Toronto Raptors Midseason Review: Part One

January 18, 2009

by Brett Fulmore…

Chris Bosh

For all intents and purposes, Chris Bosh has done his part this season. He started out the campaign in dominant fashion, even finding himself perched near the top of the MVP totem pole after the first few weeks of the year.

But shortly after announcing that he was, in fact, gunning for the award, CB4 came back down to earth and the Dinos began their slide towards the cellar.

Besides that one slip-up, however, Bosh has been the Raptors’ best player so far this season, not too mention the team’s most consistent performer, and it’s not even close in either category. He still has his shortcomings—mainly a reliance on his jumper at times and struggles on the defensive end—but there’s no questioning Bosh’s place among the elite power forwards of the league. Now he just needs some more help.

Grade: A

Jamario Moon

If Jamario Moon is your starting small forward, you are not a good team.

I haven’t figured out if starting Moon is what officially takes you to bad team status, or it’s the other way around and only the most terrible of squads would even consider it.

It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg argument, but believe me when I say, If Jamario Moon is your starting small forward, you are not a good team.

Moon has actually played better since a putrid start by getting back to some of the things that let him stick around last year in the first place (rebounding, hustle plays, blocking shots), but watching him hoist three-pointers with 16 seconds left on the shot clock is starting to give me an ulcer.

Hey Jamario, there’s a reason that there’s no one within 10 feet of you when you are jacking up those shots—they know you won’t make it. Seriously, next time you are watching a Raps game, check out what Moon’s man will do who when he rises up for a three.

He runs directly to the front of the rim with an “I can’t believe he shot another one” look on his face.

I believe there’s a place in the league for guys like Moon, but not in the starting lineup of a team who has serious playoff aspirations.

Grade: C

Jake Voshkul

A late addition the Raps, Voshkul is already closing in on Primoz Brezec’s record for “Most over-excited towel waves by a heavy-footed white center who never leaves the bench” award. He’s only been on the team for two weeks!

In all seriousness, Voshkul is one of the only Raptors who seems to give a crap on a night to night basis, which is equally depressing and exciting, since it’s a tell-tale sign that we’ll end up with more ping pong balls than your Aunt Mertle’s bingo game.

Grade: B

Jose Calderon

One point that we heard a lot of in this past summer’s “Ford versus Calderon” debate was that Jose would end up being a much more durable player because of T.J’s constant battle with injuries.

As we approach the midway point of the season, Calderon has missed nearly a quarter of the Raptor’s games with a sore hamstring, and has actually played in less contests than Ford has in Indiana.

I understand we’re looking at a small sample size, but it’s worth mentioning.

Is Calderon built to log 40 minutes per game?

His defensive deficiencies were definitely exposed as his playing time grew, as I can’t count how many times I’ve seen Calderon’s man end up at the rim for an uncontested layup while Jose wanders around the upper concourse of the arena.

His gifts on the offensive end have been well-documented, with his 8.5 assists per game ranking him fourth in the association, but there are way too many nights when Calderon’s contribution on one end is completely washed out by his performance on the opposite side of the court.

Grade: C+

Jermaine O’Neal

For me, Jermaine O’Neal has been the biggest disappointment at the midway point of the year.

His averages of 14 and seven are about what I expected out of JO, and despite being lower than his career averages by a significant margin, are still better than most centers in the Eastern Conference.

There’s just something about O’Neal that has left me unimpressed. His shot selection, his 12 games lost to injury, and the reports from Toronto that he’s been a cactus off the court have soured me on JO, and I’m not sure if I’m ever going to get back on the bandwagon.

There’s been rumblings in the T-Dot that O’Neal may be on the move, which would be fine with me. Part of the allure of the Ford for O’Neal trade was that JO’s expiring contract in 2010 would allow the team some options if he didn’t mesh well with the team on the court. In my opinion, that time has come.

Grade: C-

Jason Kapono

Considering what the Raptors will pay Kapono for the 2008-09 season (roughly $6 million), it’s hard to make a case for him being anything but a disappointment considering the type of stats he puts up (8 ppg, 2 rpg, 1.7 apg).

That being said, I can’t help shake the feeling that Kapono is being misused in Toronto. When you have one of the best shooters on the planet, maybe you should run a few plays for him to, I dunno, shoot the ball?

