We are now a couple of years removed from the Raptors initial "break-out" season when we won 47 games. Sam Mitchell won coach of the year, Bryan Colangelo won Executive of the Year. We had a 20 win turnaround. A couple of years ago, if you had told me we would win 41 games, I would have been stoked but now I think it's only fair to say that I have higher expectations of this team. No longer is "making the playoffs" a hope, but rather an expectation. I want to see this team win a series or two. I want the team to be built to win championships.
After watching a handful of high-caliber playoff games between teams that were built to win championships, it's clear to me that our team is severely lacking in several areas. This isn't just about adding an athletic wing, or bringing in a good defensive rebounding big man.
Our team can shoot but we can't defend, and maybe it worked for the Phoenix Suns, but I think it's more of a case that they are the anomaly. Many teams have tried to build their teams like the Suns, and all have failed. In fact, the Suns themselves abandoned their approach because it was clearly not working.
Starting from the shortest and working our way up, here's a realistic look at the Toronto Raptors and just how we match up with other playoff teams and championship teams:
It is looking more and more like the Raptors are planning to commit to Jose Calderon as their future starting point guard. At times Jose has looked like one of the most efficient point guards in the league. He rarely turns over the ball, and makes great passes to open teammates. He has great court vision, and is becoming and expert in pick-and-roll situations. He can hit open shots, although he still need to work on hitting those do-or-die big shots.
The question is, where does Jose stand amongst some of his perennially successful peers? Where does he stand amongst his fellow point guards, those who are playoff contenders? Would Jose Calderon start ahead of: Chauncey Billups, Derek Fisher, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo? Probably not. Fisher is far more composed and takes big shots when his team needs them. Rondo is a far better defender than Calderon, and is quicker and longer. He's also almost as good at taking care of the ball as Jose.
What about those eliminated earlier: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, Andre Miller, Jameer Nelson, Rafer Alston, Allen Iverson, Damon Jones. Okay, you can make a case for Calderon over a few of these guys -- Jones, Kidd (at his spry 523 years of age), Nelson (although he outplayed Calderon in this years' playoffs). But the point is, as a defensive liability, Jose is not amongst the top guys, and would be lucky to crack even the top 10.
Couple years ago I thought Anthony Parker was a great addition to the team. I still do, but do I think he's the answer? Having watched Mo Pete all these years, he was a big upgrade due to his consistent shooting, and solid defense. He's easily our best one-on-one defender. Fast forward to present day, yes, he's still a solid player, but if you compare him to other shooting guards, how good is he? He's reached his peak and is on his way down. He's a bit of a glue guy, like a poor man's Shane Battier but older (turning 33 in a week), smaller, weaker, and slower. How does he compare to the guards in contending teams?
Would he start ahead of Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Manu Ginobili? What about Tracy McGrady, Ronnie Brewer, Keith Bogans, Joe Johnson, Raja Bell, Jason Terry, DeShawn Stevenson, Willie Green, Delonte West, J.R. Smith, Morris Peterson? I would put him somewhere in the middle of the latter group, which puts him in similar territory as Calderon. If you include non-playoff SGs, he falls out of the top 10.
So far our starting backcourt ranks around 10th in the league.
Our starting small forward is long, athletic and but raw. He can defend at times, but is better as a help than the first guy one-on-one defender. Great leaping ability gives him the ability to block shots, but most of the time he fails in this because he doesn't have the smarts to be in the right position at the right time. Settles for jump shots despite athleticism that enables him to drive and hit higher percentage shots. We often find him missing his man, and has been criticizing for not taking the game seriously enough. Sounds familiar, huh?
Jamario Moon is a rookie, but he's also 27 years old so that eliminates the upside. He's our starting small forward and I'd venture to say that he likely doesn't start on 95% of the teams in the league.
Comparing him to the top small forwards in the league, you see right away where Toronto needs the most help in. Tayshaun Prince, Paul Pierce, Lamar Odom, Bruce Bowen. No comparison. What about Rashard Lewis, Josh Childress, Caron Butler, Andre Iguodala, Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Josh Howard, Peja Stojakovic, Kyle Korver, Boris Diaw, Shane Battier. Where does Moon rank? #16 and only because we made the playoffs. I can think of a few other guys better than him who didn't make the playoffs -- Gerald Wallace, Rudy Gay, Ron Artest, Vince Carter, Luol Deng just to name a few. The reality is that he is one of the worst starting SFs in the entire league.
Chris Bosh is our only feature player. Some teams have 2-3 star players. We have 1. The power forward position is likely the only position where I can honestly say we have one of the top guys available. While every other position is questionable, at PF I am happy.
Amongst the best teams - Vladimir Radmanovic (Pau Gasol if Bynum were healthy), Rasheed Wallace, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett. Some argument can be made that Bosh deserves to be mentioned amongst these guys. David West, Dirk Nowitzki, Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans, Joe Smith, Amare Stoudamire, Carlos Boozer, Luis Scola, Josh Smith, Antawn Jamison, Hedo Turkoglu. Bosh is definitely amongst these guys. Some of them are better rebounders but they can't score like Bosh can. He has an uncanny ability to take it to the rack and draw the foul, something I believe he needs to do a whole lot more rather than settle for jump shots. There aren't many big men with his free throw shooting ability.
At PF we're right around 7th or 8th overall.
Despite approximately $20M invested in big men to play the center position, we do not have a single guy who is the #1 clear-cut starter and this very unfortunate. Bargnani has gotten considerable time here because he needs the time to learn to play the position. Rasho performed great for us down the stretch in the regular season, but as he's done throughout his career, he completely disappeared in the playoffs.
However, all is not lost. If history has proven anything, you don't need a big time center to win championships unless his name is Shaquille O'Neal (and he's not 150 years old).
Looking at the top teams' big man position, Antonio McDyess, Kendrick Perkins, Pau Gasol (or Andrew Bynum), Fabricio Oberto all shed some light on just how badly a great C is needed. Al Horford, Dwight Howard, Samuel Dalembert, Brendan Haywood, Shaquille O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Tyson Chandler, Dikembe Mutombo (Yao Ming), Erick Dampier, Marcus Camby, Mehmet Okur. All these guys are hands down better than any of ours. But if there's something we can take from this listing is that none of these guys are required to be the highest scoring player on their respective teams, and that the worst rebounder was Erick Dampier at 4.2 rebounds per game.
Our highest rebounding C in the playoffs was Rasho Nesterovic at 2.6.
Amongst the centers in the league, the Raptors are amongst the worst, and dead last amongst their playoff counterparts.
You can forget about bench. Starters play approximately 80% of the minutes, so even with a great bench, you're only winning 20% of the time. Certainly a bench helps, but this should not be a concern until after you've establish your championship calibre starting squad.
The Raptors have a long, long way to go.