Is Jonas Valanciunas A Fortunate Pick For The Raptors After Years Of Wasted Drafts?

Jonas Valanciunas blocks a Serbia players shot

Historically the draft has been a roller coaster ride for the Toronto Raptors.  They’ve done well at times with Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Marcus Camby, Damon Stoudamire…but for every good pick, there seems to be twice as many busts, misses and trades.

Toronto traded Marcus Camby before he was a defensive stalwart and lost Tracy McGrady in Free Agency as he was emerging.  If McGrady stays with Vince Carter the Raptors franchise would be different to this day.    But instead, McGrady left.

Then a litany of draft busts followed; Michael Bradley, Aleksandar Radojević, Chris Jeffries and Rafael Araújo.  Ouch.

The best Raptors draft pick from the four drafts between the Vince Carter and Chris Bosh picks?  Morris Peterson.  Ouch.

The two years following the Chris Bosh pick Toronto drafted Rafael Araújo, Charlie Villanueva, and Joey Graham.  Ouch.

They landed the first pick in the 2006 draft, and the NBA changed the draft rules.  Ouch.

2006 draft the Raptors then lost out on Greg Oden and Kevin Durant (while Al Hortford and Joakim Noah stayed in school).  Ouch.

So they drafted Andrea Bargnani.  Ouch.

In 2007 and 2008 didn’t draft for themselves, and traded away their picks.   Ouch.

Despite all these draft failures, Demar Derozan, and Ed Davis look like very good picks.

But could this year’s pick, Jonas Valanciunas be the good draft fortune that propels the Raptors to eventual contender status?  I think so.

Good teams not only have to be managed well and draft well, they need good fortune, and breaks.  Especially in the draft.

Look at the Chicago Bulls.  They got Noah 9th in 2007, landed Taj Gibson 26th in 2009, Omar Asik 36th in 2008 (through a trade), and Derek Rose 1st in 2008 after jumping 8 teams in the lottery.   Almost overnight, they went from terrible to elite.

Look at Toronto and Oklahoma City (then the Seattle Sonics).  During the middle 00’s they were bad. Toronto bottomed out in 2006, and Seattle in 2007.

With the top pick in the 2006 Toronto drafted Andrea Bargnani a good, but flawed and non-franchise changing player.  The following year, with the 2nd pick Seattle landed Kevin Durant, a top 5 player in the league, and a franchise changing player who’s not 23 until September.

After these two drafts Toronto slowly fell apart with mediocre season after season which finally lead to a 22 win season.  Meanwhile Oklahoma City struggled, but accumulated assets and  slowly built through the draft.  last year they made the playoffs, and this year the conference finals. Oklahoma City Thunder turned their 2008-2009 drafts into Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden.  Great management, but also good fortune.

San Antonio went from playoff team to lottery team in a year because of a season long injury to David Robinson.  The Spurs reward, a top pick, Tim Duncan and 4 championships.  A year later the top pick was Michael Olowokandi.  Great management, but also good fortune.

The Lakers drafted Kobe Bryant 13th in 1996, signed Shaq and won 3 championships (2 more without Shaq).  The four players taken before Kobe; Samaki Walker, Erick Dampier, Todd Fuller, and Vitaly Potapenko. Great management, but also good fortune.

Paul Pierce was the 10th pick for Boston.  The four players taken before Paul Pierce; Robert Traylor, Jason Williams, Larry Hughes, and Dirk Nowitzki (okay that one was pretty good).

Rajon Rondo was drafted 21st, Ray Allen was acquired and Kevin Garnett as well leading to a championship and two finals appearances. The four players taken before Rajon Rondo; Shawne Williams, Olesksiy Pecherov, Quincy Douby, and Renaldo Balkman.   Great management, but also good fortune.

Tony Parker was drafted 28th overall, and Manu Ginobli was drafted 57th overall.  Thanks to this restocking San Antonio won 3 more championships with Duncan after David Robinson retired.  Great management, but also good fortune.

I believe Jonas Valanciunas could be that type of franchise changer for the Raptors.

