When assessing the talents of a number of current Toronto Raptors, one might be led by the comments from disgruntled writers into thinking that the Raptors were made up of a bunch of losers and hacks in the 2009-10 season.
But as these are often the musings of the close followers of a team that missed the playoffs on the final day of the season, total objectivity may not be the order of the day. Although there are occasions for those who only rarely see the team play to also toss in their opinions.
The Raptors facing the toughest criticism during the 2009-10 season were: Jay Triano, Bryan Colangelo, Andrea Bargnani, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jose Calderon.
And in a world where accolades and scorn are based on results instead of effort, each of these maligned Raptors earned some of that criticism.
Least we forget, Jay Triano was a rookie head coach in his first full year at the helm, and at both the start and end of the season, the inexperienced showed.
Letting Hedo Turkoglu skip training camp and much of the preseason because Turkoglu was tired is one mistake that Triano will never make again.
In the season’s first 20 games, Jay Triano kept using the Calderon and Jack pairing to close out games, and they kept letting him down. He continued to use them well after it had become obvious to everyone following the team that Calderon and Jack together gave up far more points than they could score.
Plus one has to lay the blame at Triano’s door for how the team appeared to fall into disarray during the early losing streak and again after Bosh returned from injury. The team’s lack of cohesion seemed to follow from Triano’s game plan of force-feeding the ball into Bosh on every play while Bosh struggled to find his game.
Rookies at any position will make rookie mistakes. But since Jay Triano got the head coaching job in part because of his work with players on the US National team, we can safely assume Triano has coaching skills.
One can only hope he has learned the difference between coaching the NBA’s most motivated players and the rest of the league in time for next season.
After rebuilding a 27-win franchise into a division-winning team over the summer in 2006, one might be lead to believe that Bryan Colangelo would have earned some breathing room from the fans in Toronto. But you would be wrong in making such an assumption.
In Colangelo’s four years directing the Toronto Raptors, the team made it to the playoffs twice followed by two seasons of falling short. And considering Colangelo had inherited a team that had averaged 29 wins in the four prior seasons, that was quite an improvement.
But Colangelo took a big gamble in 2008, trading depth and opportunity to bring in a player that many thought could make the Raptors a serious playoff team for the first time in eight years. But Jermaine O’Neal limped his way into hindering Andrea Bargnani’s development, and the gamble blew up in Colangelo’s face. It cost the Raptors a draft pick and a suspect contract to unload O’Neal’s huge deal, and the first cracks in Colangelo’s fan support began to open up.
In 2009 Colangelo repeated the process that worked so well in 2006. Nine new faces, with the bonus of a veteran wing player with playoff experience, gave Raptors management and fans hope for another playoff run.
And at the All-Star break, it looked like Colangelo had revived the magic of 2006, as the Raptors tied the franchise high for wins at that point in the season with 29. But after Chris Bosh's injury and the team missing out on the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, Bryan Colangelo has become a failure in the eyes of many fans.
All Andrea Bargnani did in 2009-10 was set personal bests for points (17.2), rebounds (6.2), blocks (1.4), and shooting percentage (47).
And he did it while doing what he coaches asked of him:
- Andrea Bargnani spent most of the season at the three-point line, and was the first player back defending the fast break. So much for getting more offensive rebounds.
- Andrea was routinely switched on to guards and wings defensively when his teammates couldn’t cover them, even getting a fair number of blocked shots as these players tried to shoot over him. It's harder to get more defensive boards when you are stuck trying to block out players faster than yourself far from the key.
- Stronger than in previous seasons, Bargnani did work deep into the post more often. But after pinning his man under the basket, Bargnani was routinely looked off. Maybe he got just a little frustrated with his teammates at times?
- Bargnani led the Raptors in blocked shots and had 30 multiple-block games. During the year he played well against the league’s top big men, including during wins over Cleveland, Orlando, San Antonio, and the Lakers. But he still takes writers' jabs over his lack of defense?
When compared to other NBA centers, Bargnani ended the season 5th in scoring, 16th in rebounding, and in 12th blocks. Compared to all NBA players, Bargnani was 36th in scoring, 45th in rebounding, and 17th in blocks.
The oft-used argument that Bargnani doesn’t get enough rebounds seems weak. NBA teams don’t have two 10-rebound per game players, and the Raptors' duo of Bosh and Bargnani with a combined 17 rebounds per game is among the league’s best.
Bargnani is still a young developing player, and his stats as the second banana on the Raptors are good. Of all the Raptors who have been maligned by the media and the fans, Bargnani is the most undeserving.
When Hedo Turkoglu arrived at the Raptors training camp in 2009, he made the biggest mistake of his NBA career. By skipping training camp and most of the preseason, Turkoglu set himself up as a prima donna, and eventually fans, coaches, and even players would have reason to doubt his efforts.
In October, November, December, and February there was nothing wrong with Hedo’s on-court production of 13 to 14 points, four to five rebounds, and four to five assists per game. Turkoglu was playing fewer minutes and taking fewer shots than in Orlando, but he was still effective. At least most of the time.
