Hedo Turkoglu is a good player.
Over his career he's averaged only averaged 12.3 points and 4.2 rebounds but in his final few seasons with the Magic where he really blossomed, those numbers stood around the 18 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assist marks.
He's one of the league's true triple threats.
Hedo can beat you with his scoring (35 versus Portland back in November 2008). He can dismantle your defense with his passing and creativity (11 against Indiana this past February). And he can handle the ball in the clutch and single-handily win games for your squad...just like this shot he hit against the Bulls to ring in the New Year.
No, he's never been an All-Star, but he's flirted with a selection each of the past two seasons, and it's not out of the question that he finally breaks through this year. After all, there just aren't many 6-10 players who possess his all-around skill set and in Toronto he may be an even more focal point of the offense than he was in Orlando.
"So far so good Franchise, but what about his defense? Can he guard my 250 pound Uncle Louie?"
Well the general opinion I suppose is that he's not a great defender.
But we all saw the job he did on Kobe Bryant in the clutch during the NBA Finals last year, and anyone with his size and length must be able to occasionally make things difficult for his opponents right? And weren't the Magic one of the top defensive teams in the league across various statistics? That wasn't ALL Dwight Howard was it?
I think not, however I believe that a lot of Orlando's success has to be attributed to the job Stan Van Gundy and his staff did, not to mention having a bevy of other solid defenders like Mikael Pietrus and Jameer Nelson surrounding the team's core pieces. The defense-first mindset tends to rub off in those cases which probably explains why even JJ Redick was running around in the finals like a man possessed on D.
So turning back to the Raptors, how does his addition affect the team at both ends of the court? I've just finished lauding his offensive skills and excusing some of his reputation as a poor defender but let's look a little deeper at some of the traits that make Hedo a great fit for Toronto, and why he is one of the club's biggest X Factors going into the season.
1) All-Around Ability.
We touched on this already but I think this is first and foremost what makes Hedo stand out. He can score, attack the basket and create off the bounce. In fact only two forwards last year, Stephen Jackson and Lebron James, had better passing ratings according to 82games.com. Toronto's lack of creativity on offense was a huge problem last year, even more so when Jose Calderon went down with injury. Now, as Jay Triano mentioned in his interview with TSN's Tim Chisholm, Chris Bosh doesn't have to do everything himself. Suddenly the Raptors aren't necessarily dumping the ball down to him on key possessions forcing him to go one-on-three. Now, Bosh becomes that much more deadly as a weak-side rebounder or decoy in order to give Hedo space to operate. And the same goes for Andrea Bargnani.
Aside from players like Lebron, there just aren't many guys in the league who make everyone else better around them, especially from the wing position. I believe Hedo can do this and yet still get his own offense off as well.
2) Rising to the Level of Competition.
One of the frustrating things about the Raptors last year, was that they often played down to the level of their competition, beating the Spurs one night, losing to the Bobcats the next. And yet this wasn't even a consistent theme as on other nights against top tier clubs, the Dinos would cave early and that would be the end of things.
I argued last year that sometimes this was due to talent, but sometimes I felt this was also due to a lack of mental toughness amongst the group. And while I don't consider Hedo to be a gritty player or a banger, I do think mentally he's one of the tougher players in the league. He seeks out the spotlight and looks to put the dagger in opponents' hearts, and last year, Hedo was an astounding plus 78 against the top 10 teams in the league, third best behind Lebron and Kobe!
The Raptors need a major dose of this type of competitiveness and ability and I'm excited to see just what a difference it makes this year.
3) Wing Play.
I don't think there was a single fan last year that didn't bemoan the Raptors wing issues. From Jamario Moon's affinity for the 3, to Jason Kapono's reluctance to take it, there was a gaping hole at this position every time Toronto stepped on the court. This of course was exacerbated by the fact that most of the league's top players are stationed at the wing position so not only was Toronto not being productive at this spot on offense, but on defense they were getting killed as well.
With Hedo in the starting line-up manning the 3 spot it does a few things.
First of all, it gives Toronto a very big starting line-up regardless of who ends up manning the 2 spot. It means having three players who are 6-10 or taller at the SF to C spots, and if Antoine Wright is plunked into the shooting guard position as a starter, it means four players over 6-7 in the starting group.