I know by my own definition it seems the 5th pick in the draft hardly seems like good fortune.  But consider that he’s perhaps the best center prospect since Andrew Bogut, and better than any center prospect of the next few years.  Yet Toronto drafted him 5th in a weak draft.  A draft supposedly filled with role players.

That’s even after the Raptors dropped two spots in the lottery, after Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones, and Harrison Barnes returned to college.  Despite all this, the Raptors landed a potential franchise center.  That is great fortune.   Much needed in Raptor land.

Do I think he is going to be Tim Duncan, or Kobe Bryant?  I don;t think so, but why can;t he have a similar impact.

18 and 19 year-old centers don’t have the hands and the defensive instincts Jonas does.  They don’t rebound like him (near the top per36 in rebounds at 18 in Euroleague) , shoot well from the free throw line (78% in Lithuanian league, and 88% in Euroleague) and have great touch around the basket.

Could this really be the type of fortune that changes the Toronto Raptors Fortune?  Let’s hope so.

 

***all draft information is courtesy of Basket Ball Reference, unless indicated otherwise.

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Is a Guaranteed High Draft Pick, And Potential Superstar Worth Missing An Entire Season For The Toronto Raptors?

Raptors Basketball could go dark next year...

Popular opinion seems to be some, if not all of the 2011-2012 NBA season will be lost, which really sucks.

But after you get over your disappointment (well, not completely), you start thinking about what the lockout could mean for the Toronto Raptors.

Arsenalist at Raptors Republic already wrote about how the lockout could affect various Raptor players and Joseph Casciaro at Raptor Blog wrote about how the Raptors could win the lockout.

Which lead me to wonder, would it be worth losing an entire season if it could guarantee the Raptors a top 5 pick in next year’s draft, and a player who could be a legitimate superstar?

It’s an intriguing question and one that will probably anger some Raptor fans.

I can understand that.  I’m a fan.  But I want to root for a franchise that’s a contender, who actually is a threat to beat someone in the playoffs every year.  Not a team who can’t even make the playoffs.  So some times you have to ask the tough questions.

I want the Raptors to be like the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Chicago Bulls.

How can Toronto become an elite team?

If you want to truly compete, if you want to be a championship contender you need elite talent.  Where do teams like the Raptors get elite talent, in free agency?  No, at the top of the draft.

For every Kobe Bryant drafted at #16 there are tons more who flame out of the league, or who are journeymen.  For every Manu Ginobli taken late in the second round, or Luis Scola there are scores more who never played a minute in the NBA.  But at the top of the draft is where championships are won.

That’s where you find Tim Duncan, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Michael Jordan, and Hakeem Olajuwon.  Lead players on championship teams.

Just imagine the possibilities of another top draft pick in the 2012 draft (one of the best drafts in years), and having two impact rookies in 2012.  Imagine adding Jonas Valanciunas, and one of Harrison Barnes, Quincy Miller, Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis or Jared Sullinger.

Add those two to Toronto’s young roster and you have something.  You have a young team who can grow together, with an inside outside game, and a defensive presence the Raptors have lacked.

That’s a team that could compete with the best in the NBA eventually, and who could potentially be the best in franchise history.

There is one player who I would take over every other…

Could Harrison Barnes be the difference maker for the Toronto Raptors?

If I had to pick one player to zero in on for the Raptors right now, it would be Harrison Barnes.

Barnes is a star.  An elite small forward who can shoot from the outside, plays great in crunch time, can get to the basket and plays good defense.  Plus he’s 6’8”.  Put him besides Derozan and you have a dynamic, athletic, and large set of wings.

Just the idea of a starting five that includes Derozan, Barnes, Valanciunas, Davis or Bargnani and maybe Bayless is exciting.  That is a team I could get excited about.  A team that could make the playoffs year after year.

But do we really want to miss a season?  Even for Harrison Barnes?

Hmmm…

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Toronto Raptors Should He Stay Or Should He Go: Demar Derozan…

Demar Derozan: Should he Stay Or Should he Go?

