We conclude our evaluation of the Raptors' first half of the season with a look at the final 5 players on the roster. As a reminder, each player's performance is compared to a Hollywood flick. In other words, enjoy the most confusing 1700 words you're ever likely to read.
Landry Fields: Waterworld (1995)
Somewhere amidst the lukewarm, soaking mess (see what I did there?) that is Waterworld -- amidst the crappy dialogue, stupid costumes, and poorly thought out plot-line -- there is a half-decent movie begging to come out. Seriously, the concept is cool. Maybe if director, Kevin Reynolds, had a second shot at making this film in 2014 (and we had all magically forgotten about the first go around) a better film would emerge; perhaps a film with a better cast, something less cartoon-ish. Then again, it would probably just be derided as leftist, global warming propaganda.
Oh, and it would probably cost even more money. That's right, at $172 million Waterworld was the most expensive movie ever made when it was released 19 years ago. It wasn't worth it.
Which brings us to Landry Fields. Fields doesn't cost the Raptors quite as much as Waterworld cost to produce (Joe Johnson is making Waterworld-esque production money, however); but Fields, for a team that needs to be flexible salary-wise, costs too much. And while Fields, like Waterworld, has shown glimpses of promise, he's just not that good.
We can blame his struggles on nerve damage (injuries to Landry, are what expensive set collapses were to Costner's movie), but it's frustrating watching Fields perform like a shell of the player he once -- briefly -- was. Fields did look like a solid rotation player in New York. But not in Toronto. Not last season, and definitely not so far this year.
There's a decent basketball player in there somewhere. But as in the case of Waterworld, the positives exist in the hypothetical realm only.
Amir Johnson: Elysium (2013)
I won't lie: I was really excited to see Elysium. And okay, I'll admit that I was somewhat in denial. I'd read the reviews that said it was fairly mediocre; that Jodie Foster's character was absurd, and that the story was weak. But I had blinders on, mainly because I LOVED District 9. Absolutely loved it.
Neill Blomkamp, Sharlto Copley, a dystopian future; I was all in.
And, of course, I was disappointed. I was entertained; it wasn't a terrible movie by any means, just disappointing. The concept was cool, and the performances (except for Copley's ridiculous Kruger) were fine; but it was a film that was missing something. It seemed rushed, lazy, and lacked the soul of Blomkamp's previous film.
And just like Blomkamp's flawed blockbuster, something is missing with Amir Johnson this year. He hasn't been terrible, just disappointing when you consider how well he performed last season.
Amir was awesome last year. He was the Raps' best player and it wasn't even close. But this season Amir has been good in small doses. The consistency just isn't there. His numbers are similar to last season's (points are slightly up, rebounds slightly down, per 36 minutes). But the fact is, he just looks slower, and less engaged on the floor right now. Someone appropriately described him, during Monday night's game against the Nets, as "dragging his ass around". Sad, but true.
Maybe our expectations for Amir this season -- like my expectations for Elysium -- were too high. We expect him to have more energy on the floor than anyone; to be in 5th gear all game, every game. And the fact is, as a result of his constant ankle issues, he's probably been playing at less than 100%, thus far. But the team needs a more consistent second half of the year from Johnson. They need the put-back dunks, hard screens, and the offensive rebounding. They need more energy; more of last season's Amir.
They need less Elysium and more District 9.
Kyle Lowry: Casablanca (1942)
Let me start by reiterating the comments of many Raptors fans and writers, in saying that if Kyle Lowry -- the best point-guard in the Eastern Conference this season -- doesn't make the All-Star team, it'll be a travesty. We'll get mad, he'll get madder, he'll probably play even better, and then...well..okay sure, I can get my head around Lowry not making it.
So, Lowry's season has been like the classic movie, Casablanca. How's that, you say? Well, let's start with a very banal observation: Both Lowry and Casablanca are awesome. I won't bother trying to convince you that Casablanca is awesome because, A. I'm not a movie critic (can't you tell?) and therefore wouldn't do the film justice, and B. You already know that it's awesome, right?
But digging deeper -- and making a very big, and probably difficult to follow, stretch -- Lowry resembles Rick Blaine, Humphrey Bogart's character in the film. Lowry, like Blaine,
owns a seedy club isn't the easiest guy to get along with. Cynical and bitter, both have had a somewhat sketchy past: Blaine ran guns in the Spanish Civil War, Lowry feuded with Kevin McHale. Same thing. Both (prior to this season for Lowry) had begun to drift in life. But Bogart's character, as the movie progresses, gradually becomes less cynical and finds catharsis in assisting his ex-flame (the cause of his misery), Ingrid Bergman, and her husband, in their escape from Morocco.
