The Shooting Guard Position - A Dilemma of Significant Magnitude

With the playoffs on the horizon one can't help but wonder what chance, if any, the Raptors have at doing something they have not done since the 2000/01 season - win a playoff series.

Much of Toronto's success will be dependent on its production from the wing positions, in particular DeMar DeRozan.

Is this wise? If not, is there a reasonable alternative?

Since Chris Bosh has been out of the line-up it shouldn't come as a surprise to many that the Raptors have struggled.

Any team would struggle when it's best player is out of the line-up.

As we have discussed a number of times, when your best player goes down others need to step-up and fill the void. The players know it, they just have not done a fantastic job of doing so. Outside of Hedo Turkoglu and Reggie Evans no other Raptor has really grabbed the bull by the horns - in particular DeMar DeRozan.

During the course of a player's rookie year they will unquestionably experience some ups and downs. Brandon Jennings has slowed down and is no longer a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year. Omri Casspi has admitted to hitting the rookie wall.

It would appear the DeMar has also hit that imaginary wall - in a big way.

Since the All-Star festivities DeMar has struggled mightily. In five of the last seven games he has scored 4 points or less and he has done little else from a statistical standpoint. If you take away the performance against the Thunder, where he saw more action than usual due to the blowout, his numbers are dismal.

It's the life of an NBA Rookie.

DeMar continues to be a solid prospect but he has also been abused by some of the league's elite two-guards. He is on a steep learning curve. What he experiences this year should prove beneficial for him and his long term prospects. It's sink or swim and he seems to have the mental toughness required to ensure he doesn't end up lifeless at the bottom of the pool.

The Raptors brass made a decision early on that DeMar was not only going to start, but that he should get a certain number of minutes per night - results be damned. Right now he is averaging about 20 minutes a game and there is little deviation from that number on any given night. He doesn't see crunch time minutes and unless things are going very poorly, he will see at least 16 minutes of PT.

This makes sense in the long-term.

But what about the short term?

Everyone knows the summer of 2010 is right around the corner and everyone knows what this means.

Success in the playoffs will likely go a long way in helping Bryan Colangelo get Chris Bosh's autograph on a shiny new contract. When Chris Bosh is looking at his options, the Raps actually have a pretty decent argument for why he should stay with the only team he has ever known. Outside of the extra dollars he can earn re-signing, the organization also has good young talent with whom he can grow as well as decent veteran help. The missing piece of the puzzle is evidence that this team can win on a regular basis and when it matters the most - in the playoffs.

When the regular season wraps up it looks like the Raps will be facing one of the big four - Cleveland, Orlando, Boston or Atlanta. Their starting two guards? Anthony Parker, Ray Allen, Vince Carter and Joe Johnson, respectively.

This brings us back to DeRozan. Outside of Parker, all of these match-ups heavily favour the opponent. Actually, if you look at the top nine teams in the Eastern Conference and their current starters, there is hardly a match-up that favours the Raps when it comes to production from the 2 and 3 spots.

Take a look:

- As of March 1, 2010
- Ranking in (-)

Team

Players

PPG

RPG

APG

FG%

3pt%

Cleveland

Anthony Parker, Lebron James

37.3 (2)

9.8 (3)

10.2 (1)

.471 (1)

.400 (1)

Orlando

Vince Carter,
Matt Barnes

24.7 (7)

9.8 (3)

4.6 (9)

.436 (7)

.318 (9)

Atlanta

Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams

31.9 (5)

9.6 (5)

5.7 (6)

.453 (4)

.355 (5)

Boston

Ray Allen,
Paul Pierce

34.3 (3)

8.0 (8)

6.1 (4)

.461 (2)

.391 (2)

Toronto

DeMar DeRozan,
Hedo Turkoglu

20.7 (9)

7.6 (9)

4.9 (8)

.441 (5)

.322 (8)

Chicago

Kirk Hinrich,
Luol Deng

28.2 (6)

11.1 (2)

6.5 (3)

.433 (8)

.375 (3)

Milwaukee

John Salmons,
Carlos Delfino

23.9 (8)

8.5 (7)

5.2 (7)

.415 (9)

.366 (4)

Charlotte

Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace

40.0 (1)

15.6 (1)

6.0 (5)

.459 (3)

.355 (5)

Miami

Dwyane Wade,
Quentin Richardson

33.9 (4)

9.4 (6)

7.5 (2)

.437 (6)

.338 (7)

The Raps swingman combination of DeRozan and Turkoglu come last or second to last in all of these major statistical categories outside of one.

If you look at the PER's for all of these players the stats don't get much better - both Hedo and DeMar are in the bottom half.

