Thursday, February 15, 2007

Raptors


Approximately 80 million years ago, the Raptors franchise began in the Eastern Conference, Upper Mongolia Division. The Raptors were the first NBA team, and they were undersized but fierce competitors. (They were coached by Lenny Wilkins.) The original Bad Boys, they were known for their hardiness, even though they were never able to win the big one due to the dominance of the Allasauruses and Tyranasouruses. Fortunately, they were able to survive the brutal asteroid strike but not the lockout that occurred when their home on an island off Costa Rica was blown up around 1996 after a billionaire with a big ego tried to turn it into an amusement park. Fortunately, some Raptors were moved to Toronto and are showing all the signs of full recovery.

So begins my look at the standings and stats of the NBA. We're getting close the the halfway point and I think it's a good time to take stock of what's going on. I know that I said I would do the rest of my college roundup today and in the next few days, but yesterday's was quite long and I feel like it should be in small doses, if possible.

The most interesting thing to happen this year is the development of the Toronto Raptors. The resurgence of the Knicks to not-quite-worst-in-the-league is kind of bittersweet for me, there's not a lot happening in the Western Conference, so in terms of team surprises, I think Toronto is number one. I'm surprised more media outlets aren't keying into this.

The team is interesting; I would argue that they are the most balanced offensive team in the Eastern Conference, with a nice mix of depth and versatility to their lineup. They have a unique situation wherein they can go six or seven deep of guys that can really shoot the lights out, who are more than just shooters.

The best place to start is with Chris Bosh. Chris Bosh is the man. He's good for 23 and 10 night in and night out. He shoots over 50% from the field, he shoots over 75% from the line (and bagged the game-tying and game-winning free throws last night) and by all accounts, seems to be a great forward who also has a post game, a face-up game, and a solid jumper. He can even hit from deep (he is 10-29 [34.5%]). He's not a weak defender, he can pass out of a double team, he's big, he's strong, and he's had some really high-scoring games lately (35, 34, 41 in the last couple of weeks). [That 41 was against Dwight Howard, who also had a career night that night. It was a big reason they were able to win.]

The Raptors, who must have a smart PR department, have an excellent group of very recent (and very quick) Chris Bosh highlights. Watching them, I think there are three pretty unique things about Bosh that become apparent: 1. He is very good from 15-18 feet at a slight angle (15-20 degrees); 2. His right hand is not a weakness, but not a strength [I shouldn't have to say this, but he's left handed...]; 3. His first step and face-forward movement to the hoop create more than his post game does.

I think the player Bosh reminds me of the most is Kenyon Martin, with a little less athleticism and better fundamentals. I really like his ability to stick his arms out and hit lefty layups from weird angles. In this video, you can really see him repeatedly blow by Amare Stoudamire, hit jump shots, and fight for rebounds. In this one, you can see him go back-to-the-basket on a smaller Josh Howard, face up a larger Eric Dampier, run with good spacing on the break, and play good help defense on Dirk Nowitzki. Finally, in this video, you can see how he pulls Emeka Okafor, a great interior defender, out. He also continually screws with his positioning to get open.

Bosh is only 22 (a year younger than Amare Stoudamire, which people don't seem to acknowledge) this year and will be great to build around. He's signed long term (he gave a cool million away to charity the day he signed his contract) and doesn't seem to be fragile. Is he as good as Amare? Well, he's not as good as Amare was when he averaged 28.8 points a game. But this year, "fully healthy", Amare is only good for 19.9, and you have to wonder if that knee is going to be a problem. Bosh also doesn't have the luxury of the league's highest scoring offense, or a hall-of-fame point guard. ("Nash to Bosh!" would sound terrible, wouldn't it?) Also, if Bosh really does develop his three point game (which he worked on all summer, supposedly), he would have a whole dimension that Amare does not.

(One x-factor with Bosh is that he has had to deal with the hype (and playoff presence) of his fellow classmates Wade, Anthony, and Lebron. Hell, Darko has a ring! This is the kind of thing that fuels hard-edged, will-to-win players and keeps their ego small at the same time. I think he's in the perfect position, though I can't think of any examples where this has produced in the past. Then again, there haven't been that many Lebron-Wade-Anthony draft classes in the past.)

