Monday October 27 2008 – 1:20pm Eastern
There has been a lot of talk about the depth – or lack there of – of the Toronto Raptors. While I’ll be the first to admit that the roster is a little thinner than it was last season, I’m not convinced that there’s much of an issue here.
Who left town (via free agency or trade) during the off-season?
TJ Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston, Carlos Delfino, Darrick Martin, Primoz Brezec, and Jorge Garbajosa.
That’s nearly half of the roster from 2007-2008 season. But let’s break it down a little further …
With all due respect to these players, the impact of the loss of Garbajosa, Brezec, Martin, and Baston will be minimal.
Brezec didn’t add a ton to the Raps after coming over from Detroit in the Juan Dixon deal. He couldn’t stay out of foul trouble and didn’t really pan out in his brief stint in Toronto.
Martin was used sparingly. Beyond sparingly. He was more of a coach than anything else – especially late in the season when he wasn’t actually on the roster. He’s a great guy – and, I believe, a future head coach in the league. But his actual on-court play won’t be missed.
Ditto for Baston. Despite signing as a free agent — with high hopes coming from Bryan Colangelo and the coaching staff — Baston simply couldn’t find the floor on a regular basis. Whether it was his performance in practice or during his few appearances in games … Baston couldn’t crack the rotation ahead of Chris Bosh, Nesterovic, Andrea Bargnani, or Kris Humphries.
Garbajosa is the tough one. Two years ago, he was the starting small forward for this team. He was – on many nights – the heart and soul for the Raps. And he is/was EXACTLY what the Raptors needed in that playoff series against the New Jersey Nets. I think he could have made a huge difference. However, after the gruesome injury in Boston, Garbo was never the same player. Despite his hard work and his progress in his battle, he still battled that injury, other surgeries, and a number of issues last season. That forced him to appear in only 7 games last season. Thus, the Raptors got used to playing without Garbo. For argument sake, it’s like he wasn’t really on the team last year; most knew he wasn’t going to see the floor at any point.
So that leaves us with Ford, Nesterovic, and Delfino.
Delfino’s loss could be big. He played some solid minutes for the Raptors last season, and he was – at times - Toronto’s best defender. But his presence and play … along with a log-jam at SG / SF (Jamario Moon, Jason Kapono, Anthony Parker) forced a guy like Joey Graham into the shadows. Injuries didn’t help Graham either.
Some may say that Graham’s play in practice could have / should have earned him a shot … and the fact that he WASN’T playing, may have been an indication that he wasn’t doing enough to earn that shot. And that’s a fair comment. Sam Mitchell often says that players dictate their minutes, not the coach. But sometimes that is easier said than done. Kapono was going to play; he was the big free agent signing last summer. Parker and Moon were your starters; they’re not going to suddenly see a drastic cut in their minutes. Delfino saw the opening … and ran with it. And he obviously earned the trust of the coaches, etc.
But if you break down his numbers, I think there’s a strong case to be made for Graham being able to match was Delfino did. There’s no denying how good the Argentinian was at times but here are his 2007-08 stats:
Delfino was also very durable. He played in all 82 – which is outstanding.
But while we’d ALL agree – probably Joey himself as well – that Graham hasn’t lived up to his potential yet, I think Graham has a chance to match those numbers that Delfino put up.
Graham battled injuries and DNP’s last year … resulting in him appearing in only 38 games. However, in his first two season, Joey-G played in 80 and 79 games respectively. And through those two seasons he averaged about 6.5 PPG and 3.1 REB in less than 20 minutes of action. He shot around 49% from the field … and about 82.5% from the FT line as well.
Given that Graham may actually START – and not come off the bench (like Delfino did) – am I crazy to think that Graham can match Delfino’s 2007-08 totals? At the very least … if Graham is given 20-22 minutes … could he not … at the very least … give the Raps 8 points, 4 boards, and shoot 42-45%?
I think he can. He’ll just have to bring the D as well.
Nesterovic was a solid vet for this team. He wasn’t flashy, but he was steady. You always knew what you were going to get from Rasho. And he was a stable, experienced presence on the defensive end. Off the floor, he was one of the great guys as well.
But the big Slovenian is being replaced by a 6-time All Star. Even if O’Neal sees a dip in his numbers, he should still bring more to this team – by his presence and his past if nothing else – than Rasho did. I think it would be foolish for anyone to think that this team isn’t better with O’Neal as opposed to Nesterovic.
Plus, Bargnani will now be asked to do more. And if the pre-season is any indication, he’s ready to step up. Hump will see more time too.
The only gap on this roster – and it’s a big one – comes at the point guard position. This is the only area where I believe people have a right to be concerned about the “depth”. As I’ve pointed out already, I don’t think the depth is an issue for 99% of this team. People are freaking out too much about this stuff. But when it comes to the point, skeptics are justified.
The Raptors went from having – arguably – the best 1-2 punch in the NBA at the point … with Jose Calderon and TJ Ford. But when Ford was dealt to Indiana, the reigns of this team were handed over to Jose.
Calderon is more than capable of handling the load; he’ll be a solid starter for years to come for T.O. But that move (TJ to Indy) forced Colangelo to address the back-up situation — so Roko Ukic was finally brought over to North America. And Will Solomon was signed as well.
Solomon is currently dealing with a hamstring injury and there’s a good shot that he won’t be ready by the time Wednesday night rolls around. But even if he was in top shape, there’d still be some questions about how effective he can be as the primary back-up … at least in the short term. It’s probably going to take Solomon a while to get used to that position. He was a scorer in Turkey; he hasn’t played that role of that pass-first guy in quite some time. There will be a growth period for him — maybe ’til Christmas?? — before he’s totally comfortable with that role.
Ukic is like any young guard; he’ll have his ups and downs during his rookie season. And he’s a young guard coming over from Europe. That may make the transition even tougher. Just think about Calderon’s rookie season and how he struggled. It’s not a stretch to expect a similar path for Ukic. It’s only natural.
Keeping Ford and Calderon probably wasn’t an option — and many of the fans were sure calling for it! But the “1A and 1B” strength that Toronto had last season is gone. And if Calderon goes down for any extended period of time – like TJ did last year – the Raps could struggle.
That’s why the point is the one spot where the depth COULD take some bite out of the Raptors. Time will tell.
But, overall, I still think there are too many Chicken Littles out there.