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When 3/5 is a Failing Grade

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Welcome to Raptorshq.com. As avid basketball and, in particular Toronto Raptors fans, we have decided to voice our opinions on what is right and wrong with Canada's lone NBA Franchise. Our objective is to provide weekly columns on various topics in hopes of creating a user friendly forum for you, the reader, to voice all and any opinions concerning the Raptors.

So let’s get to it. The NBA playoffs this year have provided some great moments. I would argue it has been one of the best playoffs in years. Although the first two rounds can provide some fantastic moments, it’s my belief that the cream starts to rise to the top in the conference finals. Looking at the teams in the “ final four” this year, one thing in particular continuously jumps out at me: Almost all of these teams feature either elite or top-tier point guards and centre’s.

Miami: Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal

Detroit: Chauncey Billups (Reigning NBA Finals MVP ) and Ben Wallace.

Phoenix: Steve Nash (league MVP) and Amare Stoudemire.

San Antonio: Tony Parker and Tim Duncan (although starting at PF, he plays the C on many occasions).

If you look at the Raptors this year, and in years past, given the talent that has manned these positions, is it a wonder why this franchise has never reached the next level? Since the franchise’s inception it has been plagued by poor point guard (PG) and centre (C) play. The theory here is that without solid PG and C play, regardless of the other positions, it is highly unlikely that a team (Jordan-era Bulls aside) can become a championship contender. Let’s take a look to see if history and stats back this up. If so it would seem clear that the Raptors have some work to do.

HISTORY:
Here’s a look at the Toronto Raptors starters at those positions since the 1994-95 season.

1995-1996: Damon Stoudamire and Oliver Miller (Record: 21-61, no playoffs)

A pretty good start considering Stoudamire won the Rookie of the Year award. Miller was more than serviceable that year and considering it was the teams first year in the league a respectable start.

1996-1997: Stoudamire and Sharone Wright/Marcus Camby (Record: 30-52, no playoffs)

Stoudamire again with a decent year. Wright played some C but his career was cut short by injury. The drafting of Camby to man the middle was a promising move. Apparently, Isiah Thomas once knew how to build a franchise.

1997-1998: Stoudamire/Chauncey Billups and Miller/Camby (Record: 16-66, no playoffs)

The foundation of the team was moved with Stoudamire and Camby being traded. Billups only lasted the year and it is at this point that the centre position became a real concern. A concern that remains today.

1998-1999: Alvin Williams and Kevin Willis (23-27, shortened season, no playoffs)

Williams was young and fairly raw. Willis was a warrior but his sole All-Star appearance was in 1992, before the franchise even existed. Serviceable? Yes. A building block? No.

1999-2000: A. Williams and Antonio Davis (Record: 45-37, qualified for playoffs)

As you go down the list, Alvin is a fixture at the one. No one can question his heart, but he will never be an “elite” player. This is the year that AD began his stint as an out-of-position power forward manning the middle. This year the franchise makes its first playoff appearance, falling in the first round to New York.

2000-2001: Mark Jackson/A. Williams and A. Davis (Record: 47-35, qualified for playoffs)

The lone season where either a PG or C from this franchise makes an appearance in an All-Star Game. AD was the East’s starting C. An All-Star C, a developing PG and the team makes the playoffs again. Do you see a connection here? As an aside, Mark Jackson was an absolute failure for this team.

2001-2002: A. Williams and A. Davis/ Hakeem Olajuwon (Record: 42-40, qualified for playoffs)

In an attempt to resolve the important Center issue the Raptors panicked and brought in Olajuwon. In hindsight, this was a terrible move due for the most part on the salary cap impacts. Luckily, AD carried this team on his back to the playoffs. Again, strong C and PG play and the team again makes the playoffs.

2002-2003: A. Williams and A. Davis (Record: 24-58, no playoffs)

This was arguably the worst season for the franchise as injuries caused 519 lost man-games lost. This team could have started Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Cousy and this team still would not have made the playoffs.

2003-2004: A. Williams and Donyell Marshall/Chris Bosh (Record: 33-49, no playoffs)

No center to speak of on this team and, due to more injuries, the PG position is manned by journeymen like Rick Brunson, Rod Strickland, Milt Palacio, Roger Mason Jr. and Jannero Pargo. With glaring weaknesses at PG and C, missing the playoffs came as a surprise to no one.

2004-2005: Rafer Alston and Rafael Araujo/Loren Woods (Record 33-49, no playoffs)

The Raptors sign a perennial back-up to start and the center position plagues this team all year with poor rebounding and no offensive contributions to speak of.

The question to be asked is whether the poor PG and C play and non-playoff years are directly related. Should it be a surprise to anyone that this team has consistently missed the playoffs, never mind become a contender, in ten years as a result? The franchise has never solidified either the PG or C position. But how is the theory supported statistically?

STATS:
I amassed the regular season stats for the starting C and PG’s for each of the Conference Final Teams since the 1999-2000 season (20 in total, a small sample size, but telling enough). For point guards, I looked at points, rebounds, assists, field-goal percentage and assist to turnover ratio, in that order. For centres, I looked at points, rebounds, assists, field-goal percentage and blocks, again in that order. It was hard not to make Duncan the C for the Spurs when Robinson was on his last legs or substituting O’Neal for Foster when he was starting at C for the Pacers but here are the true averages (“comparison stats”):

PG:
13.4 ppg / 3.6 rpg / 6.0 apg / .432 fg% / 2.73 A-TO

C:
13.1 ppg / 8.9 rbg / 1.72 / .500 fg% / 1.77 blks

So how do these averages match up to Raptors of the past? Here’s the shake down (the number of categories in which Raptors exceed the comparison stats are in brackets).