Player

PER

Lebron James

31.94

Dwyane Wade

27.46

Joe Johnson

19.79

Gerald Wallace

19.05

Paul Pierce

17.26

Luol Deng

17.14

Stephen Jackson

16.64

Vince Carter

15.82

Ray Allen

14.53

John Salmons

13.57

Hedo Turkoglu

13.56

Marvin Williams

12.81

Matt Barnes

12.73

Carlos Delfino

12.54

DeMar DeRozan

12.24

Kirk Hinrich

11.33

Quentin Richardson

11.13

Anthony Parker

9.69

Now, since CB4's injury Hedo has elevated his game, but there is no denying that the Raps are still not getting anywhere near the production from the wing as the other top Eastern Conference teams. If it is bad now, who is to say it won't be worse come playoff time when the likes of Johnson and Lebron take their games to the next level?

The simple fact is I am not sure how DD will respond when matched-up against the likes of the aforementioned Carter, Johnson or Allen (Parker less so) when they are playing for all the marbles. In prior match-ups each of these guys have essentially had their way with the rookie - which again is to be expected.

So what is the plan come playoff time? Will DeRozan still be the starter and get a set number of minutes? Can the Raps really imploy this strategy at the risk of losing in the first round of the playoffs once again? It would be one thing if DeMar was giving the team consistent production but right now he is a wild card. In all fairness it is true that the Raps have won more then they have lost with DD as the starter, but the playoffs are a different beast.

Of course this problem may not have an easy answer. It all depends on what the alternatives are to starting DeRozan. Would the Raps really be better served by seeing how the team performs with someone else starting at the two? Are Wright or Weems better alternatives and should they be getting heavier minutes? Perhaps more importantly, given the team's success this spring will play a factor in Bosh's decision making process, can the team afford not to give heavier minutes to a more consistent player?

Looking at the current roster Sonny Weems, Antoine Wright and to a lesser degree Marco Belinelli are the only true alternatives. Starting both Calderon and Jack at the same time would drastically change the rotation as well as put the Raps at a big disadvantage size wise.

There is a case to be made for each of these players.

(P/40 - Points per 40 minutes, R/40 - Rebounds per 40 minutes, A/40 - Assists per 40 minutes)

Antoine Wright (PER 8.44, 12.1 P/40, 5.7 R/49, 2.3 A/40) - Wright has been a pleasant surprise after a bad start to the season. Early in the year he did a lot of talking and little to back it up. Lately? A completely different player. He has found his shot, has been a strong defender (even looking forward to the challenge of defending the likes of Lebron James), and has really carved out a role on this team. Wright has playoff experience, doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective and is the best rebounder (per/40) out of these three players. Don't discount the importance of the rebounding as the Raps have one of the weaker rebounding front courts in the Eastern Conference. If the old adage is true that defense wins championships then Wright may be the guy the Raps need to be imploring more often. The biggest knock on Wright? He has the lowest PER of the group.

Sonny Weems (PER 10.90, 14.0 P/40, 5.3 R/49, 3.0 A/40) - Weems has surpassed the expectations of most when he was acquired in the Delfino trade. He adds some much needed athleticism to the wing and has proven he is a NBA player. Like DeRozan however, Weems' play can be inconsistent at times. Actually, I think the Raps second unit would be better with Weems and DeRozan on the floor together. They obviously have strong chemistry on the court (stemming from their off the court friendship) and the second units of opposing teams would have a difficult time matching their abilities. To me pulling DeRozan from the starting line-up for Weems puts the team no further ahead. In Weems favour, he is effective without the ball and is an above average defender.  

Marco Belinelli (PER 12.95, 16.9 P/40, 3.4 R/49, 3.3 A/40) - Despite having the highest PER of any two-guard on the roster, Marco has found himself firmly entrenched on the end of the bench. Like DeRozan, Belinelli is incredibly inconsistent and when his shot is not falling it really impacts the rest of his game. Belinelli brings more of a scoring element to the table which is not exactly what the starting line-up needs. You can make an argument for Marco, it just isn't that strong of one.

I will be interested to hear the opinions of others, but if I am Jay Triano I have to think about starting Antoine Wright. His defense, hard-nosed attitude and, perhaps more importantly, his consistent play as of late, make him the best candidate for replacing DeRozan and getting more minutes as the playoffs arrive. He has also been a member of successful playoff teams.

Of course making a change in the starting line-up is not something you can do on a whim. If Antoine Wright, or someone else were to become the starter, it will take time for the team to adjust. If a change is going to be made it needs to be made now.

Having DeRozan in the starting line-up has worked thus far despite his struggles. The short term results have, overall, been positive despite his playing time being part of a long-term strategy.  The "regulated minutes" plan is just not something I care to see when the games actually count for much more.

To me Triano has to consider switching things up. This team needs more consistent production from its wing men to be successful in the playoffs and now is the time to see if he can get it - no matter the source, the paycheck, or the reputation. I don't see much downside to experimenting when DeRozan is providing so little at this point. Who knows what the results could be with someone else playing with the starters? It wouldn't take much for it to be better than it is right now.

I hope Triano is at least considering a move - the future of the team's best player may be riding on it.

 

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