I know Raptors fans enjoy watching the likes of Will Solomon and Jamario Moon fire up 23-footers with reckless abandon, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a few of those shot attempts go to Kapono considering he’s a two-time defending three-point champion and has the highest active three-point percentage in the NBA.

Just a thought.

I’m not completely excusing Kapono—his defense makes Jose Calderon look like Gary Payton after all—but watching Moon fail to make the extra pass to Kapono in the corner and instead jacking up the shot himself makes me want to throw my TV out the window. I’m actually becoming infuriated right now.

Grade: C

Anthony Parker

AP seems like a terrific guy. Someone I’d want dating my sister, chaperoning my daughter’s Sadie Hawkins dance or helping my grandmother across the street.

Do I want him starting at shooting guard for my favorite NBA team? No.

Parker does a lot of things right on the court—great team defender, takes good shots for the most part and always support his teammates—but he’s too inconsistent of an offensive player to be starting for the Raps, especially considering how this team struggles to put up points.

Parker would be most valuable on a more-talented team, where he could focus on the things I mentioned above and not be relied on to produce offense on a nightly basis.

For the Raps, a team that has started Will Solomon and Jamario Moon alongside Parker over the last 10 games, they need more from the shooting guard position.

Grade: C+

Will Solomon

Why did the Raptors sign Will Solomon again? Did Bryan Colangelo lose a bet? Does Solomon have compromising pictures of BC or something? I’m honestly stumped.

For what Solomon is contributing to this Raptors team (5.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 1 rpg. Read:Shit all) the Dino’s would have been better off signing a younger point guard (Solomon is 30) or just giving all of the backup time to Ukic

Solomon is a decent scorer from the one position, and that’s it. There’s also a handful of games where he’s looked like he forgot to put his contact lenses in before trotting out on the court.

Lots of turnovers, lots of bad shots, and an overall cluelessness in regards to the game. If you’re going to sign a 30-year old PG with a minimal ceiling, he better at least be able to play smart.

So far, I haven’t seen that from Solomon.

Grade: D.

Roko Ukic

In a season that has provided little solace for Raptors fans, followers of the franchise may be able to find some happiness in the development of Ukic.

At the start of the season, Roko looked like he’d have a hard time cracking a developmental league roster, but has made significant strides and appears to be getting more comfortable with each game.

After failing to reach double figures in points in his first 12 games, he’s done it six times in his last 18 contests, including a career-high 17 against the Celtics last week.

No one will confuse him for John Stockton any time soon, and the return of Calderon from injury will probably cut into his playing time substantially, but sometimes when you’re a depressed fan of a pathetic NBA franchise you have to take the small victories.

Grade: B-

Andrea Bargnani

If I wrote this article two weeks ago, the things I would have wrote about Andrea Bargnani might have landed me in jail, and at the very least, removed from this site.

No one has chapped my ass more than Bargnani over the last two years, and I mean nobody.

Then the last two weeks happened.

After yelling at the TV, throwing my hands in the air repeatedly and having hissy fits which any man should be ashamed of over the play of Andrea, he seemed to clue in.

Thrown into the starting lineup since the Jermaine O’Neal injury, Bargnani hasn’t just been good.

He’s been great.

He’s topped the 20-point plateau in seven of his 10 starts and got loose against Chicago for a career-high 31. He’s even rebounding at a much steadier rate, which has been one of the biggest knocks on him since he entered the league.

In short, he’s playing like what everyone envisioned when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2006.

Of course, this just confuses me even more. There’s a big part of me that thinks this recent surge is simply a hot streak and the Raps should trade him now while his stock is high.

There’s also something telling me to keep the faith, that Bargnani is finally getting it and the best is yet to come.

My dilemma completely aside, Bargnani has been the Raptors second best player so far this year, and even the reason…uhh…I’m having trouble here…he’s even been the reason they’ve won a couple games.

What did I just write?

Grade: B+

Joey Graham

Much like Joey Graham’s first two years in the NBA, his third campaign has been an up and down affair.

He began the season near the end of the bench, finding spot duty in the first handful of games before sparking a Raptors win against Charlotte with a 17-point, five-rebound effort.

Over the next eight games, he’d only fail to hit the double digit mark in one contest, which lead to the proverbial stream of “Has Joey Graham turned the corner?” stories from everyone associated with the Raps.

Umm, not so much.

Graham has transformed back into the much more mundane version of himself, which should disappoint many but surprise nobody.

