I’m actually a game late on the halfway point, but since this is my first post in 2011, and we’re more than halfway through January, I’ll give myself a little slack.
Before I commence with the grades, let me say a quick note about the “trade” that went down. At first when word went down that Peja was being bought out, there were lots of complaints from fans who expected Colangelo to somehow finagle a first round pick or something like that in a trade involving Peja. Clearly, these people have no idea what the current economic climate is in the NBA. I said last summer, at some point, that expiring contracts are not going to worth much this season. The reason? More than half the league will actually have a payroll of less than $50 million this summer. The cap this season is $58 million.
Quietly and slowly, the majority of NBA teams have actually become financially responsible. It may not seem that way, especially after last summer when borderline All-Stars, like Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay, were getting max or near max contracts, but the fact is that most of the teams have, for the most part, stopped the ridiculous spending.
So the fact that Colangelo was able to actually get something out of Peja, no matter how much it circumvented the CBA, was fairly impressive. Not that Alexis Ajinca is a potential All-Star, or anything, but he’s a 7 foot 2, mobile center capable of blocking shots. And he’s just 22, so he’ll fit right in with the rest of the Raptor youngsters. In many ways, he’s a Solomon Alabi clone (or visa versa), both rail thin, raw offensively but with potential on the defensive end. Hey, if you’re going to rebuild, you might as well stockpile as many potential assets as you can in case some of them actually are worth something. And if they get a second round pick, as is the rumour, all the better.
So the Raptors lose in a pretty close game to the Spurs and if not for another loss on the road for the Wizards, the Raptors would have settled into the bottom five of the league and are currently on pace to win 25 games (rounding up).
So how did the Raptors get here?
Well, lack of talent and poor defense, basically. I don’t think anyone should really be surprised by a team that doesn’t have even one player that would crack the starting lineup for a contender to struggle as much as the Raptors have. So here are the grades for each player and the team as a whole:
MOST VALUABLE RAPTOR
Jose Calderon: B-
Calderon struggled on and off at the beginning, but the turning point seemed to be when Jarrett Jack was traded and he was made the undisputed starter at PG. I argued from the beginning of the season (and well before that) that Calderon should be the starter, and, except for a short period when he missed some games due to injury, has been playing like the Jose who got the contract extension almost three years ago. And as I’ve been saying since pre-season, his defense seems to be much improved, although it’s still not good. Jose’s numbers aren’t stunning, but he makes a positive impact with his passing and makes everyone around him better.
Amir Johnson: C+
A lot of pressure was on him early to earn his contract, and he had real trouble staying on the floor due to foul trouble for the first month, or so, but in he’s played more than 30 mpg in his last five games, so hopefully he’s turned the corner, in that regard. Even when he was fouling, however, his presence was almost always felt. His defense, rebounding and hustle are exactly what a team like the Raptors need. And his highly efficient offense makes him valuable on both ends of the court.
DeMar DeRozan: C
Just going on the last month, or so, I might give him a B-, but for the entire half season, he gets a C. He started the season pretty well, but then seemed to hit a period when he wasn’t getting the calls and he regressed. He stopped attacking the rim and his shot wasn’t falling. Then in mid-December, things started to change. His shot, which he has constantly been working on, started falling with a little more regularity and he has even looked unstoppable on occasion. He still must improve his jumper and his defense has been spotty, at best, but there have definitely been improvements and things are looking bright for DeRozan.
Andrea Bargnani: C
Yes, I am hard on him, but his improvement on offense (the last two games not withstanding) has been impressive. He’s shown far more aggressiveness than he ever showed his first four years, and he scored inside better than he has in the past. He’s currently 16th in the league in scoring, and he’s even getting to the line occasionally, too. Of course, his defense has been a team killer and he’s rebounding at a lower rate than last year. When he doesn’t score at least 25 points per game, his horrible defense and weak rebounding are too much of a liability for him to remain on the court. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped him from being on the court when he’s not scoring 25 ppg.
Leandro Barbosa: C+
I’d give him an `A’ simply for not being Turkoglu, but while Barbosa has shown a great knack for scoring and been a one-man wrecking crew at times, Barbosa also has shown a propensity for completely ignoring teammates and forcing bad shots at the worst time. I still contend that Barbosa is the Raptors most valuable trade asset and were he not being held together with strong and bubble gum, I would really like to see him moved for a young player and/or draft pick.
Jerryd Bayless: C
I will admit, I was not at all confident in the abilities of Bayless when the Raptors traded for him, although I did state that I liked the trade. He’s been the biggest surprise for me this season. Before he hurt his ankle, Bayless showed skills and a competitive drive this team sorely needed. I still don’t think he’s a real PG and probably will never start on a good team, but I certainly love him being a backup.
Ed Davis: B-
He missed some time due to injury, and desperately needs to live in the weight room this summer, but Davis has been everything I hoped he’d when he was drafted and has made me look good for jumping on the Ed Davis bandwagon early. He’s already one of the best defenders on the Raptors (although that’s not really an accomplishment, is it?), has a nose for the ball and has shown he just knows how to play. Of course I’ve seen him hit maybe only a handful of shots outside of 5 feet, but he wasn’t drafted to be a scorer, was he. I expect that aspect of his game to improve.
Salomon Alabi: Incomplete
It’s getting to the point when Triano should start giving him a few minutes here and there just to see what he can do. It’s not like the team is vying for a playoff spot.