I wouldn't say Bosh is as good as Kevin Garnett, but let's take a look at their statistics at age 22, just for the sake of argument. When Garnett was 22, he averaged 20.8 points per game, 10.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.8 blocks. He shot 46% and 70% from the line, and was 4-14 (28%) from behind the arc. This year, Bosh is averaging a sweet 23.3 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists, 1.2 blocks, and .44 steals, while shooting 50.5%, 75% from the line, and 10-29 (35%) from deep.

(At age 22, I am pretty far off those numbers, despite playing in the Gibson Aiken men's league for Walker Farm [farm motto: "You just got served...organic Vermont products!"].)

I like the rest of the team Toronto is building. Their point guard is possibly the quickest man in the league, T.J. Ford, and they probably have the best backup point guard in the league in Jose Calderon. (Look at how afraid TJ Ford's defender is of TJ getting the jump on him here.) What can you say about two guys who get to the hole easily and are great distributors? In my mind, it's invaluable to have that happening constantly, and few teams can pull it off. It can kill a zone defense and on a team with a lot of shooters, like Toronto, it's a great asset. (Toronto is the only team that I can think of that can put a lineup of five shooters on the floor, I believe. [This would be their small lineup, not including Radoslav Isuckabitch.])

The other great thing about Ford is that he shoots for a high percentage (.447), can shoot foul shots, (.798), shoot the three pointer (.326) and play defense (1.26 spg). Yes, he has been fragile, but spinal injuries are rare and I think that it might not speak to his toughness as much as bad luck. I guess we'll see. He is only 23 and like Bosh, he is a good person who is unselfish.

Mr. Ford's backup is a great guy, two. Jose Calderon averages a nice 9.0 points and 5.1 assists in only 21.4 minutes a night. He doesn't have a good long range shot, but is extremely great from the fabled mid range, and get to the hole. As a result, he shoots a robust 52.7%, and hits 84.5% from the free throw line. (You are probably beginning to see a trend with this team.) He reminds me of a less-cool but smaller-ego Terrell Brandon, which is a perfect kind of guy to have as a backup point guard. He's 25 years old.

Anthony Parker is a weird player. He's Toronto's shooting guard, and he's really efficient, though not terribly high-scoring. He hits a lot of shots from mid range and is a great three point shooter, and he does everything above average and nothing outstanding. He averages 12 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1 steal per game. He shoots 47% from the field, 44% from deep, and 79% from the line (again, another superlative shooter). I guess this guy played in Israel and Europe and was the man, and for some reason didn't catch on. This is a weird but interesting video of him demolishing non-American opponents. Apparently his Israeli team (Maccabi Tel Aviv Holla!) beat the Raptors over the summer in an exhibition game, and I guess they signed him. Weird, right? It seems like it was a good move that got them a solid-shooting, pretty athletic veteran. (He's 31.)

He played for a couple of years in the NBA seven years ago and couldn't do a thing, and now he's a solid starting guard, and I'm surprised no one has told his story. I'm sure some interesting stuff happened to him along the way, and he should have a little of that Kurt Warner mystique going. Oh, and his daughter is Candace Parker, that girl on Tennessee who dunked twice in a game as a freshman [She's only 6'4"]. (Apparently she's one of the best women's players in collegiate history.) If he hadn't played those couple of years in the NBA, he'd be a rookie right now, and he'd be right in the Rookie of the Year race. He's not, and no one mentions him. Why not? Frankly, I'd rather have him on my team than Adam Morrison (at least at this point).

Mo Pete is the other gunner on this team. He doesn't start much, but he knows how to score, and always has. He is very efficient, just like everyone else, and averages 11 points per game in only 24.4 minutes. He shoots 46%, 38% from deep, and 75% from the line. One thing he brings to the table is his ability to defend physically and rough people up. Here he is inciting Dwayne Wade to fight. It's cool that he's not a great defender but will defend hard. (This is similar but not the same as what that little snake Bruce Bowen does. Mo Pete plays hard because he is tough and doesn't want his man to score. Bruce Bowen tries to injure his man and doesn't respect his fellow player or the game. He's an embarassment and a punk, and in another era, Bill Laimbeer, Chuck Oakley, or my main man Maurice Lucas would have ended his tomfoolery by breaking his little rat nose. Nostalgia....)

The point is, I like Morris Peterson. He's from Flint, so he's tough. There are so many teams who have little guys that go to the hole and Mo Pete can stop them on the perimeter and give them some body if they go down low -- I think every team needs someone who can do this (guys like Michael Finley, Sprewell, Eddie Jones, etc.).