Lowry is still playing ball with that Monsieur Rick-like chip on his shoulder, but he's now channelling that energy in the right way. Since the Gay trade he's gone through his own catharsis of sorts. He's stopped gambling for steals, become an elite help defender, a better facilitator, and is now a good teammate -- a true leader. Like Blaine, he's moved beyond aimlessly and angrily shaking his fist at the world...and Dwane Casey.
And here's a clip of
Bogart Lowry trying to convince some NBA coaches that they should ignore his previous misdeeds and pick him for the All-Star game:
Patrick Patterson: Predator (1987)
Sometimes you go back and watch a film that you really enjoyed when you were a kid (usually one you enjoyed when you were a teenager) and upon giving it a nostalgia-yearning re-visit, you reluctantly conclude that it stinks. I remember at age 12 or 13 watching Con Air and thinking that it was a great movie. Note: Con Air is not a great movie.
One film I did re-watch a few months back was Predator -- a film that, growing up, was one of my favourites. It was also frequently reenacted in my household (My brother and I had the scene below down to perfection). And you know what? You can watch Predator at age 12 and really enjoy it; and watch it 16 years later at age 28, and still be throughly entertained. Predator is a really solid movie.
And speaking of solid (get ready for this segue): Patrick Patterson is a really solid basketball player, and after coming over from Sacramento in December, he's had a very impressive 2 months with the Raptors. Like Arnie's flick -- which never attempts to be high-brow cinema -- Patterson does a lot of things really well. He stretches the floor, rebounds, and can be trusted to make the right basketball play (
Havlicek Patterson stole the ball!), without stepping out of his comfort zone, and trying to be a player that he isn't.
As a Raptor, per 36 minutes, Patterson is averaging 15 boards and 8 rebounds. He's been the perfect 3rd big man off the bench, even stealing some of Amir's minutes. If he can continue his form through the second half of the season, he'll surely give Masai Ujiri pause for thought during the summer when he'll be entertaining offers as a restricted free agent.
Patrick Patterson isn't Hakeem Olajuwon, and never will be; just as Predator will never be more than a B-minus movie in a science fiction genre full of classics. But both fulfill an important niche; in Hollywood, and on an NBA roster.
Oh, and when Patterson runs into Boogie Cousins, his ex-Kentucky and Kings teammate, on February 5th, it'll go down like this:
John Salmons: JCVD (2008)
So, what do Jean-Claude Van Damme and John Salmons have in common?
Well, both men are veterans of their profession, and both and have tasted the highs and lows of Hollywood and the NBA, respectively. In the 2008-09 season, Salmons averaged 18 points per game and shot over 40% from beyond the arc. 5 years later he was wallowing in Sacramento, averaging 5 points per game and shooting a putrid 35% from the field.
In 1992, at the height of his popularity, The Mussels from Brussels made Universal Soldier -- not a good film, but a box-office hit, nonetheless. Just 5 years later Van Damme made Double Team with Dennis Rodman (as bad as it sounds) -- a film that grossed just a third of what Universal Solider made. And it would continue downhill from there.
Now I'll be honest; I grew up a huge Van Damme fan. Even at 12 years old I knew his movies were ridiculous, but I didn't care. Kickboxer, Blood Sport, Hard Target: I loved those flicks. Entering adulthood, and growing out of my Jean-Claude phase, I felt a tinge of sadness for my childhood hero, who was making straight-to-DVD movies filmed in Bulgaria. And then I stumbled upon the critically acclaimed JCVD, a brilliantly acted, and very poignant (yes, poignant) movie, in which Van Damme plays himself. Bitter, tired, and emotionally drained after a nasty custody battle, Van Damme returns to his native Belgium, only to get caught up in a bank robbery. Hilarity ensues.
And holy crap, Van Damme can act!
And you know what? John Salmons can still play professional basketball. Kings fans were more that happy to part ways with Salmons in the Gay trade, and no Raptors fan was expecting much from the supposedly washed-up swingman. But Salmons has pleasantly surprised everyone with his steadying influence, timely scoring, and solid perimeter defense. I wasn't a fan of the idea that Salmons might potentially take minutes away from Terrence Ross (it happened initially), but like the rest of the ex-Kings, he's provided the kind of bench production that the Raptors were sorely lacking during the Gay era.
Salmons might go back to playing crappy basketball next season, or even during the second half of this year (Van Damme is back to making crappy movies). But like Van Damme in JCVD, Salmons is showing us that he's not washed-up just yet.