Part two of the HQ end-of-the-year round table where we get into most improved, most valuable, Mr. Bargnani, and Luke Harangody...
Yesterday we kicked off the first part of our end of season round table and without further ado, let's move to round two...
3. Franchise: I'll add a low point for me being the consistent starting of Andrea Bargnani and Linas Kleiza together despite a mountain of both statistical and anecdotal evidence that proved it wasn't working. As a high, the season-end tank-fest that saw Toronto somehow jump from 5th to 3rd in terms of lottery chances.
So if those were the overall highs and lows, let's give out a few individual awards.
Team MVP and LVP? Most improved? Least improved? And how about Stub of the year?
Sasha: Team MVP- Jose Calderon
This past offseason we were one Michael Jordan drunk-lapse away from dealing Jose Calderon to the Charlotte Bobcats in a deal that would have landed us Tyson Chandler and Boris Diaw. Charles Oakley must have woken MJ up the next morning and reminded him that he had made such a stupid trade, because that is the only explanation I can think of as to why Oak was given a role as an assistant coach on the Bobcats. I doubt he does much coaching, his role is to simply make sure MJ doesn't do something ridiculous like trade Gerald Wallace for Joel Przybilla and some picks. But all jokes aside, credit to Jose as he came into camp with a point to prove. In a season that saw many fluctuations and changes with the team, Jose was a rock of consistency at the PG position. Jarret Jack being dealt to New Orleans only increased his responsibiltiy, and he has certainly increased his value this year.
Team LVP- Linas Kleiza
The Toronto Raptors have coveted Kleiza for quite some time and they finally decided to make a move and sign him this past offseason. Kleiza became a starter at the Small Forward position and decided to show us exactly why we shouldn't have signed him. For a guy that was lauded for his toughness, he didn't seem to bring move grit to the table and was often seen shooting ill-advised 3's early in the shot clock or tough fadeaway jumpers with 7 footers guarding him. His injury was a blessing in disguise and it was hopefully part of the reason we decided to acquire James Johnson. Kleiza's role on next year's team looks pretty undecided at the moment. Is he a starter? a 6th man? Time will tell, but 2010-11 was one to forget for the Lithuanian.
Stub of the Year- Luke Harangody
There were many nominees for this year's Stub of the Year. This question was the toughest one to decide and I couldn't have done it without all of the Stubs that decided to make it rain on our D. As a reminder, STUB stands for "Scrub that plays like a Star." My pick is Luke Harangody for a variety of reasons. First, his last name is hilarious. If that doesn't make you laugh than I don't know what will. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, the manner in which he picked apart our team. He dropped his points in a limited amount of time and was seen fist pumping and chest-bumping with KG, Rondo, Big Baby and the rest of the Celtics. It looks like Harangody's Stub night will be his career highlight and that is why he gets my vote!
Most Improved Player: Jerryd Bayless
Bayless came to Toronto with a chip on his shoulder after being deemed surplus to requirements in Portland and New Orleans. The former lottery pick was a college star and he was expected to become an even better pro. Until Jose Calderon was shut down for the remained of the season he had teased us with his potential in games against Oklahoma City and Dallas, but fluffed his lines against weaker teams. Once he became the starting Point Guard he really began to play much better. It has become well-known that he has better nights when he is starting and his late-season surge has seen some fans call for him to begin next season as the starter. It all depends on what management thinks but from when he arrived from New Orleans up until now, Jerryd Bayless has been the team's Most Improved Player.
Least Improved Player: Sonny Weems
The play of Sonny Weems was a big surprise to Toronto Raptors fans last season. Towards the tail-end of the campaign he dislodged DeMar DeRozan from the starting lineup and played very well. It even prompted some writers to argue that Weems' game was far more polished than DeRozan's and that he was going to be a better player going forward. This season he began on the bench but was presented with an opportunity to stake a claim for the starting Small Forward spot after Linas Kleiza went down with a long-term injury. Instead of seizing the opportunity, Weems showed us that he didn't really work hard in the offseason to become a better player, and that when his jump shot isn't falling he can't really do anything else very well. For someone who should wake up every morning and thank God that he is in the NBA this may seem a bit harsh but after what he showed us last season, fans were expecting more. I still think that he has a place on this team going forward but he gets my pick for LIP of the Toronto Raptors 2010-11 season.
