Fraternizing w/the Enemy: JRW & Franchise on Raptors @ Spurs

The Raptors are coming! The Raptors are coming! Well, it's time for another in the series of email exchanges I'm doing with the SBNation bloggers who cover our oppenents, and today it's Adam "The Franchise", who manages the terrific RaptorsHQ. Without further ado, let's get to it. (Go and join their side of the conversation. Be sure to behave.)

Toronto-skyline_medium

via www.digitalbusstop.com

jollyrogerwilco:

This would be the part where I abandon all hope of feigning competence where the Raptors are concerned. A serious NBA analyst would have prepared ahead of time, watched a recent game or two, and used this space to ask a series of intelligent and pertinent questions that would allow you to wax eloquent about Toronto's players, problems and possibilities. Unfortunately, I'm just a fan who: a) isn't embarrassingly un-educated about basketball, b) is very interested in the NBA, and c) is reasonably able to discuss the San Antonio Spurs. Also, I can occasionally string a sentence or two together without completely exposing myself as an utter hack. Apparently, it doesn't take much more than that to be allowed to run a SBNation blog. How scary is that? We should get some quality control around here.

That said, I've always liked teams with dinosaurs as mascots. DeMar DeRozan's name has made him worthy of individual attention. Spurs fans are pretty familiar with Leandro Barbosa and Peja Stojakovic after the Spurs have tangled with their teams in previous trips to the playoffs, while Linas Kleiza and Andrea Bargnani are compelling figures due to each of them being drooled over as players that the Spurs should pursue in the inevitable free agent/trade threads that dominate every summer. Aside from that, and Jose Calderon's performance in Spain's 2006 FIBA World Championship, much of your roster is as much a mystery to me as why a player would willingly choose to wear the number 2 on his jersey when no one on his team had already picked # 1. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Sundiata Gaines. Oh, you just signed a 10 day contract and are just happy to be on a roster? Fair enough.)

So, do you mind starting with a quick overview of your guys for me? Who does the team depend on for points and leadership? Who takes too many shots when he should be passing? Who (besides Bargnani) should be rebounding more than they do? How badly have the team's injuries impacted this season? And who are the guys who you wish would just wake up and realize just how good they are? Also, feel free to ask me inane questions about the Spurs. I can't wait to tell you about all the nicknames we have for guys who hardly ever play.

Franchise:

That was a great email, had me laughing out loud at various points, especially about Gaines taking number 2.


So here we go with the club breakdown...
To start things off, there's not a lot of talent on the current edition of the Toronto Raptors.

This was apparent to most folks except apparently GM Bryan Colangelo, who on Media Day last fall, steadfastly refused to call this year a rebuilding one.

Well, the team is now on pace to win about 25 games, which would be the fourth worst mark in franchise history, and the worst since 24 wins in 2002-03, the year before Chris Bosh arrived and when Lenny Wilkens was somehow still a head coach in the league.

Yes, injuries have played a factor as guys like Reggie Evans, Leandro Barbosa and Sonny Weems were making positive contributions to the club when they were healthy.

But this was still not a very good basketball club even then, and while injuries have probably robbed the team of a win or two here and there, the Raps' malaise has been compounded by the coaching staff's inability to play the correct combination of players to squeeze every ounce of potential out of this group.

Monday afternoon's game against the Hornets was a perfect example of this. Andrea Bargnani had a rough shooting night, going 4 for 17, but more egregiously, allowed Emeka Okafor to plant roots in the paint and grab 12 OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS. However instead of getting Andrea out of the game in favour of "bull-in-china-shop" Joey Dorsey, who's proven more than adequate this season at throwing his weight around on the glass, coach Jay Triano decided to play Bargs for 42 minutes for some reason, and Dorsey was relegated to 8 minutes of action.

The result was a loss, and a good piece of this, as Triano even admitted post-game, was because of the Hornets getting second-chance opportunities.

It's been this way all season as statistically productive players like Julian Wright have been nailed to the pine while chuckers like Linas Kleiza have been given much more free reign.

And the troubling thing is that fans have seen this movie before.

Last year Hedo Turkoglu was terrible, and killing the Raps playoff chances (hey, it's the East), but it wasn't until the 25th hour that he was replaced in the starting line-up, and by then it was too little too late. The same was true of various other line-up choices, and the concern is when true top talent comes via the draft, will fans again have to watch Kleiza chucking up 3's while a top prospect is strapped to the bench.

This isn't the Cavs though, there are positives for fans.

Ed Davis is already looking like a steal as the 13th pick of the draft, DeMar DeRozan is showing signs of life, and Jose Calderon has rebounded in terms of productivity, something I don't think many fans, including myself, thought was possible after the last two seasons.

