh’s struggles. We need 22-10 Bosh. Not 16-6 Bosh. I feel he will turn it around, but it does not look like it is going to happen as quickly as we might want it too.

C) Andrea Bargnani D
Here is the problem with Bargnani. He in 10 games has already looked like the future all-star we all feel he will be, he has already looked like that player last Feburary that was not there yet but full of potential, he has already looked like that player 3 games into his first season, and the scary thing, is that he has already looked like that player having no clue what to do in summer league over a year ago. The move back to the bench did hurt his confidence, but no matter what happens, Bargnani is a rotation player. He is the future. But he is still a 2nd year player, and we need to keep reminding ourselves that. Regardless of that fact though, he does have the potential and while maybe we shouldn’t expect all-star Bargnani right now, we should be expecting “full of potential” Bargnani. These moments of “Summer league” Bargnani is not helping out this team.

PG) Jose Calderon A-
That turing the corner off the pick and roll is not there as much this year, but Jose is still running the show as effectivly as last season. The only problem has been the inconsistency of his 2nd unit teammates, as he is only as effective as his team. When the second unit is on a roll, Jose is a MACHINE. But when the second unit is struggling, Jose can only do so much. This is a jump shooting team, and if they are not hitting the jump shots, what is a PG to do? Also…yes, T.J. is the starter, but don’t be so quick to not give Jose a chance to be a closer. One game out of 10 is not enough.

SF) Jason Kapono B-
Kapono was brought in for his shooting. And since he is at 50% for both inside the 3 point line and outside the 3 point line, I guess he is doing his job so far. And he is not starting which I completely agree with. Kapono is a great guy to have coming off the bench giving instant offense. He is also the guy that I would limit to “needing baskets quickly” status, meaning if the Raps are in the lead or in a tight game, I might limit Kapono’s minutes. If the Raps are in a hole, give Kapono some burn. He is a shooter, so use him when needed.

SG) Carlos Delfino B
The knock on him during his time with Detroit was that he was inconsistent. And that has been pretty much true here in Toronto so far. But when he is on, he brings defense, rounding and shooting and he has looked very good in a few games so far this season. He is a guy who I think can turn it on more consistent as the season wears on. Remember, these players have been in the league for a while, and they do realize that November games are not nearly as important as March/April/May games. I would give him not only the backing up Parker time, but also the backing up the SF time as well when Kapono is not needed.

SF) Jamario Moon A+
Look, I am not jumping on the Moon band wagon THAT much by giving him an A+. But how can you not be impressed by the guy who was picked up during a tryout at the ACC last spring, was the 16th guy on a 15th man roster. Sent poor Luke Jackson home. Wore street cloths for the first few games. And is now the winner of the Kapono vs. Deflino vs. Garbo battle. It is still VERY VERY early, and by next week, he could be back on the bench. Hell, he could even be back in street cloths. BUT the point is, today he is not. Today he is the Toronto Raptors starting small forward. He has started in 3 games and not lost that spot. It is going to be very interesting to see what transpires with Moon over the course of the season. As I have said previously, he fills a need on this team. But today, you can’t give anything but an A plus to this Cinderalla story.

PF) Jorge Garbajosa B-
I have already talked about Garbo in previous posts. Let me just add, that Garbo has not been as consistent as the team needs, this is true. I just think that a big reason for that has been playing time. We don’t know the full story about why Garbo is getting DNP’s but I also have no doubt that he can help this 5-5 team. I mean, he did it last year, so why should we not expect him to do it again this year?

Most nights, it should only be these 9 players that see’s the court. And some nights, they can trim it to 8, keeping Kapono out if the team doesn’t need him or Garbo if Bargnani is on point. This rotation does require Bargnani is step it up on a regular basis, but there is nothing wrong with sliding Bosh to center and putting Garbo in at PF if Bargnani is not bringing the goods. And of course, there is also nothing wrong with going to a 10 man rotation on occasion.

On the bubble

C) Rasho Nesterovic C+
We need Rasho against the big teams. Vs the Celtics, Rasho does the best job vs Garnett then anyone else on the team. Rasho is a big body that can be used in all sorts of different situations during the season. We also though must remember that Rasho was completely useless vs Jersey in the playoffs and he was out of the rotation during the big game 5 and 6 last spring. The reason I give him a low grade though is based on the fact that he has missed a lot of shots around the basket. The guy does need to put the ball threw the hoop more frequently to not be a liability on offense.

The Foul trouble/Garbage time crew

SG) Juan Dixon B
Hey, at least he is doing what he is suppose to, and that is scoring. Juan has been on a roll so far this season, looking much better then he did during late last year. Here is the problem, we have scorier already and Juan is just too much of a liability on defense. I like Juan, and this is not a reflection of his talent or work ethic, but how many times have I gotten him confused with T.J. Ford? One 5’11 player on the court creates problems on the defensive end, having two 5’11 players on the court is just undoable.

PF) Kris Humphries C+
Hump is an energy guy. And can he ever fight for the boards. And if one of the big guys in the rotation goes out for any length of time due to injury, Hump is a great player to have as back-up. But we are trying to make big moves in the East here, and even though he can shoot the ball, he doesn’t always take the best shots. He is a rebounder, and he is one dimensional. And he should stay deep on the bench.

