Archive for the ‘Player Evaluations’ Category

We’re going to handle preseason player profiles differently this year on RaptorBlog. For each player on the 2012-13 Raptors’ active roster, Joseph Casciaro and I are going to email our thoughts back and forth and then post the resulting conversation on the blog. It’s an edgy new form of journalism! Or something…

Terrence Ross, SG/SF, 6’6″, 195 lbs.

2011-12 NCAA Stats: 35 Games, 31.1 MPG, 16.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 45.7 FG%, 37.1 3P%, 77.4 FT%, 22.4 PER

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Sonny Weems

Career Stats: 140 GP, 20.3 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 47.4 FG%, 24.1 3PT%, 71.7 FT%, 2.5 RPG, 1.5 APG

Season Stats: 59 GP, 23.9 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 44.4 FG%, 27.9 3PT%, 76.6 FT%, 2.6 RPG, 1.8 APG

Last season, when fans were getting excited about an unknown Sonny Weems, I warned that he could become the next Jamario Moon. Translation, he could be a nice surprise for one season, but he’ll probably start jacking up too many jumpers and forgot what got him here in the first place.

Then Weems got off to a decent start to the 2010-2011 season, drilled a big game-winning three in Orlando and got hot. I let my guard down, as did most Raptors supporters, and actually believed Sonny had played himself into a piece of the Raptors’ future.

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Career Stats: 340 GP, 19.9 MPG, 8.6 PPG, 44.7 FG%, 33.6 3PT%, 75.2 FT%, 3.6 RPG, 0.8 APG

Season Stats: 39 GP (23 starts), 26.5 MPG, 11.2 PPG, 43.8 FG%, 29.8 3PT%, 63.1 FT%, 4.5 RPG, 1 APG

When Linas Kleiza led Lithuania to a bronze medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship and garnered an All-Tournament team selection in the process, many felt that the Raptors may have made the biggest under-the-radar splash of the summer by signing Kleiza to a four-year contract.

Then the Raptors’ season started, and Toronto quickly realized that Linas Kleiza was nowhere near being an All-World player.

Kleiza was supposed to be one of the primary scoring options for the young Raptors, but his offensive game was wildly inconsistent all season. He would have some good stretches and some awful stretches through the first few months of the season, but ultimately, he was usually somewhere in the middle – an area we like to call “mediocre.”

At just under $5 million per season, Kleiza didn’t need to set the world on fire to prove he belonged or prove he deserved his contract, but he did need too do a lot more than what he actually accomplished in his injury-shortened first season with the Raptors.

The Raptors didn’t necessarily need him to score 15-20 points per game, but if he was going to toil around 10 points per game, then they definitely needed him to do more than just score. And therein lies the other issue: Kleiza didn’t defend well enough, rebound well enough or share the ball well enough to make up for his inconsistent and less than stellar offense.

To make matters worse, Kleiza underwent dreaded microfracture surgery in February to repair his damaged right knee. Recovery time from microfracture surgery is usually nine-to-12 months, so there’s a good chance Kleiza won’t even be ready to play until well into next season (assuming there is a next season).

An eternal optimist might look at things and assume that knee problems are what limited Kleiza’s first season in Toronto, and that the Lithuanian star will break out in year two. A realist would assess the situation and realize that after microfracture surgery, we may have already seen Kleiza’s best season in Toronto, and now the Raptors are on the hook for another three years at just under $14 million (assuming Kleiza picks up his $4.6 million player option in 2013-14) heading into uncertain economic times in the NBA.

The one thing Kleiza has going for him, like many of the current Raptors, is youth. He’s still only 26 years old, so there is the possibility of him coming back stronger from surgery and contributing to the Raptors rebuilding process.

It’s just hard for me to see the positives in a guy who shot the ball horribly, still hogged the ball despite his struggles, didn’t really defend and barely rebounded.

Linas Kleiza does not fall into the group of guys I would want to keep going forward, but I also understand that there won’t be a long list of teams lining up to take his contract on either, so we may be stuck with him for the next little while.

Scott Carefoot’s take on Linas Kleiza: I hoped that Bryan Colangelo had learned his lesson about overpaying role players from the disastrous Jason Kapono signing, but the initial return on Kleiza with the Raptors indicates that may not be the case. There have been brief stretches in Kleiza’s career (such as the FIBA tournament and his 2009 playoff run with the Nuggets) when he has shown that he can contribute at a fairly high level. Unfortunately, his three-point shooting percentage and free throw percentage have declined in each of his past three NBA seasons so it could be that this is as good as he’ll ever be. If he doesn’t return and show substantial improvement on his shooting and defense, Kleiza will likely spend the remaining three years on his contract at the end of the bench collecting dust — and about $14 million.

Our next player evaluation post will be the last in this series, with a duo-post on Sonny Weems and Julian Wright coming later this week.

Career with Bulls: 78 GP (11 starts), 11.3 MPG, 3.8 PPG, 44.6 FG%, 30.9 3PT%, 68.7 FT%, 1.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.7 BPG

Season with Raptors: 25 GP (25 starts), 28 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 46.4 FG%, 24 3PT%, 70.7 FT%, 4.7 RPG, 3 APG, 1 SPG, 1.1 BPG

James Johnson was a bit of a wild card when the Bulls selected him 16th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, but the forward out of Wake Forest was still expected to make an impact in the NBA.