1995-1996: (5)
D. Stoudamire: 19.0/4.0/9.3/.426/2.44
O. Miller: 12.9/7.4/2.9/.526/1.88

1996-1997: (5)
Stoudamire: 20.2/4.1/8.8/.401/2.47
Camby: 14.8/6.3/1.5/.482/2.06

1997-1998: (2)
Billups: 11.2/2.4/3.9/.374/1.79
Camby: 12.1/7.4/1.8/.412/3.65

1998-1999: (0)
A.Williams: 5.0/1.6/2.6/.401/2.32
K.Willis: 12.0/8.3/1.6/.418/.67

1999-2000:(0)
A.Williams: 5.3/1.5/2.3/.397/2.7
A. Davis: 11.5/8.8/1.3/.440/1.27

2000-2001: (4)
A. Williams: 9.8/2.6/5.0/.430/3.97
A. Davis: 13.7/10.10/1.4/.433/1.94

2001-2002: (4)
A. Williams: 11.8/3.4/5.7/.415/3.11
A. Davis: 14.5/9.6/2.0/.426/1.08

2002-2003: (4)
A. Williams: 13.2/3.1/5.3/.438/3.23
A. Davis: 13.9/8.2/2.5/.407/1.17

2003-2004: (1)
A. Williams: 8.8/2.7/4.0/.405/2.88
C. Bosh: 11.5/7.4/1.0/.459/1.41

2004-2005: (3)
R.Alston: 14.2/3.5/6.4/.414/3.0
R.Araujo: 3.3/3.1/.3/.434/.34

So what do we notice? Well first off, only twice have we put two guys on the floor who statistically exceeded HALF of the comparison stats. This was in our first two seasons. In fact it is the only two seasons, outside of the season past, where the team had a true PG and C. Did the team make the playoffs? Absolutely not, but the team was improving in win totals and as a result in the standings. Of the three years this team made the playoffs it exceeded the comparion averages in 4 of 10 categories in two of those years. I write off the 1998-1999 season for these purposes (not solely because the Raptors had their best team ever) because in numerous games the team started a line-up with no PG. As mentioned 2002-2003 was an injury plagued year. In 2003-2005 the team's PG and C actually came up short on more of the comparison statistics. The team did not make the playoffs. Coincidence? Evidence suggests not.

What becomes clear is that this franchise has NEVER had a combination of players at the PG or C position that have ever met more than half of the comparison stats in any given year. I would suggest this is greatest reason for the team’s inability to get over the hump and make a strong push in the playoffs, regardless of who has played the other positions. Somehow this franchise needs to find a way to find players who can contribute at a minimum, to the level of the comparison stats. If the team continues to fail in this regard, the theory would suggest this franchise will never make it to a Conference Final, let alone the NBA Championship.

THE PRESENT:

Apparently Rob Babcock is a believer, to some degree, that the PG and C positions are key to a franchise’s success. How he addressed these key positions however, may be questionable. In signing Rafer Alston and drafting Rafael Araujo, to what degree can Babcock say that these needs are being addressed?

PG: Is Rafer really the PG that can make this team a contender? According to the comparison statistics, perhaps surprisingly, yes! Rafer, with the exception of the fg%, has essentially the same numbers as the comparison stats. Sure, he took some ill-advised shots (reflected in the below average fg%) but if this can be fixed maybe the team has something here. Whether Babcock believes this is the case will be revealed when the NBA Draft rolls around with PG’s like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, Jarret Jack and others are available. However, if rumours to date are accurate Babcock wants Gerald Green at the seven spot, suggesting that he is happy with Alston and his production. Babcock may want to try and solidify the position (2nd round pick, perhaps Gilchrist or Hodge) as Palacio is likely gone. It would not be surprising to see Omar Cook play the role of 3rd PG.

C: There is much doom and gloom around this position again. Hoffa did not develop this year as some had hoped and when he was drafted he was supposed to be “NBA ready”. Obviously his stats do not measure up to the comparison statistics. Babcock seems to believe he can still contribute, but according to this theory “contribute” simply is not enough. Can Hoffa really develop into a player that can give at least 13.1 ppg / 8.9 rpg / 1.72 apg / .500 fg% / 1.77 blks? Blocks we know, will never be high. The rest is possible but to date seems like a stretch. Unfortunately Aaron Williams will exercise his player-option and remain glued to the end of the bench and will never give these types of numbers. There may however, be a silver lining in Pape Sow. It would be shocking if the Raptors do not re-sign this guy. When scouts call him a young Ben Wallace, that is reason enough to give him a chance to develop. Had Pape even been a late first round pick, he easily would have started over Hoffa, but money talks. Based on Pape's athleticism alone he could develop into a player that could give above and beyond the comparison stats, except maybe in fg%. This position has always been the Achilles heel of this franchise and should be Babcock’s number one priority. A start would be re-signing Pape Sow.

So where does that leave the franchise today? Based on history, the Raptors are no better off now at these two key positions than they were in their inaugural season. Telling perhaps? Perhaps Rafer has been written off by some too early and, yes, it is hard to evaluate Hoffa at this point but more is still required of these positions. I hate to mention his name in the first column but maybe, just maybe, this is what Vince meant when he said he didn’t like the direction of the team. And unfortunately, if there was ever an opportunity to fill one of these positions (now lost, unless the picks are used for those purposes) it was dealing VC.

Thoughts? Posts welcome and if you are looking for a response e-mail us at raptorshq@hotmail.com.

Till next time, Go Raps.

Dave Randell