DeMar DeRozan has started to look like a franchise type player on the offensive end of the court over the past month. In fact for the month of January/2011 DeRozan has averaged 19.5 points with a 47.5 FG% while averaging 36.5 minutes per game. He still needs to work on becoming a better all-around playmaker as suggested by his assist totals in the month (1.7) and his turnovers have spiked with the added responsibility (2.8) but it’s hard to find too much negative about the recent offensive surge.
If you take away two rough games over the past thirty days the numbers are even more impressive as since December 31, 2010 DeRozan has averaged 23.2 points per game in eleven games. To drive home how impressive DeRozan’s sophomore campaign is starting to look let’s do a quick comparison.
The 21-year old player is Tracy McGrady’s third season in the NBA and the 22-year old is of course DeMar DeRozan’s current 2010/11 season. It shows us DeRozan is making solid progress in the scoring department and that bodes well for his future development – it also shows just what kind of amazing all-around ballplayer and talent “T-Mac” was and would develop into.
DeRozan still needs to continue focusing on all aspects of his game, specifically his playmaking, defensive and rebounding skills but Raptors fans have to be excited about the potential of DD. Not a guy you can probably build around but a definite cog and valuable ‘third’ scoring option on a contending team. Is the scoring spree due to the Raptors horrendous health situation or has DeRozan turned the corner?
Depth is often a critical factor in creating a winning team in most sports and while it is obviously preferable in the NBA and basketball in general it isn’t necessarily as important or vital when compared to hockey, football and baseball. A winning basketball team can thrive with a six to seven man rotation and often times I’d venture to say it is problematic or a waste of asset distribution to have too deep of a ball club when considering where most pundits or experts feel this team will ultimately finish this season.
Case in point, look at these two squads:
PG – Jose Calderon
PG – Jarrett Jack
SG – Demar Derozan
SG – Leandro Barbosa
SF – Linus Kleiza
SF – Sonny Weems
PF – Reggie Evans
PF – Amir Johnson
C – Andrea Bargnani
C – David Andersen
Team A is the projected Toronto Raptors starting five while Team B is of course the projected second unit give or take a player. If these two teams did battle in a seven game set my guess is it would be a knock-em-down, drag-em-out war that might not ever end given the parity between the two sides. Some might see this as a positive given the roster depth but taking a closer look it is actually almost a negative.
The Raptors do possess a relatively deep roster overall however it is also a team filled with potentially only one legitimate NBA starter in smooth shooting (and much maligned) big man Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors have stuffed their salary cap and roster full of mediocre roster filler for the most part and obviously lack the top end talent in the wake of losing Chris Bosh.
The Raptors would love to shed the salaries of Jose Calderon, Reggie Evans, Jarrett Jack and Marcus Banks as all four would likely be bench options at best on most current contending rosters. They are in tough situations with Demar Derozan and Sonny Weems as while both have promise neither has shown they are going to be definite prime time producers yet both are going to be up for raises on longer term contracts in the next 1-2 seasons, like Amir Johnson last year.
They have added veteran bench and depth pieces in Linus Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa but they will both be long gone (at least their best games will) by the time the Raptors are ready to compete on a regular basis and are just receiving a big pay cheque and empty minutes at this point. At some point Andrea Bargnani will have to either step up his overall game to earn his massive new payday or be moved out to expedite the rebuilding process.
Make no mistake this is not a retooling, at least it shouldn’t be viewed as such given the dearth of quality legitimate NBA producers on the current roster. This one feels like it should be a complete overhaul with a tear it down and start it over mentality, immediately. The man in charge is Bryan Colangelo who is a smart basketball mind and has shown a quick trigger when admitted mistakes go awry but he is also fighting for a contract extension and it is doubtful he is willing to go this route when the folks at MLSE are hoping to fill the ACC on a nightly basis but this is something the fan base should be screaming for, loud and clear.
Why a Linus Kleiza was brought in on a four year contract is beyond me, Kleiza is a fine role player no doubt but a guy you bring in when trying to bridge the gap or play to a potential opponent’s specific strength. For example the Los Angeles Lakers bringing in Ron Artest last season and Matt Barnes this year and this type of move would have looked a lot better last season.