Unfortunately for James, he was limited to just 11 minutes per game in his rookie season for an average Bulls team that was quickly disposed of in the first round of the playoffs by LeBron’s Cavaliers. He played in 19 total minutes in that series. If he thought he would be given an opportunity with the Bulls in year two, he was wrong again, as Chicago used him less than 10 minutes per game in just 13 games played.

The Bulls were enjoying a great season, but Johnson was sent to play with the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League. Various things were said about Johnson – he wasn’t in good enough shape or committed enough to stick in the NBA.

Then, in February, the Raptors traded Miami’s 2011 first round pick to the Bulls for the little used Johnson. At the time, going by only what I was reading, I stated that even though this year’s draft class looked weak, I still would have preferred to take a chance on a late first round pick than take a chance on James Johnson.

Did James ever prove me wrong! And he convinced me I was wrong on his first night in a Raptors uniform.

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Season stats: 72 GP (54 starts), 25.7 MPG, 9.6 PPG, 56.8 FG%, 78.7 FT%, 6.4 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.2 BPG

Career stats: 289 GP, 17.8 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 58.6 FG%, 71 FT%, 4.7 RPG, 0.6 APG, 1.1 BPG

Amir Johnson came into the 2010-2011 season with a lot more certainty than he had ever had in his NBA career. After being the last player ever drafted directly out of high school, Johnson was a little-used bench warmer in Detroit for four seasons before Toronto came calling in the summer of 2009. Amir then burst onto the scene for the Raptors in 2009-2010, earning the fans’ loyalty and becoming a bit of a revelation in T.O.

After finally showing some of the potential that saw him drafted as an 18-year-old, Amir Johnson was rewarded by Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors with a highly criticized long-term contract. Between the pressures of that contract and his impressive first season in Toronto, it’s safe to say that expectations for Amir in 2010-11 may have been unreasonably high.

He got off to a bit of a slow start this season, but when he got in his groove, Amir continued to show Raptors fans and management his intriguing potential for the future. Over the course of one summer, Amir evolved from a guy who could only score around the basket to a big man with a money jumper and a sweet free throw stroke, to go along with his already efficient offensive post game.

Amir’s work with NBA scoring legend Alex English obviously paid off, as his free throw shooting improved from 63.8 per cent in 2009-10 to 78.7 per cent in 2010-11. The Raptors now had a legitimate scoring option in the post.

Not to mention, while Raptors players were dropping like flies and the season was getting away from them, Amir continued to soldier on through nagging injuries, suiting up in 72 games when most NBA players would have taken some extra days off.

Obviously, Amir Johnson has his faults, and we all know what his biggest weakness is. Once he’s on the floor, Amir is an incredibly useful player for the Raptors, but the issue is keeping him on the floor. Amir struggles to avoid fouls, and often picks up a couple of whistles against himself within a few minutes. Some of this really is just plain old bad luck, but Amir has to take most of the blame for what are usually careless, lazy fouls from a guy who works his butt off in every other area of the game.

Amir finished 10th in the NBA this season with 6.8 fouls per 48 minutes. While most areas of his game improved, you could argue that his penchant for fouling actually worsened this season. With his athleticism for a big man, he should not be among the most foul-prone players in the NBA. He shouldn’t even be close.

Outside of his sometimes comical affinity for picking up fouls, Amir’s other area of weakness was in his defensive consistency. Don’t get me wrong, every player on this Raptors roster had their defensive issues this year, and Amir was probably one of the better defenders the Raptors had, but again, with his athleticism and length, he could be doing a lot better job on the defensive end of the floor. There’s no reason why he can’t average a couple of blocks per game.

Like many young NBA players, especially young big men, Amir Johnson has the potential and natural ability to become an above-average player for a long period of time. But there are weaknesses in his game currently holding him back from doing that.

If he can learn and work to avoid silly fouls while also putting more focus into his defensive abilities, then I believe Amir Johnson can become quite the player, either as a starter on a good team or as a tremendous boost off of the bench. The Raptors have a 24-year-old athletic big man with big upside that has already racked up six years of experience in the NBA. A lot of teams would want a guy like that.

Now the onus is on Amir Johnson, himself. The next season, whenever that is, will be a dramatically significant one in his development. Will he finally become the complete player and budding star that his followers have always believed he could become, or will he be limited to his current status for his entire career because of his current limitations?

By the end of next season, Amir will likely either be a valuable asset at a very fair price, or officially an over-paid bust. Maybe it’s the homer in me speaking, but I’m leaning more toward the former.

Scott Carefoot’s take on Amir Johnson: Most regular readers of this blog are likely aware that Amir Johnson is my favorite Raptor. His athleticism, hustle and penchant for spectacular dunks and blocks drew my attention long before he joined this team. While his five-year, $30 million contract was widely viewed as a joke at the moment of its signing and continues to be viewed as such by many, I feel like he vindicated Colangelo’s decision last season with a noticeable improvement to his offensive skillset along with his continued dedication to rebounding, shot-blocking and overall defensive effort. Ed Davis’ emergence as one of the more promising young power forwards in the NBA provides the Raptors with an interesting dilemma going forward — if Davis and Johnson continue to improve, it’s not a matter of if one of them will need to be traded to bolster team needs at other positions, it’s a matter of when.

Staying with the Johnsons, our next player evaluation will be on James Johnson, so look for that post some time in the coming week.