As well, the Raps are finally getting out of the salary cap hell that Bryan Colangelo put them in, and have some draft picks and a trade exception from the Bosh deal with Miami that could be useful down the road. Throw in the expiring contracts of Reggie Evans and Peja Stojakovic and there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel.

But for the light to be increased 10-fold, it's my belief that the club needs to make a decision on Mr. Bargnani.

There's no doubt he's talented, and one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league. But he's a bit of an Al Harrington type; a mismatch problem who can go off for 30 points at the drop of a hat, but who doesn't contribute a hell of a lot in other areas, and whose value is inflated thanks to a lack of premium talent around him.

If he were a shooting guard or even a small forward, perhaps it wouldn't be such an issue, but playing center this season minus Chris Bosh, it's become quite evident that unless he's surrounded by top notch rebounders and defensive players, the club will struggle to win games. He simply doesn't defend or rebound well enough at that spot, and has routinely been exposed by some of the league's scrubs this season. (Hilton Armstrong, Omer Asik, Luke Harangody and various others have had career-highs at his expense and we now routinely pick a "stub" of the game, a scrub who will look like a star thanks to Bargnani and the Raptors' defence.)

So what to do?

I'd say trade him but Bryan Colangelo still seems hell bent on proving to the world that Andrea was the right choice as the top pick overall in 2006. I worry that's killing the franchise in many ways because as long as Colangelo remains convinced Bargs is the next Dirk, the rebounding and defensive issues that have plagued the club for years won't be truly addressed, and this team will continue to be one that at times is an offensive juggernaut, but fails to get the stops needed to be a true contender, even in the East. In my books Andrea's best served as a 6th man on a good team, a player who can come off the pine and use his tremendous offensive skills at key points, and to perhaps finish out games.

However I don't think a move to the bench will ever happen, and unfortunately, fans may keep seeing the same movie every night; one where the team competes hard, but just can't get enough stops to win many games.

As for the Spurs, I've got two questions: is this the best Spurs team you've witnessed since the David Robinson days? It looks to be one of the deepest in recent memory, but can this club win it all come playoff time if they stay healthy?

jollyrogerwilco:

You gave me a lot, so I kinda feel the need to recap. On top of a coaching staff that's struggling to find effective lineups, you have, in Colangelo, a GM who, a) is in denial regarding the realistic chances of this year's team, b) has saddled the team with bad contracts, and c) is completely ego-engaged. If you're not familiar with that term, it's what I use to refer to the mindset of a GM who steadfastly refuses to consider trading a player he brought in, because doing so would be an admission that the player's acquisition was a mistake. In other words, when a GM is ego-engaged, then you can rest assured that he's not acting in the best interests of the team. That stinks like three-day-old fish bones. I'm sorry to hear that.

The rest of my response to your answers will be short and sweet to allow me to fully answer your question.

  • You guys gave up 12 ORebs to a single player and his name wasn't Kevin Love?
  • What does Julian Wright's play bring to the team when he's not sitting next to the water boy?
  • I loved Ed Davis' work in The Abyss. That scene where he's trying to resuscitate his ex-wife (played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) "You never backed away from anything in your life! Now fight! [slaps Lindsey] Fight!" Great scene. -- Oh, wait. That was Ed Harris. (Quickly Googles "YouTube Ed Davis highlights" and watches) Oh, North Carolina! He can dunk. Cool!
  • Few things can equal the level of hope that's hidden within the expiring contract of an overpaid and unproductive NBA player on your favorite team. It's be great if you guys could turn those deals into some solid players.
  • You talking about Bargnani's lack of defense made me think about how it's bad enough when a starter gives up as many points as he scores when playing against one of the leagues' stars, but when it happens against a no-name you're expecting him to dominate, well, that's doubly harrowing.
  • Finally, how often does Samuel L. Jackson attend Raptors games?

Now to your excellent query:


As for the Spurs, I've got one question: is this the best Spurs team you've witnessed since the David Robinson days? It looks to be one of the deepest in recent memory, but can this club win it all come playoff time if they stay healthy?

The short answer is: no. The teams that made up the should-have-been threepeat from 2005-2007 (please don't make me explain Game 7 against Dallas in '06) were probably the best since Robinson retired. Tim Duncan was in his prime. Tony Parker was adding a jumper to his crazyfast drives. And Manu was at his pre-ankle-injuries best; he would dunk regularly, no one could stay in front of him, and he was always pulling off some crazy pass that was impossible to predict. Not to mention that Bruce Bowen was still with the team then. You just can't quantify what he meant to the team's defense. It's impossible. He brought the tenacity every night and refused to ever give up on a play, even when the man he was guarding had already dropped 40 points on him. We miss him terribly. Turns out that wasn't such a short answer after all.