Now he gets a slight reprieve considering the roster might have looked a tad better with the additions of Tyson Chandler, Boris Diaw and Matt Barnes while simultaneously subtracting two bloated salaries in Jose Calderon and Reggie Evans. But realistically what was the best result that particular group would have achieved, a possible late seeded playoff berth? I think it’s time to shift that philosophy now that our supposed franchise player has left the building.
I am not suggesting “tank nation” in hopes of landing a top lottery selection as you never know where the ping pong balls will fall but instead I am saying tear it down, let all of our potential “keepers” play and give them a season long audition with heavy minutes. Demar Derozan, Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis, Solomon Alobi and Joey Dorsey should be the main rotation and guys like Reggie Evans, Linus Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa shouldn’t steal minutes from players who could potentially help us in the next few years let alone have been brought in at all.
In closing we need a clear vision from management as to where this franchise is heading and the fans will appreciate some honesty and forward thinking knowing the team is at least moving in the right (or any) direction. If you want to try and win now with this lackluster group than fine, use the trade exemption along with expiring contracts to bring in the Tyson Chandler/Boris Diaw types, it is a futile effort and waste of assets (not to mention one year too late) but at least it is a plan. How do we intend to compete with the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics for the next decade, what is our action plan, and I hope it doesn’t involve signing a guy like Erick Dampier?
I contend it is time to start over, again. This is a deep year in the upcoming draft at the point guard spot, a position the Raptors have been dreadfully inadequate for quite some time and looking at the past crop of young, exciting point guards that have come into the NBA in recent years it seems as good a year as any to finish in the bottom three to five teams. I don’t want this to be a lost season or a waste of a calendar year in a potential rebuild, let’s get to it now.
Clear valuable cap space whether it can be used immediately or not, jettison our redundant veteran pieces (Kleiza, Barbosa, Jack, Calderon, Evans etc) while letting the youth play to get a good idea of what we have while adding a top pick (preferably point guard, but best available) in the offseason. That should be the only goal of the 2010/11 season and looking at our roster it wouldn’t take much to make that happen.
Frank Zicarelli once took a swipe at us dedicated bloggers in one of his articles, basically inferring we are the tiny pest on his shoulder that he has to swipe away. He is the main basketball writer for the Toronto Sun and covers the Toronto Raptors most of the time and he occasionally writes a half decent piece but after his slight to the blogging community (a pretty tight knit group I might add) I have read his pieces a little more meticulously and his latest article contained a big faux pas, in my opinion.
“Dorsey, Sonny Weems, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson have formed a strong bond, a group of young and energetic players who aren’t exactly the most talented,” he wrote.
Really? DeMar DeRozan, often compared to a Vince Carter athletic type with some of the greatest jumping ability in the league and recently invited to the NBA Slam Dunk contest. Sonny Weems like Derozan is an extremely athletic and talented wing who just hasn’t been given an opportunity to showcase his skills, but it’s clear the stats just haven’t caught up to the ability, and talent.
Amir Johnson, one of the fastest big men in the game with buttery soft hands and touch around the net, who just signed a contract for $50 million dollars? Yeah, no talent there. Finally, Joey Dorsey, with clearly limited offensive skills but have you seen this man’s body? He is Dwight Howard without the height, with muscle on top of muscle and great jumping ability and rebounding instincts. He doesn’t get rebounds the way Dennis Rodman got them, this man can simply use his superior strength and jumping ability (combined with great hustle of course) to get that ball.
Picking four of the Raptors most athletic specimens and saying they are more guts than stuff is probably one of the least thought out points I have read in a while especially considering there are plenty of other candidates to choose from on our roster who fit that description almost to a tee. In the age of dedicated, educated and talented bloggers the time where shoddy (or lazy) journalism would never be scrutinized is over, just because your name is in lights and you are a “professional” doesn’t make you any less fallible.