D Stance: Team MVP - Amir Johnson
From a productivity and leadership standpoint, Johnson stood out as the most valuable player. He finished second on the team in Wins Produced behind Jose Calderon while often times playing through a painful ankle injury. Anyone who has played ball on a bum ankle can attest to the fact that it's not the best feeling in the world. But the message it sends to younger players about toughness and professionalism is invaluable. It would've been very easy to shut it down during what was by all accounts a lost season. Johnson didn't.
Team LVP - Andrea Bargnani
If you want to put a number on it -- Wins Produced certainly does -- Bargnani cost this team at least half a dozen wins and was the least productive player in the entire league. If that doesn't qualify for you for Team LVP, I'm not sure what does. He's been described as a borderline efficient scorer who brings nothing else to the table. But even if you don't subscribe to Wins Produced or advanced metrics of any kind, the anecdotal evidence that Bargnani hurt this team is abundant (just watch him play defense or listen to some of the veiled shots taken by his teammates during their exit interviews). Despite being seven-feet tall, he went the entire month of February without blocking a shot. As a bonus, Bargs also missed a handful of games because he apparently possesses the immune system of a pre-schooler.
Most Improved - Jerryd Bayless
After Jose Calderon shut it down, a late season flurry by Bayless prompted some fans to opine that he had emerged as a key part of this team going forward. There was even some premature talk that Bayless could be the full-time starting point guard and a high lottery pick like Kemba Walker could actually serve as his backup next season. I won't go quite so far as to anoint Bayless the 2011-12 starter, but I won't feel as bad if Leandro Barbosa declines his player option or is dealt at the trade deadline next season. The bottom line is Bayless showed tremendous improvement after joining the Raptors and Arturo Galletti's analysis backs that up.
Least Improved - Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan (tie)
On first glance, you look at their respective scoring average increases and assume both Bargnani and DeRozan improved this season... at least that's the bill of goods the Raptors organization and broadcast crew would sell you. The fact of the matter is neither Bargnani or DeRozan improved this year, if you consider things like usage and efficiency (which, of course, are made-up stats created solely to discredit Bargs). Both players actually regressed slightly this season. I've already detailed some of Bargnani's shortcomings in the case for Team LVP. DeRozan further distinguised himself in the Least Improved category by watching his three-point percentage drop below 10%.
Stub of the Year - Luke Harangody
You might as well rename this the Luke Harangody Award. Harangody reached double figures in rebounding twice during the 2010-11 regular season: once as a member of the Boston Celtics and later in the season as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The common thread of both games? The opponent was the Raptors and their league-worst defense. Harangody joined a murderer's row of 'stubs' that included Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, Hilton Armstrong, Eddie House and Jamaal Magloire to name a few. It seemed like every time the Raptors ran out on the court, they would get lit up by an end-of-the-bench type from the opposing squad.
The good news is that the Phoenix Suns managed to go from having a defense that was even worse than the Raptors to a middle-of-the-pack defensive team thanks to the aquisition of a real centre, Marcin Gortat. Let's hope Bryan Colangelo has been paying attention to his former squad and acts accordingly this offseason.
Howland: Team MVP- Amir Johnson
Remember when Ron Artest shaved "Tru Warrior" into the back of his head trying to advertise his new record label (or something of that sort - shows how much I cared) - well a "True Warrior" is the name I would give to Amir. Johnson showed an incredible amount of heart and grit this season fighting through countless nagging injuries and bringing quality effort to the floor every night. Over the course of the season he was less and less foul hungry and has established himself as a fine young player and one the Raps will have around for a long time.
