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The SF Dilemma - Fixable for Cheap?

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As we enter into the off-season everyone seems to agree on one thing. The Raps need more rebounding and they need to deal with the SF position. Once a position held down by the likes of Tracy Murray, Tracy McGrady and of course Vince Carter, the SF position has almost always been one of strength.

Until now.

Now there may be no bigger question heading into the off-season than what to do with the SF position. As of today, when you look at the Toronto Raptors roster the question really boils down to one thing, Joey Graham. The question that must be answered is simple, is he the guy or is he not the guy? If the latter, who could be?

The Case Against Joey Graham

This is where the majority of Raptor fans sit.

No more Joey. Bad Joey, Good Joey...who cares. Enough is enough.

Sure Graham has shown some things at times but he is infuriating to watch and is not progressing at a suitable pace. The most concerning issue is that more often then not he shows below average basketball IQ. How a guy can go for 19 points one night and then 0 the next is incomprehensible. In some ways Joey’s play is like a game of roulette. If you hit your number you win big (a double-double)...but most of the time you lose (the early yank).

It’s not so much that he hasn’t developed as a player because he has. The problem is that with such athleticism he should be able to have his way on the court, slash to the hoop and be that lock-down defender that this team needs. Shouldn’t he be the player he was supposed to be when we drafted him? Maybe it’s because he is the only real asset that came out of the Vince Carter trade that we, the fans, are so hard on him...but much of the criticism is deserved.

Joey had an opportunity to prove himself when Garbo went down. Sure he played better, but not well enough. It is time to find someone better. Someone who can do the things that this team needs the SF to do.

So who is out there?

With little cap space available (as of now only just over 3 million without re-signing Slokar, Mo Pete, Martin or Sow), if the answer is not Joey Graham then who? Who might be available to help resolve the SF issue? Well the only way to answer that question is by deciding what type of player is needed. The answer is this team needs a bit of a do-it-all. Without Mo Pete returning this team needs someone who can shoot the rock. As seen in the playoffs, when CB4 doesn’t have space, the offense becomes stagnant and ineffective. Second, the player needs to be able to play solid defense. The SF position arguably brings more star power than any other position in the league and the most offensive fire power. Therefore the Raptors need someone who can effectively guard this spot. Third, this player needs to be able to be able to create his own shot. There was too much standing around at times last year and guys were hesitant. We need someone who can be a fearless slasher and get foul calls. And finally, this player should be at least somewhat proficient in the rebounding department.

The problem of course is that if a SF like this was available they would cost way more than $3M per.

So the solution?

You’ve got to get these things, or at least some of them, FOR CHEAP.

It’s going to be difficult for Colangelo to do much on the FA market. Guys like Desmond Mason (who I believe would be a great fit), Mickael Pietrus, Matt Barnes and Gerald Wallace are just going to be too expensive. So addressing the SF dilemma is not going to be as easy as throwing money around. Besides there is no way MLSE ventures into luxury tax land regardless of how many games they decide to put on RapsTV next year.

The task at hand is then one of finding a player who has not proven themselves as of yet, but could bring these things to the table if given the chance. Oh and a little luck wouldn’t hurt either. Are there SF’s out there who given a change of scenery and a chance could have a Kevin Martin-like year? Or better yet a Boris Diaw like year like when Colangelo brought him over from Atlanta? With some research and some luck are there players just looking for a better situation who when given the opportunity, could shine? Are there guys who could play like $8M per year players while getting $2M per year pay cheques?

The HQ has scoured NBA rosters league wide and have come up with a few players who may be available and may be able to help the Raps answer the SF dilemma....and do it for cheap.