The Toronto Raptors are going to be a lot of things this upcoming 2010/11 season, athletic on the wings, a more up-tempo style on the defensive end and of course a very young and likely frustrating team to watch night in and night out. The expectations from most ‘experts’ are pretty dim and I believe the over/under betting line for wins this season is around 27 at last check. While I feel there is actually more to be optimistic about than most and we will likely surprise a few teams this season one thing I am not is delusional. To that end I know the Raptors barring some unforeseen circumstances are not likely to be ultra competitive this season, and adding any band-aid solutions for this year is a complete waste of resources and more importantly playing time.
The latest rumours have the Raptors brain trust pondering the idea of bringing veteran big man Erick Dampier into the fold. There is no doubt Dampier adds an element this team is sorely lacking, and has been lacking for some time. Rebounding, size, strength, presence down low, defensive ability and toughness are all things Dampier can bring to the table. However, is any of that really going to make one iota of difference in the grand scheme of things for the Toronto Raptors in 2010/11? This is the type of guy you add as depth on a more seasoned roster looking to make a potential playoff run, not a team hoping to get back to the draft lottery and add a potential blue chip young ‘baller to help us down the road.
To add Dampier at this point in our franchise’s fragile history even for the veteran minimum salary hit is just plain ludicrous. You are telling me that if given the exact same amount of minutes our very own Dwight Howard look-a-like Joey Dorsey couldn’t do exactly what we think Dampier could do? Dampier is the very definition of a replacement level player who adds almost no value to a rebuilding team like Toronto and is actually taking a potentially valuable commodity away from the Raptors, playing time. I’d be willing to wager that if given similar playing time Dorsey would produce better numbers in rebounding and shot blocking than Dampier.
In some shape or form Dampier would cost Ed Davis, Solomon Alobi and the aforementioned Joey Dorsey a chance to play those crucial extra few minutes a night that could help shape them as players sooner than later, or at least give the Raptors an idea if they can play or not. Amir Johnson was just signed to a lucrative long term deal and any situation that might rob him of even 3-5 minutes a game is a negative. Joey Dorsey doesn’t have the name, notoriety or awesome ‘Common’ beard but he does have a god-like physique that appears NBA ready as well as a motivation to improve and be a part of this young group going forward.
Dampier’s primary (only) motivator will be to establish himself as a viable big man again and hopefully regain some of the lost faith in his game, however if that costs the Raptors even one cent or one minute of playing time a night from any of their young and improving big men than I say thanks but no thanks. This year is about progress, making small gains and giving the fans some hope that the product on the court will start to show significant improvement as early as next year, and it’s also about scoring a hot new prospect in the NBA lottery.
Lost in the allure of adding our first tough, hardnosed rebounding big man is a little thing called perspective. This would be like the Toronto Maple Leafs having signed a player like Raffi Torres, brought himto training camp and realized he was completely redundant or the Toronto Blue Jays signing Vicente Padilla and blocking a Brett Cecil or Kyle Drabek plus getting worse production. It wasn’t right for those teams and this move isn’t right for the Raptors.
SHAQ SLIGHTS CHRIS BOSH AGAIN?
With one quote new Boston Celtics centre Shaquille O’Neal continues his extreme dislike for former Raptors forward Chris Bosh. In a recent Adrian Wojnarowski column O’Neal is quoted “They got a great 1-2,” Shaq was obviously referring to the Miami Heat’s duo of Dwayne Wade and Lebron James but of course snubbing the third major piece Chris Bosh.
I would have to think Bosh was praying his long time nemesis O’Neal moved back to the Western Conference in the offseason so he could eventually move past the ongoing feud, however with his latest slight it appears Bosh could be in for a few more long and potentially painful (watch those elbows) matchups involving ‘Diesel’.
No word yet if a Shaquille O’Neal statue will be resurrected at the ACC in time for the regular season.
I decided to embark on a new five part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’. Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.