With the lockout looming, the Toronto Raptors might lose key time in their team’s development.  To help them out (I’m a nice guy), over the next few days I’ll be writing about each of Toronto’s young core to try and identify who should stay and who should go.

Demar Derozan:

Despite the presence of Andrea Bargnani, Demar Derozan is the face of the Toronto Raptors, which perhaps says more about the Toronto Raptors, than it does Derozan.

Taken with the 9th pick in the 2009 draft, Derozan was picked based on potential.  At USC he showed great athleticism, talent and intangibles, but only in flashes.  That potential though, with the right molding projected better than the 9th pick. Even at present time, Derozan is better than the 9th player in his draft class.

So after two full seasons for Derozan as a starter, where are we now?

What was Discouraging from last year?

Last year was a big season for Derozan, as he not was not only guaranteed a starting spot, but was going to be counted on to be a major contributor.  The results were mixed.

Derozan’s PER (John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating) improved almost 2 points from year 1 to 2, but still sits at a paltry 14.4, ranking him 150th in the NBA.  Not what you expect from one of the cornerstones of your franchise.

The start to his season was rough, and he struggled to find his place in the offense.  It showed with terrible scoring averages of 11.9, 11.9, and 15.9 the first 3 months of the season even with more minutes.

Derozan’s defense was also disappointing, as he was unable to defend effectively most nights.  This was not limited to the Kobe Bryant’s of the world, no, Derozan seemed to struggle guarding most nights on the perimeter.

The rate he rebounded and assisted on shots dropped as well.  Derozan averaged only 3.8 rebounds a game and lesson than 2 assists a game, very disappointing for the type of player that Derozan expects to be.

What was encouraging from last year?

A hot stretch at the end of December seemed to turn it around for Derozan as he finished the season strong averaging 18.5, 18.9, 18.7, and 23.9 points per game the last four months.

Four months of the season, he also managed to shoot over .480 from the field plus .459 for another month.  While Derozan’s overall percentage was down (due largely to additional shots, and being forced away from the basket more) he showed an improved ability to score, and a much more consistent mid-range game.

He showed glimpses of being an efficient 20 point scorer in the NBA, with the ability and willingness to take over games.  For a quarter or chunks at a time he would almost seem un-guardable.

Perhaps, the most exciting part of Derozan is, by all reports, he is a hard worker, and seems to have a need to be great at basketball that could prove to be a bigger ally than his talent.

What does he have to improve?

Demar needs to…

  • Continue to improve his dribble so he commits fewer turnovers on the ball, and can get to the basket easier.
  • Develop more moves once he gets to the basket, so he can finish more consistently at the rim whether he’s fouled or not.
  • Improve his three point shot to at least threaten defenders, and force them to guard him out to the perimeter.
  • Improve on the defensive end.  He has the talent and athleticism to defend.  He needs to do it.
  • Rebound, and pass the ball better.  To continue taking steps toward becoming the player he wants to be, he has to do more than score.  With his size it can start with rebounding, and as he gets more attention offensively the opportunities for assists should follow.

Improving his three point shot will be key to his offensive development.  If he has the threat of that shot in his back pocket, it forces defenders to cover him out to the 3 point line.  This is so important because it then allows him to get easier shots at the basket through pump fakes with drives and pull up jumpers.

Offense aside, Derozan must start to take steps forward on the defensive end.  He has the size, length and athleticism to become at least an above average defender.  Perhaps a year or two with Dwane Casey is all it will take, whatever the case he needs to improve his defense.

Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

STAY

Demar Derozan should be part of the Raptor’s core going forward.  A player with this type of talent, drive and athleticism is unique.  Is he irreplaceable no.  Any player who has not reached his potential, and who is not a sure fire all-star is replaceable, but until a better player is identified, Demar Derozan is a player I would be fine with.

It’s now up to the Raptors and Demar to make sure he reaches his immense potential, because if he does he could be the face of the franchise.  Or at least a great number two.

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T-wolves and Raptors Both Hit Rock Bottom, But Only One Still Seems Doomed….

Who would you rather have?