PF) Maceo Baston C
It’s not his fault he was put into the starting line-up. As far as Baston goes, he has done an alright job so far this year given the role he has been given, which is spot starter. It’s not like he is Rafeal Arujo and needs to sub off after 2 minutes of game time. But regardless, Baston should not be starting, nor should he be dressing up for most games. The reality is that he brings nothing to the table that is not already provided by 3 or 4 other players. Hump at least brings the boards better then pretty much everyone on the team. Dixon is a scoring machine at times. Baston does nothing special, and is average at best at every aspect of the game. He should stay in a suit.

PF) Joey Graham Inconclusive
Of course, he has been injuried for a majoriy of the year, but I got a feeling that we have seen the last of rotation player Joey Graham. Of course, knowing Mitchell, he will be fair and give Joey at least one or two more tries when Joey gets healthy. But I don’t think it’s a secret that Joey is just not going to bring the goods on a regular basis.

PG) Derek Martin B-
Why does Carlton er… Martin get a B- when he has not even dressed for a game as of yet? Because as we all know, Martin is a coach now and one of the many mentors for the PG’s on the team. The PG’s are not the teams problems so far this season, so gotta give credit to the master cheerleader himself, Derek Martin.

The Coach

Sam Mitchell C+
He made some big bold moves that paid off with Moon as a starter. He is not afraid to put 5.5 million dollar Kapono on the bench. Not afraid to put number one pick Bargnani on the bench. Of course, he is not afraid to put Baston in the starting line-up…so these gambles he has been taking, some have worked and some have not. At least he is a guy ready to try different things to get the results he wants. His ingame coaching is still inconsistent, but that is to be expected. The true time to judge Mitchell will be at the New years mark. Will this team be full of momentum and ready to take serious aim at the 50 win mark? Or will this team be fighting life and death to stay above 500? Mitchell needs to get some consistency on the rotation in order to be successful, so let’s give him a benefit of a wait and see attitude.

The Team

The Raptors C+
They have made big impacts (Jersey, Bulls), they had close games that could have sent ether way (Celtics, Orlando) and some games that they should be frankly embarrassed about (Warriors, Utah) since they should have won those. The Raptors have yet to put together any type of momentum. But the real problem here is how they are playing in the ACC. What use to be a safe haven last season, is turning into something quite ugly. The boo birds were out last night, and I was quite happy for it. Sorry boys, but we expect more then what you are giving, and we are letting you know that we are not happy with the results at the Air Canada Center. Both of those big blow outs vs the Nets and Bulls were on the road, so us fans were not even able to enjoy those games live. But to follow up on what I said yesterday, the Raptors need to bring the urgency more this season then they have been. Want to know why the Celtics have had success so far? Yes the big three are playing well, but watch the Celtics bench as they are the ultimate cheerleaders in the league. The Celtics are not better then a handful of teams in the league, but they are bringing an energy that is almost unmatched. The Raptors had that energy last year as well, but this year it’s just been sluggish and a “it’s a long season” mentallity that is hurting them more then they realize. Because instead of realizing that it’s the mental approach that is the problem, they instead become confused and frustrated. It really is a long season, but the grind should come from the emotional drain of being so into and focused on every game, instead of the “this is game 10 of 82” lines that we have been hearing so far.

Sitting at 500, middle of the eastern confernce. This team is still more then capable of being in the top tier, but we all do realize that they are not at that point today.


Mihai R. said...

Sorry, but I do have a different view on the individual grades of Raptors this season:

PG) Jose Calderon A+
PG ) T.J. Ford A+
PF) Chris Bosh A
PF) Maceo Baston A-
SF) Jamario Moon B+ (but A+ for a rookie)
C) Rasho Nesterovic B+
PF) Kris Humphries B+
C) Andrea Bargnani B
SG) Carlos Delfino B
SG) Juan Dixon B
SG) Anthony Parker B-
PF) Jorge Garbajosa B-
SF) Jason Kapono B-
PF) Joey Graham C

Sam Mitchell C+

To summarize:
First set of problems:
Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa are nowhere close to where they were a year ago and instead of progressing toward a All-Star status they are regressing. Bargnani will be lucky if he will make the Sophomore team this year. Garbajosa is extremelly far from even thinking at that. Look for comparison at Marcus Aldridge (Por) or Ronnie Brewer (Uta) - they desire to work and improve should be an example for our Raptors guys.

The second set of problems: Jason Kapono, Anthony Parker and Carlos Delfino are bringing to less on the table for the role, status and minutes they get. Raptors cannot function with just 2 starters (TJ and CB4). A team is needed and the trio mentioned doesn't seem to realize that they need to do much more to mantain their role/key player status. If Parker won his status last year, is was and is much more expected from Kapono and Delfino.

To conclude I can only say that the only players that showed desire to work and to fight are, so far, Maceo Baston, Jose Calderon and Rasho Nesterovic.
Jamario Moon, Kris Humpries and TJ Ford did well also. But is just one starter in this list of players that wish too work - TJ Ford. And no one can win much with just one starter really working on the floor.

Sam Mitchell C+

Conclusion: Parker, Kapono, Delfino, Bargnani, Bosh - go to WORK! and give everything on the floor when someone is giving you a chance and so much money.

mihai r. said...

A final note on CB4. Chris, the competition for a spot in the All Star game is much harder in Eastern conference with Garnett, Rashard Lewis and zach Randolpg coming in this conference. Richard Jefferson and caron Butler are doing great so far and Josh Smith and Marvin Williams are playing better than you. Than there is a Rasheed Wallace and an Antawn Jamison. I honestly cannot see you making the All Star team if you continue to play at the level that we've seen in the first 11 games.