With his contract up after this season, his place in the NBA is still very much up for debate. He clearly has the physical tools, but can’t seem to string together more than a few good games at a time.

Joey Graham’s career is like the movie Groundhog Day, because the same thing keeps happening over and over again.

Yet, it’s not like the movie Groundhog Day, because there ain’t a damn thing funny about it.


Grade: C+

Kris Humphries

The story on Humps is pretty straightforward.

When he gets to play, he plays hard. He’s far from the most talented player on the roster, but a lot of the Raptors could learn something from him.

That being said, he still only averages 3.9 ppg and 2.5 rpg. If this was a real report card, Humphries would be the kid in class who stutters through a single paragraph for 10 minutes when it comes to read out loud.

Yeah, he’s trying hard…but at the end of the day, he can’t read.

Grade: C

Sam Mitchell Leads the Toronto Raptors Into Darkness

December 3, 2008

by Brett Fulmore… Sam Mitchell walked down the dark corridor on his way to the visitors’ locker room.

The light from a nearby camera cast his 6′11″ shadow on the red jersey-wearing Raptor contingent walking behind him. His eyes were low. His paces were methodical.

He had just witnessed his team play themselves out of yet another contest. With a chance to hold for the final shot of the first half, the Raptors opted to try a series of unnecessary passes along the perimeter.

Guess what the end result was?

If you guessed a turnover, you’re right. It was a traveling violation that gave Denver the ball back with three seconds remaining. That was more than enough time for Chauncey Billups to stroll down the hardwood and nail a buzzer-beating three pointer—stretching the Nuggets lead 64-45 at the break.

Things would only get worse in the second half.

The Nuggets continued scoring, and the Raptors continued to put up little in the way of resistance. Mitchell watched from the sidelines, looking every bit as shell-shocked as you’d expect from a man who realizes that his days as the head coach of this team seem to be numbered. The final score read 132-93—the type of game that could make a case for the “mercy rule” to be implemented in the NBA rulebook.

I’m not going to pin all of the Raptors’ struggles on their coach. Injuries to Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon have prevented this team from firing at full capacity for most of this season. The supporting cast has given new meaning to the word “inconsistency,” and the trade rumors that swirled around this team during the beginning of the season certainly didn’t help either.

But it’s time to fire Sam Mitchell.

Dating all the way back to last season, his effect on this group has been slowly eroding away. Last night’s debacle in Denver however, was the final wave that washed away the remaining land that Mitchell was standing on. It went much further than a lack of defensive intensity or a streak of cold shooting—those attributes have been evident all season.  It was the overall effort, or lack thereof, that was truly depressing.

I’d use the word “humiliating” to describe the contest, but that would suggest that the Raptors were actually embarrassed by their performance. From what I saw last night, it’s like they were expecting the beat down. When the Nuggets began their onslaught in the first quarter, they showed little anger, frustration, or surprise. It was a game that they were expected to lose, and most members of the team appeared satisfied with doing so.

Whatever Sam Mitchell is preaching in the locker room these days is obviously not working. He was never the strongest X’s and O’s guy in the league, but for a long time he was able to light the proverbial fire under his players asses. He coached the same way he played the game; fiery and intense.

This is not the case anymore.

Two seasons removed from a Coach of the Year award, and an Atlantic Division title, Mitchell has seen his status in Toronto go from savior to scapegoat. But such is the life of an NBA coach, where even some of the sport’s greatest minds have a limited shelf life. Look at the names that are rumored to replace Mitchell: Avery Johnson, Flip Saunders, etc. Most of them have been fired themselves in the past year, and yet they’re now being heralded as the answer for the Raptors problems.

I don’t think Mitchell is a terrible coach. His substitution patterns leave me scratching my head a lot of the time, and I have serious doubts about his defensive strategies, but I think this is more a case of complacency in the T-Dot. I’m convinced that Mitchell has reached his expiration date. The Raptors have tuned him out, and that has never been more obvious than in last night’s blowout.

Maybe the Raptors just need a new voice to guide them, or maybe their problems are rooted much deeper than a coach that has worn out his welcome. But with a particularly difficult stretch of games scheduled for December and the Raptors toiling beneath the .500 mark, this is not the time to play the waiting game.

It’s time to fire Sam Mitchell.

Don’t forget to check out my blog, Ball Above the Border.