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Tim Chisholm's 3 part look at positional upgrades

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  • Tim Chisholm's 3 part look at positional upgrades

    Part 1: Guards

    The Raptors may not have had the busiest summer in their history, but that doesn't mean that there won't be plenty of turnover in their roster heading into next season. The question is, is there depth chart any better than the one that finished with a .348 winning percentage? Over the next three days we'll take a look at the guards, the wings and the bigs to see what's changed and if the club is better off year over year. Today, we start with the guards, the position that generated the most talk (and change) for the Raptors this summer.


    Last Season: Jose Calderon
    This Season: Kyle Lowry

    This was really a case of the Raptors importing more of what they needed into the starting five rather than criticizing what Calderon brought to them last season. This club needed more of a defensive presence at the point of attack, and there are few in the league as capable in that regard as Lowry. He is a ferocious defender at the position, which is vital in this point guard rich era, and he'll set the defensive tone for a team in need of a defensive leader. He is also better equipped to mesh with returning starters DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani because he can create off of the dribble, rebound the ball and make plays for others - all areas where DeRozan and Bargnani struggle.

    It also helps that Lowry pushes himself to get to the free throw line (4.2 attempts per game last year) and makes free throws at at a stellar clip (.864). While Calderon is a tremendous free throw shooter as well, he simply doesn't get to the stripe often enough for it to matter. Toronto was 20th in the NBA last season in free throw attempts per game and for a team that also shot just 44% from the floor (seventh-worst in the NBA) they need all the easy shots that they can get as they look to improve their offensive output this season.

    While the Raptors leave a little on the table when it comes to playmaking by swapping Calderon for Lowry in the starting five, the improvements that Lowry brings in several other areas more than makes up for the discrepancy.

    Verdict: UPGRADE


    Last Season: Jerryd Bayless
    This Season: Jose Calderon

    This is an unqualified upgrade while it lasts. Bayless had his moments as a starter in Toronto, but as a reserve he was consistently unreliable. He simply never found a way to look comfortable controlling the offense with the second unit like he did when he played with the starters. Calderon, on the other hand, has had tremendous success as a reserve in Toronto, and has posted a career average of 4.8 assists per game (in 20.6 minutes per contest) as a backup in 187 games for the Raptors. The Raptors will need that kind of playmaking, too, to make the most of the incomplete offensive skills offered by Toronto's very young second unit.

    That's really what makes Calderon better suited to bench duty than Bayless. While each has their supporters and detractors, Calderon's experience and leadership will be a boon to a unit that includes guys like Terrence Ross, Ed Davis and Jonas Valanciunas. The latter will benefit even more than the rest as his primary offensive skill - being a roll man in the pick-and-roll - is perfectly complimented by Calderon's primary offensive skill - being the ball handler in the pick-and-roll. No one can say how long Calderon will be with Toronto (he has requested a trade that Toronto is amenable to granting) but so long as he's with the club he'll make Toronto's point guard position one of the deepest in the NBA.

    Verdict: UPGRADE


    Last Season: Anthony Carter/Ben Uzoh
    This Season: John Lucas III

    Lucas played in 49 games last season for the Chicago Bulls, and he played a healthy 14.8 minutes per game thanks to the consistent unavailability of Derrick Rose. He's definitely an offensive-minded guard, he shot a tremendous .393 from three last season on three attempts per game, and he'll be a great asset to the Raptors if Lowry or Calderon falls victim to injury at any point this season. He's certainly a more NBA-capable player than the aged Carter or inconsistent Uzoh.

    If Calderon is traded, though, and Lucas becomes the team's backup point guard things aren't quite as rosy. He's certainly capable of handling that responsibility, but he and Lowry make for a very small backcourt and Lucas is really more of a three-point specialist than a true point guard. Again, you'd take him over Carter or Uzoh in a heartbeat, but it's unlikely that the Raptors expect the 29-year-old Lucas to be their longterm answer behind Lowry if Calderon is moved along.