Yesterday Marc Stein reported the Minnesota Timberwolves were compiling a list of possible coaching candidates.  Names on the list were Rick Adelman, Bernie Bickerstaff, and Don Nelson.

Wolves’ fans were practically apoplectic about Don Nelson, and it’s understandable.  If we learned anything in Golden State, it’s that Nelson shouldn’t be coaching anywhere, not even middle school.

This latest punch to the gut for Wolves fans got me thinking, about how bad both Minnesota and Toronto have been.  It’s pretty impressive, bad coaches, bad players, bad draft busts and bad decision making.  Despite similar ingredients for failure, both recipes have been unique.

Minnesota’s recent failure came from drafting poorly, making too many trades and committing heaps of money to awful middling free agents.  While Toronto built around the wrong player (traded him too late), traded away too many draft picks, and gambled on veterans like a drunken tourist.

Yet, despite sharing failure and real estate at rock bottom…

I can’t help but feel better about the Toronto Raptors future.  Call me a homer, but I believe Toronto’s young core, cap space and relative ownership stability make Toronto the better bet.

Kevin Love aside, Minnesota’s roster is a talented mess of forwards, run by a terrible GM and an even worse owner.  Toronto, while not as far along talent wise in the rebuild, has a roster that fits better, is a profitable franchise, boasts solid (but maddening) ownership, and a great talent evaluator.

Toronto is obviously not a model franchise, but long term they’re certainly the “least ugly”.

You do have to look any further than David Kahn and Glen Taylor (the owner of the Timberwolves) for that.  I have absolutely zero faith in them going forward, and neither do most Timberwolves fans.

I look at David Kahn’s reign in Minnesota, and I can’t help but think almost anybody would have done a better job (Bryan Colangelo especially).  The number of quality picks the Wolves have had the last 3 years is staggering.

In 2009 they had picks 5, 6, 18, 28, 45, and 47.  In 2010 they had picks 4, 16, 23, 45 and 56.  In 2011 they had picks 2, and 20.

He’s also made a ton of trades… acquiring more second round picks, future first round picks, players to stash in Europe and veterans.  To show for it, on the Wolves roster right now he’s got Derrick Williams, Wesley Johnson, Ricky Rubio, Wayne Ellington, Lazard Hayward, Brad Miller, Anthony Randolph, Darko Milic and Martell Webster.  All drafted or acquired with draft picks.

Colangelo by comparison had the 9th pick in 2009, the 13th pick and acquired the 51st pick in 2010 and the 5th pick and 26th pick in 2011.  He made only two trades, one to acquire the second round pick in 2010 that became Solomon Alabi, and the second he traded Miami’s first rounder from the Bosh sign and trade to acquire James Jonson.  From the last three drafts, the Toronto Raptors have ended up with Demar Derozan, Ed Davis, Jonas Valanciunas, James Johnson and Solomon Alabi.

Rubio could be a player and Williams too.  Valanciunas could be a bust, Johnson could be gone next year, and Solomon Alabi is a project.  But, I’ll take the Raptors players.  Colangelo finds great value when he drafts, and is building a young core that’s talented and at least fits.

The problem is Colangelo only drafted four players the last three years, and five in the six years he’s been in Toronto.  Drafting is his strength, it’s what he’s good at.

So why doesn’t he draft more?  He’s proven in both Toronto and Phoenix to be a great draft guy.  Why doesn’t he acquire more picks, buy them, trade for them, do whatever?  I don’t know.

Even Bargnani is a supremely talented player.

You can argue he shouldn’t have been the pick at number one, but he’s still the fifth best player from the 2006 draft at worst, and a 20 + point scorer.  All things considered that’s not a bad pick.

Would I rather have Rudy Gay, Lamarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, or Brandon Roy?  Sure, but I’ll take Bargnani, it’s the contract and our expectations that are the problem, not him.

Meanwhile Jonas Valanciunas looks like a steal, and maybe the lucky break we’ve been waiting for in the draft all these years.  (More on “draft luck” soon)

I just hope now Chris Bosh is lost, Colangelo can continue to rebuild the right way, through the draft (playing to his strengths) and by making smaller shrewd trades.

