I picked up the Toronto Star excited by the news I had received earlier that morning.
A friend called me and told me that writer Doug Smith was breaking down the good and bad aspects of Sam Mitchell's coaching abilities. This was a can't-miss.
As I picked up the paper, curious as to how he could possibly fill the positive column with anything substantial, I found myself baffled. It seemed that Smith has become so utterly obsessed with praising Mitchell, he decided to invent reasons to support him.
The one that stuck out? He was adamant that Mitchell developed his good players. I'm certainly glad he gave an example for this. The three beneficiaries of Mitchell's amazing development techniques? Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, and Andrea Bargnani.
Oh boy. Where does one even begin to argue this point?
How about by defining causation?
Let us assume that for any one thing to causally effect the other, it would first have to be verified using a series of rules.
Just like saying that Mitchell caused his good players to become better, could it not be said then that Mitchell wearing glasses causes the Raptors to lose?
I assure you, it follows out the same logic.
(1) Sam Mitchell is the coach of the Toronto Raptors.
(2) Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh, and Jose Calderon play for the Raptors.
(3) All three players have improved from when they first became Raptors.
(4) Mitchell has remained the head coach through their improvement.
(5) Mitchell is responsible for their improvement.
Ouch! Doug Smith really dropped the twinkies on this one.
Can it be argued that Bosh's numbers have improved every season? No. Can it be argued that Bosh is a better player today than he was as a rookie? It can. Bosh came into this league as a rookie under Kevin O'Neill.
His defense during this time—despite being the thinnest centre in league history since Manut Bol—was impressive. It had you thinking that with some added bulk, this might end up being a poor man's version of Tim Duncan. His potential had me thinking Hall of Fame the minute he stepped on the court.
I still remember a conversation I had with Bob Byers, an assistant coach for the Raptors at the time. I asked him how Bosh was doing and he told me that he was going to be a phenomenal player. He went out of his way to compliment his willingness to work on both ends of the court. What the hell happened?
Sam Mitchell happened. After his disastrous first season, Mitchell decided it was time to become blind to defense and evaluate players based on one thing—are they shooting well, or not?
Certainly, someone with basic knowledge of the game can only judge so much. Thus, we saw a pattern of players who were unable to score being benched in favor of those who could. We also saw a strange phenomenon occur. Everybody became a jump shooter. Even Jamario Moon.
The offense turned slashers like Delfino and Fred Jones into jump shooters. It thus makes very much sense that if the definition of good player has become "good scorer," that Bosh is a good player, because that's exactly what Bosh is.
He's an incomplete player who does nothing which he couldn't do when he was a rookie. However, he has completely stopped trying to rectify this problem, and instead has turned his attention to improving on what he was always able to do—shoot, drive, and rebound.
Is Bosh better than he was as a rookie? He's a better shooter. He's stronger and possibly even more mentally stable. His hands are better. But has he become a better defender or a better creator? No. He's become progressively worse in both regards.
Bosh is better today than he's ever been before? Fail.
Let us assume for a second that what we saw in first year was indeed Jose Calderon, and not just a highly-experienced, highly-developed European player adjusting to the NBA.
Is Jose Calderon better than he's ever been before? Yes. Because he's always had the same problems. They're just more magnified now because instead of having Acie Law attempting to destroy him on defense, he now has Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker.
Now, let us assume that we're discussing statistical improvement here. Jose's first year was a display of horrific shooting. Every subsequent year has seen him improve. But wait. Didn't Jose Calderon improve when Spain won the National Championship? Oh, I see. Sam Mitchell was coaching Spain, you say?
The very definition of causation denies Smith's claim. Can there be any logic in stating that Jose Calderon left his first year as a player with little to no value, and came back after a summer as a player who was invaluable because of Mitchell?
No. Jose Calderon is a product of opportunity, of a system which allows freedom at the expense of actual coaching, his work ethic, the signing of Jorge Garbajosa, the confidence gained from his title with the Spanish national team, and a drastic improvement in his health from his first season.
Jose Calderon's improvement is because of Sam Mitchell? No. Fail.
Let us state for the record that at this time last year, he was supposed to be the next Kwame Brown, and it was all his fault. He was lazy, he was soft, he was a million things.
Fast track one year and suddenly he's untouchable for some of the very same people who discussed trading him for Kwame Brown to boost their rebounding woes. You want to talk fickle? These same people wouldn't trade him for Kwame with two first-rounders if asked today. So what happened? Sam Mitchell coached him into a better player?
Let's consider something. Sam Mitchell has been nothing but a hindrance on Andrea Bargnani's game. Ever since his days in Treviso, Bargnani's desire has been to become a player who played in the post. He knew all along that his eventual place in the NBA would be as a big man. Colangelo knew this too.
Instead, after two years of Sam Mitchell, he hasn't moved from the three point line. He hasn't had a play called for him. How did Mitchell make Andrea Bargnani better?
I get it. Mitchell performed adenoidal surgery on Bargnani this summer, spotted him on his weightlifting this offseason—which saw the young Italian add twelve pounds of muscle. He also attended former Phoenix assistant coach Tim Grgurich's camp and told Tim that he was going to run things "his own way."
Yeah. That's what happened. The truth is, Bargnani is a product of perseverance. He's endured two years of being yanked in and out of the lineup, and despite being a number-one pick, he's endured the role of role player even when Bosh has been out of the line up. It's been brutal.
The fact is, causation doesn't simply mean that two things happened at the same time. It implies that one is the direct cause of the other, and that without it, the other would have failed to be effected.
Does anyone actually think Bosh would have turned into a scrub under some other coach? He was picked ahead of Dwyane Wade in the best draft of the century. If he didn't turn into an All-Star, it would have defied logic.
What is clear is that players who have not "developed" for various reasons have been labeled bad. Thus, if you label every player who developed as good, it's fairly simple to claim that all good players developed. The reality?
Coming into the draft, Joey Graham was a good player. Rafael Araujo was a horrible player, but some could argue that he got progressively worse as the years went by. His BYU coach said he couldn't even recognize him.
Sam Mitchell is not the root of all development, but the root of all that is so very wrong with the Toronto Raptors. His presence has helped no one. The development various players have seen has been due to forces outside of Mitchell's reach.
Thanks, Doug Smith.
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