    Verdict: UPGRADE

  • #2
    I would really like to see what Lucas can do in a Raps uniform. I really believe as a 3rd stringer, he can be that instant offense type player that could change the tempo of a game. Especially for a team that wasn't great offensively.

    Lucas can be an instant offense. Like a Nate Robinson, Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford. Just not a sixth man.... Or as good.

    Lowry will be the reason in my opinion, that we make the playoffs. I really believe he is a huge upgrade to the team's starting lineup.
    Twitter: @ReubenJRD • NBA, Raptors writer for Daily Hive Vancouver, Toronto.


    • #3
      One of the things I really like about the Lowry addition is the vastly improved rebounding from the PG position. Lowry averaged 4.5 rebounds last season which is outstanding for a PG! Between Lowry, Fields if his rebounds increase to his rookie season levels(6.2 rebs/game), and JV the Raptors are going to absolutely destroy teams on the boards, on some nights.


      • #4
        As long as Calderon is around, I don't expect to see anything other than garbage minutes for Lucas.


        • #5
          Nilanka wrote: View Post
          As long as Calderon is around, I don't expect to see anything other than garbage minutes for Lucas.
          I assume you don't expect any injuries during the whole season to Lowry and/or Calderon?


          • #6
            footarez wrote: View Post
            I assume you don't expect any injuries during the whole season to Lowry and/or Calderon?
            I hope you knocked on some wood!

            JL3 is also great insurance given Jose's injury history in non-lockout nba seasons following international competition.


            • #7
              Part 2: Wings


              In our continuing look at the year-over-year changes for the Toronto Raptors, we get to the position that needed the most addressing and got the least: Wings. For the last few years the Raptors have been bereft at best and embarrassingly undermanned at worst at the wing positions. Whether or not Landry Fields and Terrence Ross can move the needle this season, the wing positions once again look like position of relative weakness for the Raptors heading into the season.


              Last Season: DeMar DeRozan
              This Season: DeMar DeRozan

              Last year DeRozan saw both his scoring average and shooting percentage fall (from 17.2 ppg and .467 shooting to 16.7 ppg and .422 shooting) despite playing more minutes per game than he had the season before and shouldering more of the team's offensive responsibilities. In one sense you could easily make the argument that DeRozan's lack of efficiency was a result of opposing team's keying-in on him since the rest of the team (often without Andrea Bargnani) didn't offer much offensive skill, but at the same time DeRozan's lack of a three-point shot, ball-handling polish and ability to absorb contact on drives hurt his offensive numbers, as well.

              This season the Raptors hope for two things: One, that DeRozan having a summer where he can stay in contact with the coaching staff will help him develop more productively than last summer's lockout allowed him to, and two, that having more talent around him will open up the court for him to operate, especially if Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields can punish sagging defenses with their three-point shots.

              The big fear is that DeRozan's flaws have been more or less consistent over the last three seasons, and so expecting his skill set to improve demonstrably this summer is unadvisable, though there is merit to the argument that the team around DeRozan this season hides his flaws better than last year's version did. There is little doubt, however, that Toronto drafting Terrence Ross this spring was a shot across the bow at DeRozan, letting him know that there is a limit to far they'll go with him if he doesn't improve. With free agency looming, he should be as motivated as ever to return a much improved version of himself to training camp this fall.

              Verdict: NEUTRAL


              Last Season: James JohnsonThis Season: Landry Fields

              The starting small forward spot was definitely the weak link in Toronto's starting five last season, as Rasual Butler starting nearly a quarter of the team's games can attest to. James Johnson was meant to be the team's hope, but he chafed at the role the team envisioned for him and clashed with Dwane Casey in the locker room. Regardless of the behind-the-scenes drama, Johnson's lack of a consistent three-point shot and inability to affect the offense without the ball in his hands made him a less-than-ideal candidate for the starting spot going forward, anyway.

