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Wanted: One Perimeter Defensive Stopper

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Dude, you’ve got to stop talking to yourself. What are you so worked up about anyway?

Dead Last.

Not 27th, 28th or 29th.

#30.

Even if the NBA was run by Baskin-Robbins, this would not be acceptable.

Dead last in what?

Opponent’s Effective Field Goal % on jump shots.

Simmer down, Professor Brainiac. This is RaptorsHQ.com, not MathGeeksHQ.com.

Fair play, fair play. Not to get too Bill James on you but this stat is really emblematic of the Raptors’ troubles over the past few seasons. Not being able to stop anyone on defense, especially on the perimeter.

You see, while the message boards and blogs will light up with talk of point guards and centers this summer, the roster hole that won't get any love is the perimeter defensive stopper. Until now.

What the heck is a perimeter defensive stopper?

Fair question. We’re talking about a shut-down defender on the perimeter, someone capable of holding Kobe to, say, 45 points on any given January evening. Someone who is going to make life miserable for the elite 2s and 3s around the Association.

Not the Ron Artests, Larry Hughes and Tayshaun Princes of the world, as they are forces on both ends of the court. All-star status like Chuck Taylor.

Seriously, dude. You’re killing the metaphor like adult alternative radio stations are killing Gnarls Barkley (link). Stop it.

Good point. Alright, let’s see….well, if you looked up “elite perimeter defensive stopper” in Webster’s Basketball Dictionary, you’d probably see a picture of San Antonio’s Bruce Bowen. Apart from being able to hit open 3-pointers, Bowen has no discernable NBA skill. That is, if you ignore his uncanny ability to shut down the opposition’s top scorer. Six straight all-defensive team selections is proof positive that Bowen gets the job done.

OK. How do the Raptors get one of these Bruce Bowens?

As with any other player, the Raptors could acquire their much-needed defensive stopper through one of four avenues: from within, via trade, free agency or through the draft. Let’s run down some of the possibilities that each avenue offers.

Hold on. Doesn’t Toronto already have a defensive stopper? I think Mo Pete fills that role quite well.

Don’t get me wrong, Peterson is a solid defender, possibly the best on the team. However, he is an integral part of the team’s offense and a team like the Raptors can’t afford to have a player like that get completely worn out on the defensive end. Anyone who has watched the Raptors over the past few seasons has seen what happens when Peterson gets a workout on the defensive end. His offense has a tendency to struggle.

Instead, what the Raptors should be targeting is a rotation player who can contribute offensively, but whose strength to the team lies in his perimeter defense.

What about Joey Graham?

Not a bad thought. When the Raptors drafted Joey Graham last year, many envisioned him playing this role. However, in his first season in the NBA, Graham’s defense was often exposed. He got beat off the dribble on the regular, wasn’t quick enough to run with the Rip Hamiltons of the league and seemed lost at times.

There is still time for Graham to grow into this role. In order for that to happen, he obviously needs to improve his perimeter defense skills. Remember that he played primarily on the interior at Oklahoma State and is still learning to play on the perimeter in the pros. An intriguing possibility.

Well, if Graham isn’t the answer, then let’s just trade Hoffa, Eric Williams and a 2nd-round pick in 2008 to San Antonio for Bowen.

That must be the inner Leaf fan talking.

Let’s be realistic. The Spurs aren’t going to give away Bowen, the Pistons won’t be dealing away Prince any time soon. Ditto Artest from Sacramento. That is, unless, he goes loco at the State Capitol Building and Governor Schwarzenegger forces the Maloof brothers to deal him out of the state.

However, there are a few players out there who might be available to the Raptors.

Like who?

Let’s start with Quinton Ross of the Los Angeles Clippers .

Ah yes, always a classic stumper in the “Where did he go to college?” game.

Indeed. A Southern Methodist product, Ross started 45 games for the Clippers this season despite only scoring 4.7 points per game. The main reason? His defense. At 6-6, he is long enough to disrupt opposition scorers and understands that he is in the league for his defensive abilities, not his offense. Just watch him play and note the enthusiasm with which he plays defense. It’s infectious.