1. Martell Webster: When the Trailblazers took Martell Webster with the 6th pick in the 2005 draft people were surprised. Straight out of high-school no-one questioned his shooting and no-one questions his frame. At 6'7 Webster has a prototypical NBA SF body. There were however, questions about his upside. Since the 2005 draft? There are still questions about whether Webster will amount to anything more than a shooter. Webster just this past few weeks participated at the WMG Prospect workouts with players like JJ Redick, Josh McRoberts, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and others. The reviews of Martell’s performance were not all positive and questions remain about his game, in particular his ability to create his own shot.

When you look at Webster’s season as a whole nothing really jumps off the page, but this is of course the exercise. If Martell was tearing it up he wouldn’t be an option. For the season he played 21 minutes per game and averaged 7 ppg, 2.9 rebounds and shot just under 40%. What is interesting though is his performance the last three games of the regular season where he started to get some serious burn from Coach McMillan. Against Golden State, Utah and Seattle Webster played an average of 37 minutes. The result? 15 ppg, 5.3 boards, 1.7 three’s and 50% shooting from the floor.

Martell is intriguing and although he still lacks the desired creativity off of the bounce, he has shown some good things in other areas, in particular rebounding. Webster grabbed 8 rebounds in a game 4 times this season and late in the season began to receive some praise for his willingness to contribute on the glass and be active defensively.

2. Ryan Gomes: A second round steal, Gomes is a player. From a statistical standpoint Gomes is the best player on this list. Is he a possibility? The Green Machine have Wally-World and his huge contact in that spot and already have their SF of the future in Gerald Green. On top of that Boston will be picking 5th in the draft and looking at a player like Corey Brewer. So does Gomes have a place on this team?

Gomes was considered a first rounder by some but fell into the second round in the 2005 draft. Coming out of Providence he was viewed, much like Joey Graham, as a bit of a tweener. During his university career he spent most of his time on the blocks with an average mid-range game. He received many accolades for his play at Providence but given where he was drafted, it doesn’t look like anyone expected him to play this well. At least not this early.

This season Gomes was one of the lone bright spots for the Celtics where he was an efficient scorer and an decent rebounder (12.1 ppg and 5.6 rpg). The biggest knocks against him is that he is only an average athlete and is not a threat from deep. The lack of athleticism is a concern on the defensive end where in 31 minutes a game he averages less than one steal.

Gomes has however impressed offensively despite his limited range. He has also shown a willingness to get to the line. The question here is not whether he could contribute but whether he could bring the things that the Raps are going to need. Is his game not somewhat similar to Mr. Graham?

3. Quinton Ross: If defense was the only thing the Raps were looking for, Ross would be at the top of this wish list. The un-drafted Ross plays both the SG and SF position and has proven himself a pesky defender. One of the best LA Clipper blogs (www.clipsnation.com) has called him their best on the ball defender and on many occasions Ross is asked to guard the opposing team’s best wing man.

Although he has established himself as a solid defender, Ross is far from being a offensive weapon. In his three seasons he has averaged 5 ppg, to go along with 2.5 rpg in just over 21 minutes. Much like Gomes he is also no threat from downtown where he has only attempted 21 for his career....hitting three.

His defensive abilities can’t help but make you think about a guy who currently holds down the starting SF spot for the San Antonio Spurs, Mr. Bowen. Bruce Bowen has never been considered an offensive threat and it wasn’t until his seventh season in the L that he averaged more than 7ppg. Bowen has actually never averaged more than 8.2 ppg. Ask the Spurs if that bothers them and inevitably the answer is no. Bowen did however show more of a propensity to hit the long range shot early in his career as compared to Ross.

The question he is really whether a Raps line-up with Ross could score enough points. Initially the answers seems to be yes and Bosh, Ford, AP and Bargs can all score....but Ross would have to be at least average on the offensive end or else the Raps would end up playing 5 on 4 at times.

Ross could not be depended on to create his own shot, but he could make it difficult for his man to score the rock

4. Amir Johnson: Not able to meet the academic credentials to play NCAA ball this kid put his name in the NBA draft last year and was damn lucky to get picked.