              Fields, on the other hand, is a great fit in Toronto's starting long as it's the Fields from two years ago and not last season. Rookie season Fields shot .393 from behind the arc, was great at creating movement off of the ball to get easy looks at the basket and rebounded the ball even better than Johnson did. Last season, though, Fields saw his production dip across the board, but many are willing to write that off to his poor fit alongside the ball-dominating Carmelo Anthony. The Raptors had better hope that's the case, because he'll be an awfully expensive write-off if he can't get his game back on track in his new NBA digs.

              Suffice it to say that Fields is a team player that knows how to impact games in multiple ways and, in that way alone, is an upgrade over Johnson. However, how much of an upgrade he provides depends entirely on his ability to recreate (or at least approximate) his rookie season production. If he can't then the Raptors would have been better off keeping the vastly cheaper free-agent-to-be Johnson and waited another year to go shopping.

              Verdict: Probable UPGRADE


              Last Season: Various (Leandro Barbosa, Bayless)This Season: Terrence Ross

              Ross is something of a wild card this season. He's got a beautiful looking shooting stroke (he shot .371 from three last year at Washington) and plays committed defense, but until we see him in game action at the NBA level its hard to say if he'll be able to offer more than last year's platoon, especially Barbosa.

              Guys like Ross come through the draft every year; swingmen with good-but-not-elite games, and most of them fall off of the radar before they even complete their rookie seasons (think Wes Johnson or Terrence Williams). For Ross to have a positive impact in year one he needs to lock down one NBA-level skill quickly, be it outside shooting or lock-down defense or whatever else can get him consistent minutes on the court. The Raptors need the kinds of skills that he, in theory, possesses, but how long it takes him to translate those skills to the professional level will have a huge impact on his early NBA career.

              Guys like Barbosa make careers for themselves by doing one thing great right away and then rounding out the other areas of their games later on. Ross doesn't need to challenge for Rookie of the Year, he just needs to make sure that the team has a reason to play him beyond the fact that they used a lottery pick on him this spring.

              Verdict: NEUTRAL


              Last Season: Linas KleizaThis Season: Linas Kleiza

              NBA teams are resistant to using Kleiza like FIBA teams do, but as the NBA gets smaller and more skill based one hopes that Kleiza can start seeing a role that exploits the skills he shows off in international competition. How does Dwane Casey make that happen? First, he has to get Kleiza moving more without the ball, which cuts down on his need to dribble (a weakness) and utilizes his quickness against most opposing power forwards (the position he should be playing). If Casey is committed to using him exclusively as a wing, then getting him into more action around the basket, where he can use his size, makes a lot more sense than parking him behind the three-point arc and relegating him to a catch-and-shoot option.

              Terrence Ross may actually help in this setup if he can quickly develop a reliable NBA three-point shot, as that will open up the floor a bit for Kleiza. Kleiza and Fields would also make good partners on the court as Fields would be good at probing the defense with the ball and finding Kleiza with passes on the move. So, in theory this season's roster should suit Kleiza really well, so long as he and Casey can find a way to exploit his full skill set with the team's second unit.

              Verdict: NEUTRAL


              Last Season: Gary ForbesThis Season: Alan Anderson

              It would be overstating things to say that Anderson was a revelation last year for Toronto, but 40% three-point shooters who plays committed defense always have a place in the NBA. Forbes was unfortunately and unfairly thrust into the position of having to play point guard last season, something that played totally against his strengths as a scorer, but in terms of what the Raptors need at the end of their bench a veteran like Anderson is a much safer option than Forbes was, regardless of the position he played.

              Having someone like Anderson in reserve is a safety net for the Raptors in case of injury and in case of a trade. If the Raptors at some point decide to bundle multiple young players to shore up their top-line talent at one position, having a guy like Anderson that the coach trusts in reserve is a great asset. He started 12 games for the Raptors near the end of last season and averaged just under 12 ppg, earning himself a new contract with the club. It's not often that a team takes a flier on an unproven player only to see that player parlay that chance into a new deal, but in Anderson's case it was a pretty easy decision for the Raptors' brass to make.