While height doesn't guarantee air-tight defence or lock-down rebounding, it should mean an upgrade in these areas automatically to a certain extent, and hopefully ads a bit of swagger to Bosh and Bargs in the paint. Having played ball for years, you tend to rebound better yourself when you know that you're not the only person who's going to get after it or has the height to be a true presence at that end of the court.
Having Hedo in the starting line-up also means by default, opponents are going to have a much tougher time defending the Raptors. Now, teams won't be able to focus simply on Bosh and Bargs, and Hedo's ability to spread the floor should give Toronto's best pure shooter, Jose Calderon, lots of opportunity to nail long-range bombs as well.
Finally, with the pick-and-roll being the NBA's offensive bread and butter, Toronto should be one of the top clubs in the league in terms of running it. Jose Calderon has always been a superb pick-and-roll orchestrator, and now, not only does he have another offensive weapon to run it with, but he also has another orchestrator so that he can play off the ball. Imagine seeing the 6-10 Hedo coming up the court as a defender. Now, if a screen from Bosh comes, as an opponent, you're worried about Bosh rolling to the hoop, stopping for the pick-and-pop, or just what Hedo is going to do. And that could include attacking the hoop (another element Toronto was lacking last year), or finding two other able shooters in Jose and Andrea for open looks.
Throw in finding jumping-jack DeMar DeRozan soaring to the hoop and suddenly Raptors fans can be legitimately excited about next year's offensive core.
So why is Hedo then an X Factor? Haven't I just made him out, especially in terms of his offense, to be a sure thing and a major boost to the Raptors next year?
Indeed I have, but in my opinion, it's all relative.
The Raptors didn't acquire Kevin Durant here and in my books, while Hedo is definitely an upgrade, it's an upgrade from...well...basically fringe D-Leaguers last season.
Think about it. Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, Jason Kapono, Hassan Adams...these were some of the names pre-Shawn Marion that occupied the swingman spot last year for the Dinos. Two of them may not be in the league next year, one is still a fringe NBAer and one is getting by on a very specific ability (his shooting stroke.) It's not exactly hard to upgrade from this motley crew.
So really, while I think Turkoglu will be a huge boost to Toronto, we are talking about a 30 year old player who statistically, looks to have peaked two seasons ago. Yes, he's not dependent on his athletic ability so that should lengthen his career, but that doesn't change the fact that if you really have watched Hedo for the past few seasons, you know that he's not all that his new contract has made him out to be.
For instance, he's revered as a clutch performer but a quick glance at 82games.com's "clutch stats" hardly puts him at the top of the heap. In fact in clutch situations (defined by 82 games as 4th quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left in a game, neither team ahead by more than five points), he's shooting only 36 per cent from the field and 20 per cent from beyond the arc. Statistically, Bosh is actually a much more superior "clutch" player.
However because of his playoff run, and his television dramatics, I feel that many see Hedo as the wing saviour this team has sought since VC was sent to Jersey. Me personally, I would have preferred that Colangelo held onto Shawn Marion.
That's not to dismiss Hedo's value though as someone who looks to take those clutch shots, something as previously mentioned the Raps have lacked for what seems like decades, but as Kelly Dwyer so eloquently put it earlier this summer, "Hedo Turkoglu is a fine player, but an average one."To me then, this is why the former Magic forward is such an X Factor this upcoming season.
Should he prove his critics wrong (myself included) and hit for 20 points, over 5 rebounds and 5 assists, then suddenly this team is looking like a club that could make some noise in the regular season and playoffs.
But should his productivity continue to dip, fans may start wondering just why Colangelo locked onto the aging forward for so long.
And an even scarier thought; considering that statistically Hedo really didn't start to bloom until Dwight Howard started to dominate, Turkoglu's production could ostensibly take an even more dramatic dive. After all, in his first few seasons with the Magic he barely averaged four rebounds and was under three assists. Having a monster like Dwight to dish off to for easy dunks (how many times did you see the Magic run that play) helps rack up the stats and it's going to be very interesting to see if he can replicate his numbers with the Raptors this year.
However I've given my opinion on the Hedo signing ad nausea by now so I'll leave it at this; having Mr. Turkoglu on the Raptors next year is definitely going to make this club a better team. However there are some rather large question marks as to just how much better he can make this club, hence the X Factor title.
And that's why they play the games.