As many of you know, my favourite Toronto Raptor of all time was Morris Peterson.
He wasn't as flashy as Vince Carter, nor as workman-like Charles Oakley. And he didn't play to the crowd the way JYD did.
But he provided two essential skills that have traditionally been rare in the NBA, especially in combination.
Defence, and three-point shooting.
Think of some of the best-known three-point shooters of the last 20 years. Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Glen Rice, Peja Stojakovic, Steph Curry, Mike Miller, Kyle Korver...most of these were indeed dynamic long-range threats.
But lock-down defenders?
Not so much, although Allen in his younger days was more than serviceable.
Morris Peterson was never at this elite level of shooting the 3-ball volume wise, (although he did hit 1009 for his career) but over his time with the Raptors he did hit on 37 per cent of his long-range attempts, putting him on par with three-point masters like Paul Pierce (fifth all-time in 3's made) and Jason Terry (fourth.)
And as Raptors fans remember, he was always one of the more dependable defensive options for the Dinos on the wing. During his peak years with the Raps, he averaged a defensive rating of 106 a season. To put that in perspective, Shane Battier's career mark is about 105.
Peterson wasn't the most athletic player in the NBA, nor the quickest, but he excelled at playing passing lanes and angles, resulting in likely more charges taken than anyone else in Raptors' history.
I thought about Peterson as I perused one of the latest thought-provoking pieces by Grantland's Zach Lowe. The topic this time was about finding a "new age Battier," a player who could successfully stretch the floor for his club with his superior long-range shooting, and play top-notch D at the wing position. Lowe went into great depth regarding what makes a "new age Battier," and even came up with a list of potential future candidates such as the Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler, and the Oklahoma City Thunder's Thabo Sefolosha.
Unfortunately, the only current Raptor that was named in the article, and only as an "intriguing but unknown guy" was Alan Anderson, a player that likely priced his way out of another season with the Raps, regardless of whether you think that's a good thing or bad thing. Anderson shared many Mo-Pete esque traits, from his toughness on D and propensity for taking charges, to his long-range proclivity.
But he's not at the Peterson level having only shot 33 per cent from deep, and his defensive play doesn't pass the metrics or eye-test just yet.
Which of course begs the question.
Who then is the Raptors' next Mo Pete?
It's hard to answer that but before we take a look at some options, let's look at why it's so important.
From Lowe's piece:
The NBA today is much different than it was even five years ago. Teams shoot many more 3-pointers, they cram the paint on defense, and they use schemes that often require players to be able to guard multiple positions. Being a wing in a Thibodeau-style pack-the-paint scheme requires smarts, effort, and crazy athleticism - the ability to move from the 3-point line to underneath the basket and then back out to the 3-point line within the same 15-second half-court sequence.
If I were running an NBA team - ha! - I'd be scouring the world for role players who can do all of the following three things:
- Defend shooting guards.
- Defend small forwards.
- Shoot 3-pointers proficiently.
This is the perfect role player, a sort of New Age Shane Battier. I'd strongly consider using my second-round "flier" draft pick on someone who might someday fit this description, even over a droolworthy project big man.
If you watched the bulk of the Toronto Raptors' season, you know that indeed, this was a major weakness. The team's best perimeter defenders either weren't expert marksmen from long-range (Landry Fields, the aforementioned Anderson), or weren't consistently strong at either shooting or D (DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Terrence Ross.)
Fields was in fact supposed to be the answer here. A very solid defender (career defensive rating of 107) who can provide resistance to most of the NBA's 2's and 3's, two of the three "must-have" qualities Lowe notes above, Fields however couldn't hit the broad side of a barn door. Obviously we know why this was the case, but it remains to be seen if he can return to rookie-year form where he shot nearly 40 per cent from deep.
Last year, he shot 14 per cent so...yeah.
If Fields can't regain that long-range touch, perhaps Terrence Ross looks to be the next best bet. Armed with some intriguing fundamentals at both ends of the court, we indeed did see flashes of this potential last season. In his sophomore year, he'll have improve on his 33 per cent shooting from deep, and give a more consistent effort on D, but these should come with time. I compared Ross' to Mo Pete when he was drafted (although it's evident Ross has SLIGHTLY more hops) and it would be quite fitting then if he became the 2.0 version of him, or the Raptors' "New Age LeBron."
Other than that, Toronto may have to look elsewhere for help in this respect.
I can see DeRozan improving his three-point shooting to the point where it's respectable, but I don't think he'll ever be an elite option in this manner. And I don't trust his defence to significantly improve.
I view Gay in pretty much the same manner, although perhaps the corrective eye surgery he underwent would do wonders. (Sidebar - how "Raptorsish" is it that two of the club's top three-point options were brought in with major issues that impacted...yes...their long-range shooting ability. Sigh.)
One last point in this discussion.
Lowe reinforces throughout his piece, the idea that these players are not only hard to find, but likely undervalued too, and the second-round of the draft is an ideal place to take a shot at some of these types.
Which to say I agree with, would be putting it mildly.
It's in fact the reason I lusted after players like Chris Douglas-Roberts, Wes Matthews, Bill Walker, Quincy Pondexter and Devin Ebanks late, in the past few drafts. All looked to be potential long-term fits into a "new age Battier" type roll, and as we've seen from clubs like the Bulls, unearthing these types late in the draft can completely change your team's fortunes. Suddenly you have an extremely valuable contributor at both ends, who's getting paid far less than he's worth. I'd almost go as far as saying that the league's top clubs, are consistently those who do grab onto these types of players for well below market value, either via the draft, or free-agency.
The Raptors of course are lined up to be "pickless" in the upcoming draft, so for them to find their "New Age Battier," or their "next Mo Pete," they'll likely need to either hope for some internal development from Ross and co., or find a steal via the free-agency route.
The latter of course is a topic for another day as we get further into the summer.