If he does that, I think Toronto will be alright.  If not, at least we won’t be alone at rock bottom, because it looks like the wolves maybe here for a while.

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What’s Happening With Alvin Williams, and Is He Coming Back To The Raptors Next Year?

Alvin William Former Raptors Point Guard

I'm even intense in interviews...

According to Doug Smith Of The Toronto Star, he’s fine.

Oh yeah, Alvin.

More than a few people asked in the wake of yesterday’s coaching announcement what it all means for Alvin Williams.

Nothing.

In case you missed it, and it seems a few did, Alvin’s a Henchman now, became one last year when he was elevated to a front office job as director of player development.

He’s not going anywhere.

 

Even though it seemed like Alvin was an assistant coach last year, for all the time he spent with the younger players…he’s actually a front office type, a suit.  So he’s safe, and back with the Raptors.

Alvin was actually promoted to the team’s Director of Player Development on September 24, 2010.

I have to admit that I’m happy that Alvin is indeed coming back with the Toronto Raptors next year.  He’s one of my favorite Raptors of all time.  It was a shame that his career was cut short because of injuries, he was a very good point guard.

I’d imagine as a former player, not far removed from the game Alvin has a chance to really connect with players, and help them.  Lets hope that he can help the young guys develop into the player he was, and that injuries wouldn’t let him grow into.

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Should The Toronto Raptors Target Tyson Chandler In Free Agency…?

If not for a Michael Jordan, Tyson Chandler would have been a Toronto Raptor, and not a Dallas Maverick. Toronto would have shipped out Jose, Reggie and a little more salary for Boris Diaw and Tyson Chandler.

This would have been the homerun deal Bryan Colangelo has been waiting for, but because Michael Jordan changed his mind at the last second he ended up a Maverick. The rest as they say is history.

But once again, Tyson Chandler is available, this time a free agent, and appears to at least be a logical free agent target for the Toronto Raptors.

With a championship under his belt, a great defensive resume and a raised profile from his great playoff run who wouldn’t want him. He’s what a defensive anchor should be.

So what is it that makes Tyson Chandler a potential difference maker for the Raptors?

Despite the perception, or belief of the mainstream…it’s not his shot blocking.

Over the last 4 years Chandler’s averaged less than 1.2 blocks a game. Andrea Bargnani actually average more block shots than Tyson Chandler 2 out of the last 4 years. (Per 36 Chandler has the advantage).

Tyson Chandler Blocking A Shot

Tyson Chandler can do what the Raptors need

WARNING: further reading may cause uncontrollable fits of anger toward Michael Jordan for Raptors fans.

According to basketball-reference.com here are some of Tyson Chandler’s key numbers from last year….

He is a very good, and efficient defensive player. The type of player the Raptors have never had, let alone at the center position.

In fact you could argue the closest they’ve had is Amir Johnson or Antonio Davis. No disrespect to Antonio or Amir, but there is a big difference between them and Tyson Chandler on the defensive end.

So what is it in particular that makes Chandler such a strong defensive player …

1.) He’s an excellent at altering shots, not blocking them.

2.) He’s one of the better big men in the NBA at defending the pick and roll.

3.) He is a great rebounder, offensively and defensively.

4.) He can guard out to the perimeter.

5.) He is a great help defender.

During Dallas’ playoff run it was Chandler altering shots, rebounding and covering ground that made Dallas élite. He allowed players like Jason Kidd, and Deshawn Stevenson impunity to take chances for turnovers.

Chandler’s help not only helps stop the pick n roll, or allows perimeter defenders to gamble more…it also allows them to stay with shooters. This is incredible important because it takes away wide open threes, and can allow perimeter defenders to chase 3 point shooters off the line, and force them into long two point jumpers (statistically the worst shot in basketball).

Add Chandler’s élite rebounding numbers, and you have the formula for a difference maker, and a player who actually makes his teammates better on the defensive end.

Players like Chandler, Garnett, and Dwight Howard…even Bogut and Marc Gasol to an extent lift their teams defensively. They offer an anchor that makes their team defense as a whole better than the sum of its parts.