              Verdict: UPGRADE


              • #8
                one thing about demar left out and worth mentioning IMO is the demand to play defense last year. that certainly was an adjustment and a draining one on the court. hopefully this year he knows what to expect and is prepared.


                • #9
                  If the Toronto Raptors are going to have any major success this season, it is going to be on the back of their bigs, the last position we're looking at in our year-over-year review of the Raptors' offseason moves.

                  Which Andrea*Bargnani will show up this year? How will Jonas*Valanciunas fare in his first NBA season? Will Ed*Davis finally show some signs of growth as a player?

                  The Raptors frontcourt is overloaded and will probably be pared down through a trade or two at some point this season, but for now, here is a look at how the big men stack up against last year's roster.*

                  STARTING POWER FORWARD

                  Last Season: Andrea*Bargnani
                  This Season: Andrea*Bargnani

                  In his first 13 games last season, Andrea*Bargnani was a beast. He scored 23.5 ppg, he was virtually unguardable as he posted nights with 30, 31 and 36 points, he meshed immediately with Dwane Casey and bought into his defensive schemes, which transformed the impact he was able to have in games. More importantly, though, for the first time, he looked like a guy that the Raptors could use to anchor their club as they looked to rebound in the post-Bosh era.

                  Of course, 13 games is not a great sample size from which to work from in the NBA. After a calf strain had him in and out of the lineup after those first 13 games, he looked like a much more familiar player in the games that he managed to play in. In the 18 remaining games, he scored just 16.1 ppg, shot .403 from the floor and didn't have nearly the same focus or intensity at the defensive end of the floor.

                  Everyone within the organization was quick to attribute his struggles to his calf strain, and that's fair and probably accurate, but his regression was certainly worrisome for a fan base that had hoped that after five ho-hum years, their former number one overall pick had finally turned a corner. Now they have no idea what player they'll be seeing when the season kicks off in November.

                  Like the situation facing DeMar*DeRozan, this roster is better suited to maximizing Bargnani's strengths and mitigating his weaknesses than ever before. However, those roster-shaping efforts will have been in vain if Bargnani cannot justify them with his play this season. While there has been a ton of turnaround on the roster, there is still no player as integral to Toronto's success as Bargnani will be this fall.

                  Verdict: NEUTRAL

                  STARTING CENTER

                  Last season: Aaron*Gray and Amir*Johnson
                  This Season: Aaron*Gray and Amir*Johnson

                  This spot is obviously just a placeholder until Jonas*Valanciunas is ready to slide into the starting five, but for now (probably this entire season), Gray and Johnson will split the duties depending on matchups and injuries.

                  Gray is a stellar rebounder, fifth in the NBA last season in rebound rate, and he's the team's only legit seven-footer that is physically equipped to guard against the biggest pivot-men in the NBA. Gray started 40 of 66 games for the Raptors last year (he probably would have started even more had he not missed the start of the season with a rapid heart rate) and he'll likely be the default choice for the Raptors until Valanciunas gets comfortable on an NBA court.

                  It's worth remembering, of course, that Johnson also started 43 games last year, mostly at power forward as a result of Bargnani's injury problems keeping him out of regular action. General manager Bryan Colangelo has been boastful in the past about how the club's analytics favor a Bargnani/Johnson frontcourt, so one shouldn't rule out Johnson getting a chance to usurp a more permanent role in the starting five from Gray - it's just up to him to earn it with his play.

                  While Johnson can't match Gray's bulk, he is a more mobile forward and the club has been encouraging him to work on his jumper in an attempt to expand his offensive game. If he can prove himself a more capable back-line defender than he has been in the past while also making himself a more consistent pick-and-pop option, then whatever his role is, he should not have to worry about minutes in Toronto's rotation.