This will be a quick breakdown of the top athletes currently residing in Toronto and it is a down and dirty look at the athlete’s ready to contribute on the Toronto sports scene. This certainly won’t be referred to as the golden era in Toronto’s sports history, but I’d say the scene is definitely on the up-swing and improving almost daily. The Jays are looking to be competitive in the next 1-2 seasons, the Leafs look to be in good hands with Brian Burke and the Raptors aren’t as bad as most think, though they are looking lottery bound in 2010/11 (not such a bad thing though?). Well, here is my list for the top ten current Toronto athletes.
-A hugely talented arm with untapped potential, he might have the most upside of any of the current Blue Jays arms. Putting together a great first season in Toronto, the future is bright and price to acquire him was right.
9) LW Kris Versteeg – Toronto Maple Leafs
-Coming over from the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (thank you salary cap) in which he was a key third line member and a heart and soul type player described as having a wicked wrist shot. Only 24 years old and coming off back to back 20 goal seasons, I think Toronto fans are going to really like this kid.
#8) SP Shaun Marcum – Toronto Blue Jays
-Looks to be completely back after undergoing TJ surgery and has been the Jays best pitcher this season with 151 IPs, 3.70 ERA, 3.83 FIP and an impressive 3.8 K/BB. Marcum will look to score a longer term contract in the next year or so and will hopefully continue to put hitters away with that nasty changeup for many more seasons.
7) SG Demar Derozan – Toronto Raptors
-The 7th overall pick out of Compton, California and USC University, the sky is the limit for Derozan and the ‘Young Gunz’ (along with Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson), fans are hoping for a big breakout year for Demar to give them some (any) hope for a Toronto Raptors eventual resurgence. The kid has all the talent and skills you could want and just needs seasoning and some refinements to certain aspects of the game (mid range jumper and handle) to really take that next step.
6) RF Jose Bautista – Toronto Blue Jays
-Bautista leads the majors in homeruns and has been a total beast for the Blue Jays this season (41 HRs, 607 SLG%, .416 wOBA – 4.9 WAR), he has been so good there is some talk the Jays might be best served dealing their top slugger while the getting is good and his value is at an all-time high. The most debated/discussed Blue Jay player this season, mixed opinions on whether or not he should be around long term.
-What would a Toronto article be without Kaberle, fact remains he is still one of the best defensemen to suit up for the Leafs and if he remains this season will be counted upon to contribute a huge season.
-The smooth, sharp shooting 7-footer was the 1st overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and has shown steady improvement each season (in scoring) over the past three years scoring 10.2, 15.4 and 17.2 PPG. He still needs to improve his overall game, with more focus on rebounding and weak side help defense, however a big man with the ability to drive and dish the rock who will likely average 20.0+ PPG, shoot around 48-49% from the field, 37-38% from 3-point land and hopefully average 7-8 rebounds and 1.5-2 blocks per game don’t exactly grow on trees. Andrea doesn’t get enough credit for the player he has become, expect that opinion and sentiment to change with a huge 2010/11 season as the Raptors go to guy.
3) SP Ricky Romero – Toronto Blue Jays
-JP Ricciardi envisioned this type of success for his first pick (6th overall) in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft but it took Ricky a few seasons in the minors to finally flourish and make it to the big leagues (too little, too late for our old buddy JP though) but flourish he has. The Jays lefty recently signed a contract extension that will keep in Toronto for the next 5 seasons, hopefully his prime years are still to come. In 2010, Romero has been great, in 172.2 IPS he has a 3.54 ERA, 3.59 FIP, solid ground ball rate and a pretty good 7.7 K/9.
2) D Dion Phaneuf – Toronto Maple Leafs
-When you are the new captain of the most popular team in town, you are going to get some attention and since entering the league Phaneuf has definitely drawn his fair share. The top scoring defensemen since joining the league, the hard hitting Alberta native is being counted upon to lead the Brian Burke era in team history and fans are excited and anxious to see what a full season of a motivated Dion Phaneuf can bring to the team.
1) RW Phil Kessel – Toronto Maple Leafs
-There haven’t been many better skilled Leafs than Phil the Thrill in the team’s long history and the slight forward will again be counted upon to lead the woeful Maple Leafs forward core to the hopeful goal of making the playoffs. Playing with a relatively unknown (and rookie) centre in Tyler Bozak, Kessel still managed 30 goals in 70 games and fans are hoping he can take his game to the next level and become a 40-45 goal scorer with a full season to come in 2010/11.