Andres Bargnani is Toronto's rookie, the number one pick in this year's draft, and he is a rare young fellow who is both talented and efficient. He fits right in with the shooters on this team. He averages just over 10 points in just under 24 minutes a game. I like that Toronto doesn't start him so he doesn't face a ton of pressure. He's big (6-10), can block shots, has a little bit of a post game, and can hit threes. He is the exception to the rule of high field goal percentage (.417) but he is a rookie and should learn to play closer to the hoop. He shoots a solid 36% from deep, and 84% from the line. I shouldn't like this guy but I do...I don't know what to say. His release is exceptionally quick, which is kind of neat, as you can see here. If I had to classify his game, I'd call him the love-child of Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins.

Jorge Garbajosa plays forward opposite Chris Bosh, and is a typical Euro-dink forward. I don't really like him, and think he is one of the weakest parts of this team. He is a pretty solid shooter who shoots too much, though he can hit the three, which is a nice wrinkle for a power forward. I'll be honest, I just don't like sissy big men. To his credit, he is a decent rebounder and a good foul shooter. He's not gonna have your back, though, unless he just happens to be standing too close behind you.

The Raptors rotation men are Freddie Jones and Joey Graham. I like both of these guys. They are each tough, play hard, and bring their own game. Joey Graham is a great jump shooter who shoots close to 50%. Freddie Jones couldn't throw a turd in the toilet but he is one of the best dunkers in the NBA, and an excellent defender. Players like these will get you fifteen points sometimes when your starters are sucking, and it's good to have one person you can insert when you're stuck shooting jump shots and can't get a slasher (Jones) and one person you can put in when everyone's just slapping iron (Graham).

Last, and definatly least, there's the main weakness on the Raptors, Radoslav Nesterobitch. He just sucks. I don't know what else to say. He's probably a nice guy, and he tries hard, but he's just not good. I don't understand why teams waste their money on these big euro fellows who have no game. Here's what I think teams like Toronto should do: find the biggest, strongest motherfucker you can, and pull an Antonio Gates: just throw him in there and see what happens. Some great centers have come out of this process (Hakeem, Ben Wallace) and yet when it comes time to draft, everyone goes to Europe. When they do get a big scary dude, they don't let him play, and he doesn't develop. I must say, in the Eastern Conference, I think a 7-0 person who was completely ripped and could jump through the roof could do a lot more damage than Nesterovic even if they couldn't hit rim. Or a 6-10 country boy who grew up on the farm, is fat like a pig, and likes to play rough (Ostertag made this work with varying success for years, but I'm convinced there's better out there).

So what am I getting at with all this? I think that Toronto has built a really great foundation. They are disciplined enough to stick to a philosophy: Surround a budding young star with a lineup that can hit jump shots. How can anyone double-team Bosh when he can pass out to every single player? It's tough. The whole team passes well, there's no one selfish or who goes around shooting people and soliciting prostitutes (or shooting their gun in the air in a parking lot after they get hit by a car). It kind of reminds me of Sacramento right before they were going to put it together, except in place of Jason Williams and Webber are TJ Ford and Bosh, who create a totally different dynamic. Still, this team can run or execute in the half court, and not a lot of teams in the East can say that.

My prediction is the second round. For anyone that thinks I'm getting all excited over their current six game [I think] winning streak, I mentioned these Raptors a few posts ago, and have been thinking about them ever since. There's something funny about this team, and I think, since of course I can't really root for the Knicks once the playoffs begin, that these guys will be who I follow.

As always, e-mail me at dontgiveupthebasketballblog@gmail.com

3 comments:

Jayinee said...

haha...well done...i'm still finishing up but I'm enjoying myself so i figured i'd comment

Kodijack said...

Now JV you gotta edit out the Hakeem reference. Hakeem played soccer, he is one of the most athletic centers in NBA history. Remember Phi Slamma Jamma?

TJ Ford is an amazing story I agree with you there.

But at the end I only count two good players and one outstanding one. And having your superstar be 22 and still developing does not a playoff run make (See James, Lebron).

Otherwise great article on a team that I seriously could care less about. Nice job.

JimmyValente said...

I didn't mean to imply that Hakeem was not athletic, just that he was not a polished basketball player the way a lot of these euro-stiffs are.

It's entirely possible this team might not make the playoffs, but considering the state the Eastern conference is in, I think they have a shot at making a little noise. I think you're just mad about TJ the Texan.