Team LVP- Linas Kleiza
Wow - talk about buyer's remorse at this point in time. Kleiza was unable to build on the successes he had at the international level when he joined the Raps and before he could turn it around (if he ever would have who knows) he was out for the year. Kleiza didn't show a lot of the qualities that fans were expecting - hard nosed, physical, versatile scorer and in some ways reminded me of Hedo Turkoglu - just a bad fit. It's probably too early to give up on Kleiza and in reality he should be coming off the pine - I can still see him being productive in a more limited capacity but only time will tell. This season however was a complete fail.
Stub of the Year- How can you pick when there were so many?
Most Improved Player: DeMar DeRozan
I understand that DeMar still has a long way to go both in terms of defence and becoming more efficient on the offensive end, but this was a season where he took a step in the right direction. He looked more confident, did a nice job attacking the rim and looks like a completely different player than the one Franchise and I watched in Summer League prior to his rookie season. It's been reported countless times that he is a gym rat and this is exactly the kind of player you want on your team. When your soon to be best player is also your hardest working that is the start of something good. A ways to go? You bet. A solid sophomore season? Definitely.
Least Improved Player: Andrea Bargnani
Let's see - what area of his game improved? Defense - No. Rebounding - No. Offense - No. Sure he scored more this year but that's inevitable when you take more shots. In a season where Andrea could have established himself and the focal point of this team he failed to take advantage of the opportunity. Have we reached the top of the bell curve here? Is there room for him to improve? Can he go to the next level? You would have thought and hoped so, but this season left much to be desired. His inability to take the next step have people wondering if he is worth keeping around on a 22 win team. Enough said.
Vicious D: Team MVP - Reggie Evans
By now, it should be no surprise to anyone that I picked Reggie Evans. Best rebounder on the team, the crowd favourite, and the defensive glue, Reggie Evans had a presence which actively made the team play better. When he went down with the injury, the Raptors had their heart torn out and just couldn't figure out ways to do the dirty work that's necessary in winning NBA teams. And on a team that has few leaders, few players over the page of 30, and few players who have gone to the playoffs, Reggie Evans was a person who could speak towards
Team LVP - Sonny Weems
Linas Kleiza and Andrea Bargnani are going to be the biggest rods of criticism, but in my opinion, Sonny Weems was a person who completely left his game over the summer. For whatever reason, when the Raptors needed something extra from Weems, he failed to produce. You could say that it may be a limit of his talent, but his lack of attention for what the Raptors needed from the SF position is what is largely responsible for the Raptors going out and getting James Johnson late in the year. Whereas Kleiza was seemly hurt for a while, and Julian Wright proved to be at least aggressive on defense, Weems provided very little value for the team.
When you're given multiple chances and can't produce even though you've been largely healthy, what more is there to say.
Most Improved - Amir Johnson
Highest career Free Throw percentage. Being there when the Raptors needed him. Becoming a hidden leader on the Raptors. There were many eyebrows raised with the contract that was given Amir Johnson, but I've been happy with it. He's scaled his stats nicely, has tried to become better at the increased responsibility, and he's a young PF/Center.
Oh and he plays through injuries.
Least Improved - Andrea Bargnani\
AB defenders look at him and talk about his points. You'll point to his production offensively. But to me, it's always been about efficiency, and Bargnani had one of his worst years in ages. Toss in about HALF as many blocks, and 150 FEWER rebounds, and it's just been all ugly. The question at the end of last season was whether Andrea Bargnani could pull this team without Chris Bosh, and I think we all have a resounding answer.
Stub of the Year - Too Many to Mention
On any given night, if your team is playing the Raptors, look for a career night from your scrubs.
Or I'll just say Luke Harangody
4. Franchise: I'd take Evans too as my MPV, Kleiza as LVP, no one for most improved and everyone on the team as least improved. Seriously, was there another team in the league who displayed as little progress this year as Toronto. Maybe Milwaukee, but the Bucks had the worst string of injuries in the league and at least they played D. Last season marked the team's second straight bottom of the league finish in defensive efficiency.
For the next series of questions though, let's look into the future a bit here.
Give me your best guess on a) if you feel there will be a season next year, and if there is one, will Bryan Colangelo and Jay Triano be back with the Raptors.
