With their 44th loss of the season, the HQ looks beyond just last night's loss to the Dallas Mavericks and at the Raptors' point guard position and its future...
Currently, the Toronto Raptors sit with the fifth best record in the league.
Well...fifth best that is in terms of getting a shot at the top pick overall in the upcoming NBA Draft lottery.
Unless Toronto goes on some sort of massive streak in their final 22 games, it's hard to see them not locking down one of these "top five" spots.
However as we discussed last night during the liveblog of the Raptors 114 to 96 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Raptors really need that top spot in order to control the draft. To me, Kyrie Irving stands head and shoulders above the rest of this class and there's no guarantee that without getting that top draft pick, the Dinos will have a shot at him.
No way Cleveland passes on him should they grab the top spot, no guarantee the Kings and their bizzaro-team looks past him, who knows what the Timberwolves, certainly not averse to drafting point guards, will do, and should a team like the Clippers, Pistons, Bobcats, Rockets or Jazz make an unexpected leap, I'm betting Irving is their top choice as well.
Of course a great deal of this depends on what happens with the NBA's labour situation, and even Irving himself. Duke has been good this year, but haven't been the dominant club many expected, and with a very strong incoming Blue Devils' class for 2012, it's no lock that Irving jumps for the NBA, passing up a chance at an NCAA title considering how little he played this season.
That's why in my books, it's imperative that the Raps get as close to that top spot as possible.
Does this mean operation "el-tanko" should be in full effect?
Well, I'm not suggesting a starting line-up of Ajinca, Dorsey, Wright, Weems and Bayless - but there's no question some adjustments could be made. If this team wants to substantially improve next year, it needs to figure out what it's got to work with as right now, the club is housing arguably seven projects in Weems, Ajinca, Alabi, Dorsey, Wright, Johnson and Bayless, and none other than Johnson (so far) has looked to be a definite piece of the team's future.
Yet 60 games into the season, we're still seeing major minutes being doled out to various veterans.
For instance, I'm not sure right now what the point of playing the Brazilian Chucker for 20+ minutes a game is.
Last night Barbosa was again brutal in his reserve role, firing up 10 shots in 21 minutes, making only 3 of these. With him on the court, the offence ground to a halt, and I felt his play was a big reason the Mavericks were able to climb out of the early hole that the Dinos had put them in.
On a macro level though, sitting Barbosa more often would also allow management to fully evaluate Jerryd Bayless. I still don't feel I've gotten enough of a chance to dissect his game, and it's pretty hard to when Leandro Barbosa is out there firing blanks. As Bayless is the one with the bigger "upside," relatively speaking of course, it would be nice to allow him to be the second unit's designated "Chucker." Currently he and Barbosa are near duplicates of each other on the court, with Barbosa being the more selfish, but more in-control option.
As well, why not give a few less minutes to Jose Calderon.
Jose played well last night scoring 15 points on 7 of 10 shooting, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists, but his perimeter defence was absolutely abysmal as players like Jason Kidd and Jose Barea got wherever they wanted on the court, opening up shots for their teammates and generally wreaking havoc on Toronto's D.
This is something that sorely needs improvement for next season, as while we often bemoan Andrea Bargnani's lack of ability in terms of protecting the paint and altering shots, far too often he's placed in a position of having to perform such tasks thanks to Toronto's leaky perimeter D.
The addition of James Johnson looks like it could be a positive step in terms of tightening things up, as one commentator noted last night during the live-blog:
And I completely agree.
In fact aside from Johnson's shooting struggles (he's shooting 39% since joining the Raps), I'd argue that he provides many of the intangibles this team has been missing since Shawn Marion left town. I'd rather not see him take 12 shots like last night, but I can live with that too for the rest of the season if it means looking to get him more confident in his role etc.
However let's return to the point guard spot for a minute.
Last night the trio of Calderon, Bayless and Barbosa was a combined -26 on the night.
The Mavs' trio of Kidd, Barea and Beaubois?
Of course we always take +/- stats with a bit of a grain of salt, and actually according to 82games.com, the point guard position is Toronto's strongest by far. In fact it's the only spot on the floor that so far this season has a positive "net production," buoyed almost certainly by Jose Calderon's tremendous assist-to-turnover ratio.
But the point guard spot certainly needs some help on D, and it's hard not to think of what a dynamic combo an Irving-Calderon combination could be.
The league right now is run by exceptional PG's, and while Jose Calderon has returned to a very formidable level of productivity this year (tied with Amir Johnson for most wins produced, 6.3, on the team to date), grabbing a player of Irving's ilk could certainly turn this position from one of decency to one of strength...
...something Raptors' fans haven't been able to say since the days of Mighty Mouse.