In all honesty this kid has barely played and given the depth of the Detroit team perhaps that is to be expected. What is apparent though is that playing against these guys in practice and his stint in the D-League has really helped his game. Although 6'10 and originally viewed as a PF, his body is much like that of Hakim Warrick who plays both the 3 and the 4.

A great athlete, when given an opportunity Johnson has showed that he could really be a solid player. Not only has he shown a great nose for the ball, he is also a great shot blocker. In only 15 minutes a game this season Amir averaged 5.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg and an astonishing 1.63 blocks. It is of course more than likely that Johnson will need another year before he is ready to be a steady contributor but giving such a great athlete a chance who has already started to show the ability to do almost all the things the Raps need out of the position (save for long range shooting), Amir could be that diamond in the rough.

The inability to find a way to meet the academic criteria to get into Louisville is concerning, but Chad Ford in recent chats has given the kid some props. It may be tough to get him out of Detroit but as a RFA the right deal could do it. Having paid Amir just over $600,000 and now faced with paying big dollars to lock-up Billups in the off-season, would $2M per get it done? Is $3M too much?

The Case For Joey Graham

Let’s look at things totally objectively. Let’s let the numbers do the talking. Here is an exceptionally athletic, young, yet mature player who in his second season only logged 16.7 minutes a game. That amounts to just over one quarter of play.

In those 17 minutes? 6.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg and he shoots a very high percentage from the floor and from the line. He also has shown some ability from behind the arc.

Looking at those stats and his pure athletic ability, if you were a GM on another team wouldn’t you think maybe Graham is a bit of a sleeper? Hell Colangelo may be selling him like that as you read this. On the flip side don’t those stats say give him one more year to prove he can take the next step? The thing with Graham is that he has the ability. He just has a difficult time staying on the court to display that ability. There are a number of reasons for this, including poor rotations on defense, and his propensity to foul on both ends of the court.

But write him off? Isn’t that a little hasty? Graham was asked to come into the NBA and play a position he had never played in college and he has improved. Sometimes it looks like the light has come one. Sometimes he makes an incredible play, and those few times he gets on a roll, if you are at all like me, you start to wonder, "What if?"

It’s the "What if?" question that makes deciding what to do with Graham so difficult. Maybe the more important questions to ask though are "Can he do it?" and " If so, when?"

Graham is scheduled to make $1.6M this coming season. As of today that makes him the lowest paid Toronto Raptor on the roster. There is also an option on his contract. At such a low salary and given the cap restrictions facing the Raps this year is there a better option? Is there someone out there who at a similar price has similar upside and could provide the possibility of more than what Graham can offer?

Graham played much better defense this year than last. He did not leave his feet nearly as much as his did as a rook and at times his defense was pretty commendable. Graham has also shown a willingness to get to the hoop. Sure he has been called for more offensive fouls than Milt Palacio but he has at least shown a willingness to get there and sometimes the finish is pretty. More often than not it is still uncontrolled aggression....but aggression none the less. He has range and if he could get the respect of the refs could be a great asset in terms of getting to the line and making free-throws.

Third year is really the make or break year. He should be given that chance. At only $1.6M and still with "upside", what’s the risk?

Conclusion:

It is not possible to gauge what interest Boston, LA, Portland or Detroit would have in dealing or re-signing the above players listed. Each would provide something different but yet they all have a few things in common....they are cheap targets with good potential. The one concerning characteristic they all share is their inability to create off the bounce, and slash to the hoop. This is one thing Graham has shown an ability to do.

As mentioned above there is a strong case for Graham having a breakout season on the numbers alone. On the flip side Joey is inconsistent and sometimes even seems to regress. Will a summer of development help? Will he commit to working on his dribbling and watch tape? If the team gives Graham another year to put it together will it be rewarded with consistent play or is now the time to start looking for another diamond in the rough with limited cash?

This is indeed the small forward dilemma.

HOWLAND