Just yesterday, we stumbled upon a Toronto Raptors article written by one of our favorites over at ESPN. In the article, Tom Haberstroh breaks down the current conundrum that is the Raptors and tries to get a handle on where they are and where they are going. We are going to look at the points that Haberstroh makes and react to them, succinctly, as we need a break from the constant speculation we have been engaging in our recent columns. We’re tired.
Haberstroh opens with the question about whether the Raptors are good or not, or if they even want to be. It’s the question we have been asking and he seems to echo our sentiment by ascertaining adequacy by default. We still believe it is the most noteworthy story line for the remainder of the regular season; the idea of the “least worst” of the Atlantic Division.
Haberstroh obviously addresses what we termed earlier in the season as the “elitish-ness” of Rudy Gay and how the Raptors, like the Grizzlies, got better when he departed. And for the Raptors, it has not been marginally better. They have been massively better. This is no longer an elephant in the room; teams need to be doing extensive research on why adding a good player is making teams worse. We feel that Haberstroh’s quote “sharpened their attack” is the best way to describe what the Raptors have done without Gay. They aren’t more talented, but they are sharper, more precise, and far more efficient. It means they’re better.
He considers the Raptors good now, in a relative sense, dismissing the atrocities of the Atlantic Division and referring to the Hollinger Playoff Odds, which currently give them a 76% chance of winning the division. According to NBA.com, the Raptors are outscoring their opponents by 2.7 points per 100 possessions since the Gay trade while being outscored by 1.1 per 100 before the trade. Numbers like this can be a good basis for why the Hollinger rank is so high on the Raptors chances in the Atlantic, but it begs the next, inevitable question of whether that is where they wish to be.
And Haberstroh focuses on the same idea that we have: That Uriji will not be “in no man’s land,” or the levels of purgatory that we have described in former columns. The fact that Uriji would come out and say that he will not be caught in such a position is bold, because there is no question about what he means. It looks like Lowry will be the barometer (as of this writing he finished the game versus the Knicks with 32 and 11). If he goes, it’s a blatant attempt at a Canadian marriage with Andrew Wiggins. If he doesn’t, it’s like we said last week: Quick first-round exit and James Michael McAdoo. And Haberstroh says they need to decide where they are.
He also goes on to talk about Amir Johnson as one of the most underrated players in the NBA and how nice it is to see him flourish without Gay (which seems to be a trend).
There is also the question of Jonas Valanciunas, who has been disappointing relative to the big expectations coming into this season. Haberstroh says there is no reason to worry given Valanciunas’s age and (again) having to deal with a black hole in Gay that stunted him a bit. He points to much better numbers since Gay left and now having a better path to development, which we have been saying from minute one.
There is also the case of whether to trade DeMar DeRozan in the midst of a career year. Haberstroh says that his salary is not ideal for a team in rebuilding mode, and that there are probably a lot of teams that would be interested in a high volume scorer off the bench. We happen to think a bit more of DeRozan and feel he should be a part of the process instead of a means to a different process. There is something to be said for substantial improvement, which DeRozan has shown. We will continue to say that we need to see how he handles being the lead dog while gauging the market.
Again, if some players are creating too much “success” and that isn’t Uriji’s end game, then everything needs to be re-evaluated.