Drafted in the first round (5th overall) in 2006, he has been called the ‘American’ Sydney Crosby with his unbelievable level of skill and shooting ability. Kessel will only be 23 at the start of the season and though the trade and cost to acquire Kessel is hotly debated, the player we received certainly cannot be, Kessel is legit and one of the most skilled players in the game.
This concludes my five part series looking back at some of the greatest players to ever play for our beloved Toronto sports franchises and also a quick glimpse at who is currently leading the charge for hopeful future success.
Losing a player with the abilities and talents of Chris Boshis a tough pill to swallow. Bosh was a gamer and a highly skilled player who was also fiercely competitive, his 24 ppg and 10 rpg is something you do not simply replace. Chris Bosh was a star player, and in the NBA that means a few things. First, you get calls (even marginal) and that will send you to the free-throw line, a lot, Bosh had a career high in FTA and FTM last season. Second, you draw attention and the extra man, which frees up teammates and allows them to get into open space and hopefully take advantage offensively.
Chris Bosh was also a facilitator, he often had plays run through him and he was excellent at reading the double team and finding the proper outlet, a skill that simply takes years to hone. How often do you see a newbie big man dribble himself into trouble or turn the ball over repeatedly as they just do not have the court vision or awareness that year’s in the league brings. Chris Bosh was also a solid teammate and an above average defensive rebounder given his relatively slight frame for the power forward position. Bosh really stepped up his hustle game and made sure he was consistently attacking the basketball – that is all that makes a league average rebounder, hustle.
However, Chris Bosh was not without his weak points also. Bosh was not a dominant low post player, he has shown he can be easily pushed around by a stronger big man and in all of the years he was with Toronto he could never quite carry them to the next level for any real extended periods of time. His supporting cast, while not legendary was never completely horrendous. Another worry for me with Bosh long term is the wonky knee, have you seen the size of that knee brace? Images of a Jermaine O’Neal type decline just cannot escape my mind and I think he has already shown some signs that he just might be beginning to slowly break down.
Bosh has improved his physique over the years which will bode well for the coming battles with Dwight Howard, but the Miami Heat better hope they pick up some much needed size and physicality to match up against some of the other bigger Eastern teams or they will get pounded down low. I foresee some extremely intense battles in the coming season against the Celtics and Shaquille O’Neal, even if he doesn’t guard O’Neal, it appears O’Neal has a grudge against Bosh in some shape or form (think RuPaul) so the bodies and elbows might be flying and that is a battle Bosh simply cannot win.
The biggest question remains how will the Raptors manage without their franchise star forward? It appears they want to play an extremely up-tempo offensive game and they have even reworked their roster to be a little more defensively aware. It’s hard to blame Bryan Colangelo for the Bobcat trade being reneged (would have landed them a solid centre in Tyson Chandler and swingman Boris Diaw while also disposing of the terrible Jose Calderon contract), he has proven to be a mover and a shaker and I think the team is still in great hands and in fact I think the franchise will be better sans Bosh going forward.
The question was asked internally and will probably be questioned by his current employer in a few years, is Chris Bosh really worthy of being a MAX guy? Even with Bosh’s weaknesses and drawbacks you just don’t simply replace the man you decided was your franchise player and the 24&10 that accompanied him on a nightly basis. But we have discussed Chris Bosh ad nauseum and it’s time for all to move on and set our sights on the future, which certainly isn’t as bleak as most think.
For any immediate success the Raptors will have to see some serious internal development year over year and two prime candidates for breakout seasons have to be the new power forward Andrea Bargnani and our 1st round pick from last season shooting guard Demar Derozan. With Bargnani sliding into his natural position (or best suited) I think the best is yet to come with the silky smooth 7’0” Italian born shooter. With improved strength and increased overall confidence I think Bargnani will definitely average 20+ points per game and with a little extra hustle (the key ingredient to a successful rebounder) could bump his rebound totals to 8-9 a game. In short, I think Bargnani will take his game to a much higher level this season.