Linas Kleiza: D
What happened to the player we saw in preseason? I thought signing him was a good idea because I felt he was a talented player who was only 26 years old. It’s not as if he hasn’t shown glimpses. He went through a six game stretch where he averaged nearly 20 ppg the last couple of weeks of December. Overall, though, he has shot poorly and too much, hasn’t figured out how not to travel when dribbling the ball more than twice and hasn’t exactly helped the team defensively. The one good thing is he’s shown to be a pretty good rebounder and a tough guy who won’t back down on a team full of softies.
Jarrett Jack: D
Sure, he’s gone, but while he was a Raptor he shot poorly and didn’t play defense. I figured the trade would help him, but so far it hasn’t.
Joey Dorsey: C-
I will admit that I really didn’t think Dorsey would last when he was signed, but he’s shown himself to be a competent player who deserves to be in the NBA. He’s a great rebounder and hard worker who can score around the basket, a little. He’s not a great defender, but not for lack of trying. You could definitely do worse than having a guy like Dorsey as your third big man off the bench.
Dave Andersen: C-
Yes, he’s gone, too, but while he was on the team, I was shocked at how much better he was than I was expecting. He was far tougher and a better rebounder than was advertised and he was probably the guy I was most sorry to see go in the trade.
2ND RUNNER UP
Sonny Weems: C
Overall, Weems’ season has not been nearly as bad as some fans believe. On the season, he’s scoring 11.5 ppg on 45% shooting and dishing out 2.3 apg in under 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the last 13 games he played he shot less 40% in 10 of them. He’s also scored at least 20 points in four games and before his last 13 games, was shooting an ungodly percentage from the field and displaying skills that should keep him in the NBA for years. Yes, his defense needs a lot of work, but for a guy who I didn’t think was even worth mentioning in the deal that brought him to Toronto, I think he’s doing very well. I look forward to seeing him return to the floor.
BEST ROLE PLAYER
Reggie Evans: C+
You’ve got to feel bad for the guy. He’s having a career year and playing the most minutes of his career and he goes down with an injury. He’s shot beyond horribly and isn’t the greatest defender (although he does try), but no rebound is safe if he’s on the floor and his hustle and joy for the game are contagious. I wouldn’t want him playing a whole lot of minutes, but he’s the type of guy I’d like on the bench. Deep, but on the bench.
Julian Wright: C-
Finally this guy gets some playing time. Now hopefully he’ll keep getting it. And while he’s a poor shooter, even from the line, he’s probably the second best passer on the team and might be it’s best defender. He’s like last year’s Wright, but without the boneheaded plays and poor shot selection.
THE BEST 3RD PGS
Sundiata Gaines: Incomplete
He’s only played 3 games, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen, so far. I wouldn’t want him as my first PG off the bench, but as a third one, you could do a lot worse. And he’s probably better than PG the Raptors had coming off the bench in the 2009 season. Remember that season? [shudder]
Marcus Banks: D
He rarely played and never complained. And when he did get in the game, he worked hard, even if he didn’t always play well. If New Orleans had released him, I would think Toronto would have re-signed him instead of Gaines.
Peja Stojakovic: Incomplete
Three games, 20 points on 7-10 shooting. Can’t as for anything more than that from a 33 year older shooter whose knees might be as bad as mine. I wish him luck in Dallas.
Ronald Dupree: Incomplete
I couldn’t understand why he was signed, anyway, since the Raptors two biggest needs were the two positions he is unable to play.
Jay Triano: C-
I’ve been a frequent defender of Triano as head coach. I think he’s been unfairly criticized for things that are either out of his control or based on very little actual knowledge by the critic. The notion that he was hired simply because he was Canadian is possibly the stupidest, most ignorant comment I’ve ever heard. It makes no sense to anyone with a brain.
It’s not as if Triano has had much to work with this year. He’s got a roster mostly of castoffs and young players with mostly upside, most of whom don’t know how to play defense. He’s developed the young players pretty well, although for the second half of the year he should concentrate solely on defense.
His in game decisions have been, for the most part, pretty good. He’s shown improvement over last season, in that regard.
Unfortunately, one issue I have with Triano is his inability to hold players accountable. At the beginning of the season, he claimed that EVERYONE would earn their minutes, but he’s constantly overlooked certain player’s lackadaisical play, especially on defense. Part of developing players is making them learn good habits. Allowing them to be lazy without punishing them by sitting them does no good to the player or the team.
Toronto Raptors: C+
Keep in mind this is not a grade based on their record. The actual record is their grade for that. As I’ve said, though, this season is not about their record. It’s about the development of the young players and building for the future.
– Bargnani, DeRozan, Weems, Amir, and Bayless are having career years. You can’t ask for more than that when the focus is on developing your young players.
– Colangelo has not given into pressure and used the TPE on a quick fix that might have ended up hurting the team in the long run.
– Davis looks like the steal I thought he was.
– The team has shown flashes of being one of those hard working teams that lack talent, but gain respect. If you are rebuilding and losing a lot, that’s exactly what you want. It’s good for the development of the players and of the franchise.
– The team is horrible on defense and there is a real danger of the young players learning bad habits on that end of the court. Bargnani is pretty much a lost cause in that respect, this being his fifth year in the league, but it’s not too late for DeRozan and Weems. Both desperately need to learn better defensive fundamentals if they want to reach their potential.
– Signing Kleiza now appears to have been a mistake. He’s not playing well and taking playing time away from younger players who need it to develop. If he starts playing well again, then his value will increase, though.
Despite the Raptors being on course for a 25 win season, I’ve liked what I’ve been seeing from the team for the most part. They still desperately need to add elite talent and no player looks anything close to a sure-fire All-Star, at this point, but most of their young players are developing nicely and increasing in value. In the end, that’s the main thing.