That said, this year's team is playing exceptionally well. The defense, while starting to show signs, isn't what it used to be, but the offense has been insane. Tops of the league in offensive efficiency and near the top in scoring and a ton of other metrics -- we've never seen a Spurs team play like this. And it's all happening with Duncan pretty much on standby, waiting to see if he's needed, and taking a seat in the fourth if he's not. He's playing just enough to show that he's still got it, but not enough to make us worry about his minutes and whether he'll have enough left for the playoffs. Tony's shown that he's back from last year's injury-riddled season (while it was still 2010, he'd already surpassed his Win Shares total from last year), and Manu's getting the most MVP buzz he's ever received in his career. He doesn't care (and he'll never get it) but it's nice that he's in the discussion.

Which leads us to the bench. The one that Manu's no longer a part of, and the one that has won enough games that Duncan put himself back into a game in the fourth, even though it was already decided, just because he hadn't played in the fourth quarter for four straight games. Gary Neal is a 26 year-old rookie who's been in Europe since college and not only shoots right at 40% on his 3's, but actually can put the ball on the floor, hit a floater, fight for rebounds, work hard on defense, and pass without embarrassing himself. James Anderson is also rookie, out of Oklahoma State, and while he's missed time recovering from a stress fracture, he was shooting lights out and playing good team defense before his injury. He's expected back next month. Antonio McDyess is what he's been for the last 5 years, a great defender and terrific rebounder who doesn't have to have minutes to hit that jumper when it's needed. And then there's Matt Bonner: he of the .514 average from deep. The Red Rocket has actually added a dribble and a floater to his game, so it's not quite a terrifying when he's chased off the three point line. He hardly ever turns it over, and his work on the boards (even against board-hungry Minnesota) has been respectable.

So, while you can wonder about whether the record is fool's gold or the real deal (the atrocious strength of schedule in the early part of the season, and all of the contenders with injured stars that the Spurs have played more recently) it's not a bad conversation to be forced into having.

Franchise:

To answer your other one-off queries...
  • You guys gave up 12 ORebs to a single player and his name wasn't Kevin Love?
Unfortunately the Raps have been doing things like this all year. It's at the point where some of our readers are picking up or playing random big men in their fantasy leagues when they know said player is taking on the Raps that night.

  • What does Julian Wright's play bring to the team when he's not sitting next to the water boy?
Wright's not the most offensively skilled player, but he's one of the lone guys who gets after it on D, never takes a night off, and has the length and athleticism to actually provide some defensive resistance.

  • I loved Ed Davis' work in The Abyss. That scene where he's trying to resuscitate his ex-wife (played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) "You never backed away from anything in your life! Now fight! [slaps Lindsey] Fight!" Great scene. -- Oh, wait. That was EdHarris. (Quickly Googles "YouTube Ed Davis highlights" and watches) Oh, North Carolina! He can dunk. Cool!
If Ed Davis' basketball career turns into anything resembling Ed Harris' acting career in terms of success and longevity, sign me up.
  • Few things can equal the level of hope that's hidden within the expiring contract of an overpaid and unproductive NBA player on your favorite team. It's be great if you guys could turn those deals into some solid players.
It's all about hope right now but in all honesty, I don't see the Raps doing anything with that TPE and probably not with Peja's deal either. Last year the contract would have been gold when clubs like Miami and New York were desperate to clear cap room.

This year?

Unless they get in on the Melo deal, there just aren't the same options. As fans, we're all a bit scared too that instead of just letting this ship sink to a top 5 pick, Colangelo won't be able to leave well enough alone (ego again) and cash in his chips for some overpaid mediocre guys translating into a short-term boost, but long-term continued mediocrity. (See deal a few seasons ago for Marion, Shawn.)
  • You talking about Bargnani's lack of defense made me think about how it's bad enough when a starter gives up as many points as he scores when playing against one of the leagues' stars, but when it happens against a no-name you're expecting him to dominate, well, that's doubly harrowing.
That's just it, and it happens unfortunately on a fairly regular basis. I'm expecting a big game from Blair tonight.
  • Finally, how often does Samuel L. Jackson attend Raptors games?
Almost never...yet somehow he's a Raptors' fan...someone needs to get to the bottom of this though.

jollyrogerwilco:

A buddy of mine lives in L.A. I'll get him to find out!

Thanks for the exchange, I enjoyed it.

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