Demar Derozan was the talk of the latest NBA Summer League as he basically dominated each game from beginning to end, which was the reasoning behind sending him. When I watched Derozan he reminded me of a young Tracy McGrady in terms of raw athleticism and natural ability. If Derozan takes a big step forward in his development this season, that could go a very long way in helping to replace the 24 points coming off the books [Chris Bosh departing]. He has packed on some additional muscle and with the increased strength should come an even more explosive attack the rim style.
Another player I am extremely excited to watch game in and game out is the “Brazilian Blur” Leandro Barbosa. Although he has battled injuries the past few seasons he has the ability to be an impact scorer (he averaged 18 PPG off the bench in Phoenix only a couple seasons ago) and it will be interesting to see how Jay Triano utilizes his new guard. Will he save him for the second unit and the first man off the bench to hopefully punish the opposition guards (and wear them out) or will Barbosa find himself in the starting unit for basically the first time in his career?
Small forward Linus Kleiza brings more of an edge and can be a fairly reliable bench scorer and possible starter. Everybody remembers the baseline dunks that he will showcase from time to time and he brings the toughness and grit that we have been seriously lacking. Sonny Weems shouldn’t be underestimated and he has a lot of reasons to improve his overall game, money being the primary motivator after seeing his good buddy Amir Johnson sign a shiny new contract don’t think Weems doesn’t want to get his. Weems has all the tools and raw athletic ability you could ask for but he needs to continue to develop that mid-range jumper and overall consistency to his game.
Speaking of Amir Johnson I have to admit I am a huge fan of his game, the guy gets up and down the court, is an outstanding rebounder and I believe has untapped offensive abilities but does not dominate the ball or require plays run through him to be an effective scorer. Foul trouble has haunted him over his career but something tells me we are going to see a much improved and matured version of Johnson over the life of his contract, his best basketball is still to come.
It appears now that the chances of trading Jose Calderon are slim to none and our point guard situation will again be the two-headed monster of Calderon and Jarrett Jack, which isn’t the best duo in the league but teams could do worse. Calderon for all the criticism has been a fairly consistent offensive player for most of his Raptors career, he is extremely efficient running the team’s offense and if a defensive scheme or system can be put in place to lessen the impact of his woeful on the ball defence the Raptors would still get plenty of value out of Calderon.
Wildcards for this season include Julian Wright (6’8” swingman who is an athletic defender) and Ed Davis (undersized but very athletic rebounder and strong defender). Hopefully there is some available playing time for them to develop. Joey Dorsey (likely NBADL bound)honestly has the physique of Dwight Howard and he looked liked an absolute monster in the summer league, he obviously isn’t even close to the same type of super-athlete that Howard is, but man that body. Solomon Alabi is another intriguing big man who will likely see limited minutes and opportunities in a suddenly relatively deep pool of big men.
The Raptors have the trade exemption still firmly in hand, and with a few teams looking to unload, this could prove to be a valuable chip. We also have more long term financial flexibility and what I feel is at least the beginning of a stronger team overall given the system we wish to employ. Although though they are criticized for being too Euro-centric in their draft/sign strategy, I am afraid this will have to likely continue as it has become abundantly (and loudly) clear that American born African-American ballers just do not see Toronto as a serious and viable market for their tastes.
Most will agree and some players have gone on record saying TO is the spot to visit for road trips (almost all the NBA ballers hit up Caribana annually) and even Sir Charles Barkley recently called Toronto “One of the ten best cities in the world” but whether it be the cultural differences, hockey mania, higher taxes or just the fact they do not get the desired American TV exposure (and the potential for milk moustaches) they do not want to commit their prime playing years to this city and scene.
Still, fact is, money talks and the Raptors will have some to spend in the coming years, and lets be real outside of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, is there really a better all-around city in North America to spend prolonged time in than Toronto? We will still continue to bring in talent, as we always have, this time we need to add the missing equation – sustained meaningful and winning basketball.
What’s the old adage, if you build it, they will come?