Ross just turned 25 and is signed through next season, with a team option for 2007-08. He makes just over $700,000 and, with the Clips looking at free agency with Sam Cassell and Vladimir Radmanovic, might be an intriguing carrot to dangle if some team was willing to take a long-term contract off of their hands. Someone like, say, Corey Maggette….

Anybody else?

Yeah. Trenton Hassell.

OK smart guy, where did Trenton Hassell go to college?

Too easy. Austin Peay.

Hassell has three years (plus a player option on a fourth year) remaining on the six year, $26.1 million deal that he signed in 2004. For a team like Minnesota, that might not be a contract they want to be on the hook for. Keep in mind that this contract resulted from the T-Wolves matching Portland’s offer sheet two summers ago.

If the Wolves would even consider dealing Kevin Garnett, then you have to think that a player like Hassell would be available. This is a franchise that is seemingly on the verge of blowing up and starting from scratch and probably needs to make room for Rashad McCants in the next few years.

Well, we’ve got tons of cap room this summer. Colangelo should just sign somebody.

There’s a thought. But don’t focus on the top free agents lists you see on various sites. The players the Raps should target will fly under the radar of most NBA experts, but could be pickups of value.

Like who?

Let’s start with Adrian Griffin.

At 32, Griffin is a little older than the other players we’re targeting. Much like Ross, he started 45 games for the Mavericks this season, despite only averaging 4.6 points per game. He’s not asked to score and, on a team with noted shooters Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse, that’s probably a good thing. Having played in the CBA, USBL and in Europe, Griffin is no stranger to hard work and adversity. A blue-collar player who would be well-received in Toronto.

Yeah, but these guys would all probably get called for offensive fouls in an empty gym. Any free agents who can score and defend like a maniac on the perimeter?

Sure. Try Trevor Ariza, currently with Orlando.

Ariza is a very intriguing option for the Raptors this off-season. Unlike Griffin, he is young (21 this summer), yet a restricted free agent, meaning that the Magic have the right to match any offer.

Ariza played only one season at UCLA before declaring for the 2004 draft, where the Knicks drafted him 43rd overall. He was then dealt to Orlando in the Steve Francis deal in February of 2006.

While he isn’t as polished defensively as the others, he has a world of potential and could be an excellent fit in Bryan Colangelo’s Toronto Raptors.

We’ve got the fifth overall pick. If it’s such a need, why not just draft someone there?

Probably because the Raptors don’t have to.

One thing to note about the players that have been mentioned in this article is where (sometimes if) they were drafted.

Let’s take a closer look:

Bowen: Undrafted
Ross: Undrafted
Hassell: 30th, 2001
Griffin: Undrafted
Ariza: 43rd, 2004

Since many of these players lack offensive punch, their draft stock drops consequently. As such, there are many defensive gems waiting to be unearthed in the second round. Hassan Adams and Bobby Jones are two such players that the Raptors may consider taking a flier on in the second round.

Hassan Adams, Arizona

Long and athletic, Adams would be a first-round lock if he was 6-7. Instead of the requisite Andre Iguodala comparisons that would be sure to follow, Adams is relegated to the second round. At 6-4, Adams is a little small to guard 3s in the league. However, he is ultra-athletic and has all the tools needed to be a lock-down perimeter defender. He is quick enough to stay in front of his man and is long enough to disrupt shots.

What concerns some are his on-court focus and his off-court issues, as he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in March.

Bobby Jones, Washington

As I wrote in February:

“Defense, defense, defense. That’s what Jones is all about…. He’ll never be a 20-point scorer in the Association, but could end up as a Bruce Bowen-type stopper”

“Jumper needs work if he wants to be a 2 in the Association. So does his ball handling.”

Translation: Lack of offense keeps him in the second round, where some team drafts the perimeter defensive stopper of the future. I’m hoping that team is the Raptors.

Of course. Quote yourself in an article. Who are you, Peter Vecsey?

Nah, man. Just being efficient with my writing. John Hollinger would be proud.

He sure would. Now, he probably wouldn’t be proud of the fact that you PVR’d two hours of Laguna Beach instead of Suns-Clippers Game 3 on Friday night.

This conversation is over.

CHAPMAN