Howland: Incredibly difficult question. No-one knows what goes on behind closed doors. Continuity is something that this team has not had...well....ever. I have definitely waffled on the issue but as I write this I can't help but wonder if continuity shouldn't be valued more than everything else. It's one of the few things the leagues successful teams have in common. In some ways I feel like Colangelo has learned from his mistakes and realizes that Euro-ball just doesn't cut it in the NBA. It was an experiment and has failed. The question is can he build a successful team on more "traditional" grounds. Reality is if the team hired a no-name GM it would be that much harder to get free-agents to come to Toronto.
In regards to coaching I am not against keeping Triano either. The only time a coach should be fired is when (a) the players don't listen to him (see Detroit) or (b) he is not getting enough from the talent that has been put as his disposal. Well the players do seem to respect Triano and frankly the players at his disposal were never going to produce a playoff calibre team - let alone a 30 win team. I am for letting him continue to grow with the young guys until one of (a) or (b) happens above. Until that time let's play it out. A new GM and coach are not going to suddenly make the Raptors the next dynasty.
Vicious D: I'm thinking shortened season.
Which, in my opinion, helps out in the decision for both Colangelo and Triano. I've been fairly critical of Colangelo and pretty supportive of Triano, but with the lockout possibly coming and all the problems that may occur, I think both need to be retained. A two year contract for Colangelo allows him some room to do a little more work towards a rebuild, and I think the Raptors need stability in upper management to make the trades and other decisions they need to.
I mean, can you imagine, Bryan Colangelo goes, MLSE looks for another GM, and basically, the Raptors have no one at the helm during a very confusing off season?
I'd also give Jay Triano a two year contract because I believe that it'll be at least that long before the Raptors are relevant again. A cheap development-oriented coach is what the doctor ordered, and Triano is definitely that.
D-Stance: There will be a 2011-12 season. However, questions remain around what form it takes. Will a lockout drag into training camp? Will they lose a couple of months of the season like they did during Vince Carter's rookie year? You'd like to think that the NBA will avoid a lockout because of the strong leadership of David Stern... but then you remember he's same guy who recently appointed Clay Bennett as head of the Sacramento Kings' relocation committee. Apparently, Stern and LeBron James employ the same public relations team.
As far as Colangelo and Triano are concerned, I'm resigned to the fact that both will return. Triano appears to be a poor choice on the surface - but how much of that had to do with the instructions he received from the front office? He should at least get the benefit of the doubt and have his option picked up. Colangelo said some things in his recent press conference to make you believe he's turned over a new leaf. However, until he starts making decisions that appear to be influenced by more than scoring average, I remain skeptical about his ability to build a young team into a contender similar to what Sam Presti has done in Oklahoma City.
Sasha: I'm nowhere near an expert on CBA's and players associations so this is a hard one to answer. But I am confident that there will be a 2011-12 season and that it is just a matter of when or how. The NFL seems to be headed to a lockout but I think under David Stern the same won't happen for the NBA.
One gets the feeling that Colangelo and Triano come as a packaged deal for the club right now - meaning you can't have one without the other. Marc Stein of ESPN reported yesterday that the Raptors were considering putting Wayne Embry in charge of the team in the interim, which would mean that he would oversee the draft. Fans have a fond image of Embry, as he was able to ship Jalen Rose to New York a few seasons ago and basically gift BC the cap space we used up that summer. What people don't seem to remember is that one of the draft picks that Embry dealt could have landed us Rajon Rondo or Paul Milsap. That being said, I feel like Colangelo has finally realized that the Andrea Bargnani experiment isn't going as planned. Continuity is a valuable thing to have instilled in a franchise and when one looks at the GM's that are out of jobs at the moment you seem to get the feeling that BC is sticking around. Jay Triano will probably stick around as well. This team is a young team that probably won't make some noise for at least another season or two, and that would be the appropriate time to bring in a more seasoned coach. That is unless Rick Adelman can somehow be convinced to coach this team...(pipedream...)