When Howland and I first started talking about the idea of doing an "X-Factor" series, we realized just how many wild cards there were going into this season. X-Factors ranged from the health of JO, to the play of Roko Ukic.
However we both acknowledged that while JO, CB4 and Jose had gotten a lot of the Toronto media's attention, other surrounding cast members like Anthony Parker and Andrea Bargnani had not. Therefore we decided our series would examine these types of players, all impactful, and each with the ability to put Toronto over the first round playoff hump if they turned into exceptional seasons.
So far we've looked at the prodigal son Andrea, and the mild-mannered shooting guard AP...now we turn to the 3 spot this week, starting with Mr. Jamario Moon.
Ever since the departure of Vince Carter, Toronto has longed for an athletic wing type; someone able to break opponents down off the dribble, create their own shot, and excite the crowd with freakish displays of athleticism.
Oh, and unlike Vince, it would be nice if that person could play a little defense.
Before the last season began, it looked like Carlos Delfino was going to be Toronto’s best option in this regard but that was before Jamario Moon took the Raptors, and the league by storm.
His story is of course quite well-known by now but let’s take a quick recap; here was an undrafted and almost unknown player eventually winning the starting 3 spot a few weeks into the season, making the NBA’s All-Rookie second team, and being named to the rookie-sophomore game at All-Star weekend. He also finished with the league’s best rebound-per minute rate at his spot, and his appearance in the NBA’s All-Star dunk contest made him an overnight celebrity.
So what can Moon do for an encore?
As amazing a discovery as Moon was, it was hard not to want more from the young skywalker. Moon seemingly could dunk over almost anyone yet rarely did we as fans see him do this. Instead, we started to have eerie Vince Carter memories as Moon began settling for outside jump shots instead of dunks and put-backs. In fact, we’re not just talking outside j’s, we’re talking 3-pointers, a shot he seemed to favour more and more as the season went on.
It’s hard to be too critical of a player in his rookie season but it’s safe to say that he needs a few more notches under his belt before he’s really ready to be an everyday NBAer. For every amazing block, there was also an ill-conceived foul, like the one on Brandon Roy Moon gave as Roy was draining a game-tying 3 pointer.
How about this season then, will we see a more aggressive Jamario on offence, and a smarter defender at the other end of the court?
I think we’ll see improvement, but I think it will be incremental, especially at the offensive end. Moon at present just isn’t a good enough ball handler, or the type of slasher that gets to the basket. He’s more of an opportunistic offensive threat, not so much someone who can create his own shot, but someone who uses his athleticism to finish plays.
It’s on defense, that I think Jamario is going to find his niche in the league. He’s a phenomenal athlete, and has the length and size to disrupt players at both the 2 and 3 spots on the court. He still needs more experience in order to learn the nuances of being a great defender in the league, but he has all the tools right now.
I think the biggest thing for him this off-season was to get stronger, and work on guarding bigger opponents. The problem last year was that bigger players would score on him inside the paint, simply by using their size. Perhaps Moon would jump high enough to block the shot, but he’d be too far under the rim to have an effect. Hopefully an off-season of weight training and individual work can help in this area.
The good thing though is that with Jermaine O’Neal now on board, Moon will have to worry a lot less about getting pushed into the paint. Now, if his man gets by him, he can concentrate on trying to get the weak side block knowing that his man will be worried about both O’Neal and CB4. The result could be a pretty scary situation for opponents, as under the rim they need to worry about the shot-blocking abilities of Bosh and JO, and they must also be wary of the roaming help-side defence of Moon.
And as we’ve touched on in our previous two X-Factor pieces, the addition of O’Neal should make Moon’s job a lot easier too. Last year Moon looked to block almost every shot that he could and now this year, hopefully he’ll be able to concentrate more on simply keeping his man in front of him. For all his quickness and athletic talents, Moon still got torched on the perimeter by his man far too often. Sometimes this was the result of overplaying, but at others it was simply an example of Jamario leaning too heavily on his shot-blocking abilities. At times it seemed that Moon would be content to play decent defense, but not lock-down type, knowing that if he got beat, he could always look to get the block from behind.
The other advantage of having a JO in the paint is on the offensive end of things. With two legit scoring options in the paint, and some real gun-slingers like Kapono, Parker and Calderon on the perimeter, now hopefully Moon won’t feel as much pressure to score. Now perhaps he can take on more of a Bruce Bowen role and focus on shutting down the opponent’s top wing.
So what can we expect from Moon starting about a month from now?
Last year he averaged 8.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and almost 1.4 blocks per game in about 28 minutes a contest.
This year, I think we’ll see those numbers dip a bit, perhaps around the area of 6.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.
I also think we’ll see Moon’s minutes fall to about where they were during the playoffs, 20 minutes a game or so. My rationale for this is that I think in the end we’ll now see Jason Kapono start at the 3, with Moon being one of the first guys off the bench. This means that he’ll play about eight minutes less per contest, as other players like Andrea Bargnani and Hassan Adams will eat into his time.
But that’s not to say that Moon won’t be a big part of next year’s picture.
If he does start to learn to take the ball to the hoop and create his own looks, then this really changes everything doesn’t it? In fact it would probably make him the biggest X Factor of them all as it would just add another dimension to Toronto’s attack, one they’ve lacked for so long.
I don’t think Moon’s ready to take that next giant step this coming season, however I’m looking forward to seeing how Sam Mitchell utilizes his range of talents.
It’s a contract year for Moon and he’ll be looking to prove that he’s worthy of a big raise and perhaps a starting job somewhere.
Let’s hope Mitchell recognizes this and avoids another Andrea Bargnani type sophomore season fiasco.