With eight days to go until the start of the Toronto Raptors 2010-11 season, I’m profiling each of the guys I expect to make up the Raptors’ primary 10-man rotation on opening night. Today, we look at Brazilian speedster Leandro Barbosa.
Leandro Barbosa, PG/SG, 6’3″, 202 lbs.
2009-10 stats: 44 games, 17.9 MPG, 9.5 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.3 BPG, 0.5 SPG, .425 FG%, .324 3P%, .877 FT%, 14.0 PER
When it became clear that the Raptors were going to have to trade Hedo Turkoglu before this season by any means possible, I had very low expectations about the quality of player(s) that Bryan Colangelo would be able to get in return. It would be an understatement to say that I was pleasantly surprised that Colangelo was able to somehow swap Turkoglu for one of the most dynamic and explosive scorers in the league (when healthy), Leandro Barbosa.
When most NBA fans think of the keys to the Suns’ success during their Seven Seconds or Less prime, they think of Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. But if you’re a diehard Suns fan, “The Brazilian Blur” was almost as iconic and important as those three. In 2006-07, he won the NBA Sixth Man Award after averaging 18.1 points in 32.7 minutes per game on 47.6 percent shooting from the field and 43.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Barbosa had 10 30-point games over his four best seasons from 2005-06 to 2008-09 — and he only started four of those games. If Vinnie Johnson was “The Microwave” in the ’80s, then Barbosa was “The Nuclear Reactor” in the aughts.
Last season was a rough one for Barbosa as he missed 38 games with wrist and ankle injuries and his 17.9 minutes per game was his lowest since the 2004-05 season. His performance suffered when he played hurt and he fell back in the Suns rotation when Goran Dragic emerged as the point guard of their future. The Suns apparently felt that Dragic made Barbosa expendable — and I won’t even begin to try to figure out how they think Turkoglu is going to fit on their team — so they gave him the opportunity to get a fresh start in Toronto.
If Barbosa can stay healthy, I expect him to play 25-30 minutes per game for the Raptors this season and it wouldn’t shock me if he returned to his pre-injury form. He’s still only 28 years old, he’s as quick as ever, and the Raptors’ preseason games indicate that they might play at the kind of fast pace that suits his attacking style. His outside shooting will certainly be a welcome addition — if you eliminate his injury-riddled 2009-10 season, his 40.4 percent career success rate from three-point range would tie him with Ben Gordon for 19th-best in NBA history (minimum 250 made three-pointers).
Whatever happens on the court this season, Barbosa should fit right in on this fun-loving team. He’s a joy to watch and play with — and props to Steve Nash for exposing his mischievous sense of humor.