But what fans remember is:
- shooting less than 40 percent and scoring fewer than 10 points per game in January, March, and April
- the disappearing Hedo on back-to-back games
- Hedo leaving halfway through a game and getting benched the next day for going out with his teammates that night
- the incident in the bar when “his security guy” took the camera phone away from a patron and deleted all of her pictures
- the seemingly whiny pouting player who looks and sounds unhappy
- not hitting the big shots at the end of game
- a $10 million per season contract.
One should be tempted to give Turkoglu a mulligan for the opening mistakes, his family health issues, and his two-time broken face. But that’s not going to happen unless he comes back and plays well.
This one-time fan favorite has fallen into disfavor because of an inability to defend his own position. A perception has developed that somehow Jose Calderon has become the primary hole in the Raptors defense.
Jose’s detractors will point to his defensive rating of 116 points given up per 100 possessions as the worst on the team while at the same time defending Jarrett Jack’s defensive rating of 115. Perhaps something should be said about the defensive schemes being run by the Raptors as a team?
Defensive ratings over 110 points given up per 100 possessions are common for point guards in the NBA. Notable defensive ratings include: Mike Bibby's 110. Chauncey Billups' 110; Aaron Brooks' 112; Rodney Stuckey's 112; and Devin Harris' 112.
And what fans may have forgotten is that last season, when Calderon was playing through a hamstring injury, his defensive rating was 112. Perhaps this year’s increase is more a result of playing beside a rookie instead of the more defensively competent Anthony Parker. In the two prior seasons, when Calderon was not hampered by a sore hamstring, his defensive rating was below 110.
Fans continued to notice Calderon’s offensive efficiency even though it dipped to a still very high 119 points produced per 100 possessions. Jose Calderon is an impressive scorer and a rare shooter with the ability to average better than 40 percent from three, 50 percentage overall, and 90 percent from the line.
In the two prior seasons Jose Calderon averaged scary offensive ratings—123 and 127 points per 100 possessions.
But this year’s Jose Calderon did not look like the prior seasons' unstoppable offensive force.
Calderon lost well over 10 pounds coming into this season as he recovered from his hamstring injury during the summer, and a noticeably lighter Jose took to the floor during preseason.
There is a real concern about the impact of injury on Calderon. Jose does not perform well after an injury, and it seems to take a long time for him to regain his form. That’s not something one can easily fix.
This season Calderon also found himself adapting to the needs of Hedo Turkoglu. Some might agree that Calderon and Turkoglu may not be ideally suited to play on the same team, as both players saw their offensive efficiencies drop.
Maligned Raptors: Deserving or Not?
When the team and general manager start off the season with bold predictions of 50 wins, and the team ends up in ninth place, it would be unreasonable for fans to not take out their frustrations on whomever seemed to be the cause.
And there is lots of blame to go around.
Brian Colangelo: Deserved
Brian Colangelo probably pressured Triano into keeping DeMar DeRozan in the starting lineup and may even have influenced the Jack/Calderon experiment to start the year.
And Colangelo has no one to blame but himself for failing to pull the trigger on a trade deadline deal that could have assured the Raptors of sufficient depth to win at least one more game and make the postseason.
Bryan Colangelo has put himself under the microscope in 2010-11. He’ll have to perform well to regain the fans' trust. (Some us have a lot of faith in his ability to do just that.)
Jay Triano: Deserved
Jay Triano showed an inability to react quickly when his team ran into problems. With nine new guys, simpler might have been better.
Triano earned the negative comments he got. But he is getting a second chance, and hopefully he makes the most of it.
Andrea Bargnani: Not Deserved
The only excuse for negativity towards Andrea Bargnani is because he was a number one pick. But that wasn’t his fault, and besides, it wasn’t that bad of a pick. The only player from that draft who is significantly ahead of Bargnani is Brandon Roy, and Roy is currently suffering through the injury concerns that originally dropped him out of the top five picks.
Bargnani did let his frustration show at times this past season through a lack of intensity. And being frustrated with one’s teammates or coach isn’t going to win you any fans.
Hedo Turkoglu: Deserved
Hedo Turkoglu earned the negativity he has received since the day he showed up to training camp and didn’t participate. He just made too many mistakes for a veteran player.
But one shouldn’t forget Turkoglu’s playoff performances of just one year ago. If Turkoglu gets his act together, he could still be a very effective player.
Jose Calderon: Not Deserved
The fact that Jose Calderon isn’t a strong defender shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Like most point guards in the NBA, his job is to facilitate the offense, and he has been exceedingly good at that.
This season was a down year for Jose. But perhaps that was caused by the changes to team chemistry. Calderon was not put in a position to be successful. Another Colangelo mistake?
While there are Raptors deserving of the negativity that has been flung in their direction, the fact that the comments may have been earned doesn’t take away from the skills and ability of the people involved.
- Bryan Colangelo is still the Raptors most experienced and successful leader.
- Jay Triano is still considered to be a good coach by some of the best basketball minds in the US.
- Hedo Turkoglu is still just 12 months removed from an outstanding playoffs.
- Andrea Bargnani continues to improve.
- Jose Calderon is still a highly skilled point guard.
Deserving or not, these Raptors have a lot to contribute to a NBA team.