The HQ takes a page out of Charles Barkley's book and examines the need for top tier talent...
"Every successful NBA team needs a Dude and a Crazy Guy."
If you watched last night's TNT broadcast of the Dallas Mavericks versus the Portland Trailblazers, you know that the above, or something to that effect, was spoken by the one and only Charles Barkley.
The Chuckster was actually then elaborating on this to say that you don't poke your neighbor's dog, and you especially don't poke "the dude."
For those unfamiliar with Sir Charles' lingo, Barkley has always maintained that the league's top teams all have three traits in common; a superstar that can carry the club (the Dude), an extremely physical type, not afraid to mix it up with the other club's best who can perhaps border on being "unhinged" (the Crazy Guy), and finally a strong supporting cast.
Last night "The Dude" was made in reference to Dirk Nowitzki, he of 33 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists in the Mavs' close-out victory over the Blazers, but Barkley could have been talking about Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or various other franchise players who we've seen carry their respective clubs to victory, sometimes nearly by themselves, in this year's NBA playoffs.
In today's NBA, there's no question about it, without "The Dude," it's pretty tough to consistently win. One player can makes a big difference in the league, and you have to look no further than the David West-less Hornets to see proof. They were eliminated by the Lakers last night, but the Hornets were truly carried by the brilliance of Chris Paul in their post-season drive, and won two games really on the strength of his individual genius.
Without said super-star or "dude?"
Well with a handful of "Tier 2 and Tier 3" players you get clubs like Indiana and Philadelphia. The Danny Granger's, Evan Turner's, Andre Iguodala's and Darren Collison's are great pieces, but they aren't winning you any titles without a lot of similar complementary pieces. (Think the Pistons' title team in 2003-04.)
And if you're lacking in even those Tier 2 and Tier 3 players well...
...then you get the Toronto Raptors.
For me, these 2011 playoffs so far have been not only entertaining, but also a stark reminder of how far the Raps have to go to get back in the playoff mix.
Even clubs like Philly and Indiana field bench players who at present, would be starters for the Raps, and the difference, especially on D, between the various playoff clubs and Toronto couldn't be more apparent.
That being said, couldn't a few small moves get the Raptors right back on track? In a league where having one stud player can suddenly turn around your entire franchise, if a Derrick Rose or a Tim Duncan were in the upcoming draft and the Raps landed said player, wouldn't the team suddenly take a huge jump in the standings?
I think so, and this is where Wednesday's "luck" column comes in.
The Raptors, having arguably had their share of tough luck in prior drafts (not being eligible for the top pick in their expansion year, missing out on Oden and Durant thanks to the NBA's introduction of the draft age policy, etc, etc), could use a big break this time around.
A top two pick would give Toronto a very solid piece to work with, and really get this rebuild headed in the right direction.
Is there a "Dude" though in the upcoming draft?
I love Kyrie Irving, but I believe as David Thorpe recently pointed out in his Insider column for ESPN.com, "Kyrie Irving is an All-Star, not a superstar."
From the column:
When watching Irving on tape, I see a player who looks like Brandon Roy with better natural playmaking skills. I mean the All-Star Roy with healthy knees, not the guy who is fighting his knees most nights and can't move anywhere close to the way he used to on every possession. A healthy Roy used his strong body, great balance and crafty ball-handling to create shots for himself and others. He was a solid perimeter shooter and a devastating mid-range guy, with a true talent for finishing in the paint but away from the rim...I see Irving being able to do similar things, and pretty quickly.
The top MVP candidates for the season who are below 6-foot-10 all have one thing in common: They are in a very elite category as athletes. Outside of Chris Paul, every guy is super quick, explosive and fast. I don't project Irving to be at their levels at any point in his career, and as for Paul, well, it's hard to imagine having two guys with that kind of special talent in the league at the same time.
This doesn't mean that I wouldn't be thrilled should the Raps land Irving or Derrick Williams for that matter, but in a league of dudes, these two would be a step or two below on that ladder for me.
The bottom line though is that Toronto needs to keep acquiring top talent as right now, the Raptors right now in my opinion don't even have a Tier 2 guy.
I like DeRozan, but I see him as at best a Tier 3 type like Luol Deng when all is said and done.
Ed Davis to me has Tier 2 potential, but as previously noted, the team needs a lot more than just the potential of these two to start being competitive again. An Irving or Williams would go a long ways towards helping the overall talent level, in addition to providing another little-discussed benefit; they would allow role players to be just that.
Besides the whole top talent issue, the other thing that has smacked me in the face over and over again in these playoffs is that teams with stud players can then use role players to the best of their abilities. Suddenly a James Harden or Josh Smith can do what they do best. On the Raptors, these would be the team's best players, and likely be forced to do a lot more at both ends of the court than perhaps they should. I believe we saw some of this phenomenon with Chris Bosh.
This goes for guys like Keith Bogans or Juan Jose Barea too.
With a solid strata of Tier 1, 2, and 3 guys in front of them, these players can be the specialists they should be, and thus a much bigger help to their respective clubs. The Raptors right now employ a team of "specialists" for the most part, but thanks to a lack of upper echelon talent, are forced to use them as starters or "dudes" so to speak.
Of course the team has to use what it has at its disposal right now, and the result was the dude-less 22 win fiasco we witnessed this past season.
But look at the most successful era of Raptors' basketball.
And to complete Barkley's Triumvirate, hell, they even had the necessary "Crazy Guy," a certain Mr. Charles Oakley.