Sebastian Pruiti wrote a post about the potential fit of Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea playing together. He believes that Jonas’ help defense and Andrea’s underrated post defense fit together nicely (Sebastian actually compares Jonas Valanciunas with Tyson Chandler on Basketball prospectus).

This, plus years of watching Bargnani and Chandler leads me to agree. I think a Tyson Chandler type (Jonas if he becomes that player) is the type of player who could get the most out of Andrea Bargnani, which is the key to any Raptor success if Bargnani is on the team.

With that said, if the Raptors could sign Chandler this offseason I wouldn’t do it.

Committing about $10 million a year to Chandler at this stage in Toronto’s rebuild would be a long-term disaster. Chandler would make Toronto better instantly. This I don’t doubt, but just how much better would he make them?

I don’t think it would be enough. With the team as it is now constructed, adding Chandler, player improvement and a better utilized Bargnani I can’t see more than a 10, or 15 game improvements.

This would take you to 32-37 wins, and where does 32-37 wins get you? Out of the playoffs or a first round playoff lose.

You don’t get drastically better in the NBA by being mediocre, and Toronto needs to get drastically better. They need more talent. Top of the draft talent. While its painful right now, the Toronto Raptors need to rebuild. Any signing of Tyson Chandler would only set the Raptors back.

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Raptors Fans, If You Haven’t Seen Him, Here Is Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Highlight Reel From The Under 19 Championship

Jonas Game Film From November Against Top Euro Club Team Barcelona.

Nice dunk here by Jonas

More Jonas

 

Hope you enjoy, and atleast get a better look for yourself about what all the talk is about.  Do we know what or who he will be as a player?  No, but he could be good…and a raptor (gasp)!

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Jonas Valanciunas Gives Raptors Fans Something They’ve Been Missing…HOPE

Jonas Valanciunas Raptors Draft Pick

Jonas Valanciunas Raptors Draft Pick

Jonas Valanciunas isn’t an all star center right now or even a starter in the NBA.

Even after his destruction of the under 19 worlds, even amongst the Jonas hysteria rightfully sweeping Raptor nation, it’s important to temper our expectations.  Not to be a downer, but to truly appreciate what we have now in Jonas, not for the apex of what he could be.

I’ve looked harder, with less forgiveness, at his game than any raptor rookie I can remember.  There are holes in his game definitely, and stuff he has to work on.

-          He needs to get bigger.

-          He needs to add muscle and weight.

-          He needs to improve his jumper and polish his offensive game.

-          He needs to work on his post defense.

But there is so much there to like.  I mean like really really like.

I liked the Ed Davis pick, and was optimistic about the Demar Derozan pick.  But I’m more excited about him than I have been for a raptor draft pick in awhile.

Not because of one tournament (it doesn’t hurt though).  Not because I know what he’s going to be (because I don’t).  Not because I wanted to roll the dice on Jonas on draft night (even though I did).

No I am excited for Jonas because I think he gives the Toronto Raptors two things they haven’t had in awhile.  One a legitimate defensive, and potentially franchise center and two…Hope.

It didn’t look that way for most on draft night.  Fans lashed out at Bryan Colangelo and Jonas like only Raptor Nation can.  But in little more than 2 weeks Jonas has completely changed the narrative for most Toronto Raptors fans.  He’s gone from soft euro to bruising defensive monster, and draft night disaster to just maybe, a symbol of hope.

And its hope that’s the true draft night win for the Toronto Raptors.

Hope is the “cure-all” elixir for the fans of bad teams.  In a league where only a handful of teams have won a championship over the last 30 years, Hope is a precious commodity.

It’s can get you through those tough losing streaks, and blow out loses.  It can pump you full of confidence even if your team is dreadful.  It makes even the most hopeless situation seem possible.  And most importantly, it can make the future seem bright even when the present is bleek.

Is hope better than having a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, or Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls now…no.  But it’s a lot better than being a middling middle of the road team, or bad team with nothing at all.

Hope at least gives us something to look forward to…and maybe even some wins.  One can only hope.

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