                  Verdict: NEUTRAL

                  BACKUP POWER FORWARD

                  Last Season: Amir*Johnson and Ed*Davis
                  This Season: Amir*Johnson and Ed*Davis

                  It's hard to see how Davis fits into this roster this season. Saying he's the backup forward is technically true, but if Gray starts the percentage of games he's expected to, then Johnson is far more likely to play primary backup minutes to Andrea*Bargnani because he's simply ready to bring more to the table than Davis is after two NBA seasons.

                  Now, Davis has gotten kind of a raw deal in his career so far. An injury kept him out of training camp in his rookie season and he was allowed no contact with the team last summer because of the lockout. To say his development has been stifled to this point would be underselling his career disadvantages to date. However, The NBA is an unforgiving league. The Raptors want to start piling up wins this season, and right now there are other guys on the roster better equipped to help in that cause than Davis is.

                  After two years, all you can really guarantee Davis will give you is rebounds. That's useful, but the Raptors have Jonas*Valanciunas and Linas*Kleiza on the bench, too, and they're both pretty strong rebounders in their own right.

                  Davis needs a much more well-rounded offensive game, a better ability to read defensive situations and a body that can actually hold its position at both ends in the post if he wants to hold off Johnson, Valanciunas and Kleiza for minutes in the frontcourt this season. Maybe the Raptors force-feed him minutes, but he'd have to make a quantum leap in his development for the club to actually justify making such a move.

                  Verdict: NEUTRAL (with downward potential if an undeveloped Davis is force-fed minutes)

                  BACKUP CENTER

                  Last Season: Jamaal*Magloire
                  This Season: Jonas*Valanciunas

                  Yes, we all know that Valanciunas struggled in the Olympics. For those of you who have only seen him over those six games in London, you are probably suitably prepared for a guy that has tremendous potential but is still very raw in basketball terms. For those who've followed Valanciunas a little longer, who know that the Olympics represent probably the worst he's looked in years (remember, at last year's EuroBasket he fared well against many of the same competitors), the Games were probably a much-needed reality check as to how raw a player Valanciunas still is, even though he seems to defy his age at times when he plays outside of Olympic competition.

                  Either way, Valanciunas is a massive upgrade over Magloire, he of the 2.7 PER, as the team's backup center this year. He averaged 14.2 ppg and 7.4 rpg last year with Lietuvos Rytas in 23.5 minutes per game last season. He also shot .682 from the floor and .825 from the free throw line. He's a very strong rebounder, a solid shot blocker (1.9 per game last year) and he's already a very capable option rolling to the basket in pick-and-roll scenarios. He won't be brought in situationally like Magloire was either, he'll be a regular rotation player that the team hopes will be able to inherit the starting spot by this time next year. Considering he's replacing a guy that had one toe in retirement last season, that's a pretty unqualified upgrade.

                  That said, this will be an up-and-down ride for Valanciunas. Fans have expectations for him that he may not be able to meet, and the skill and size he is going to face on a nightly basis will prove to be discouraging at times. The nice thing about Valanciunas, though, is that he only knows how to play one way - hard - and so long as his mistakes come from trying too hard out on the court while he's getting his NBA feet under him, he'll win over the fans in due time.

                  Verdict: UPGRADE

                  THIRD-STRING BIG MAN

                  Last Season: Solomon*Alabi
                  This Season: Quincy*Acy

                  It wouldn't take much for even the most middle-of-the-road player to out-duel Alabi, and on paper, it looks as though Acy would have him licked. The problem here is that Acy offers a lot of duplication at a position where the Raptors have the most depth - power forward - whereas Alabi offered the team not only another centre but their tallest player at 7-foot-1 (Acy is generously listed at 6-8).

                  Of course, Alabi had so little tangible NBA skill that Acy has him handily beat as a player, but it's hard to see how anything but a string of injuries gets him off the inactive list, let alone onto the court. He may be a workhorse in the Reggie*Evans mold, but so long as Andrea*Bargnani, Amir*Johnson, Linas*Kleiza and Ed*Davis are in front of him, he'll be earning most of his salary on the practice court rather that in real games.


                  • #10
                    i linked to this in the other thread chisholm on bigs.