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Chisholm: Season in Review - The Wings

Tim Chisholm
4/16/2013 3:12:17 PM
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$122.1 million.

That's how much money the Toronto Raptors committed to their wing rotation over the last ten months. With the trade for Rudy Gay, the extension for DeMar DeRozan, the offer sheet for Landry Fields and the drafting of Terrence Ross, the Raptors coughed up an eye-popping sum for a total of zero All-Stars, a combined 43.1 per cent shooting percentage and for four players outside the top 100 in offensive and defensive rating (min. 20 mins per game via NBA.com/stats).

Or, put another way, the Raptors spent $122.1-million on a wing rotation that still needs to be fixed before the start of next season.

This rotation is one of the clearest distillations of the Bryan Colangelo era in Raptor-land. One can (more or less) reason out how each acquisition came to be and why the Raptors went ahead with them, but taken together the assemblage demonstrates, at best, a lack of planning, or at worst a fundamental disregard for the changes underway in the NBA at large.

The most defensible move came with the drafting of Ross. While Ross has had a very inconsistent rookie season, he theoretically addresses areas of weakness in terms of three-point shooting and defence, and when one considers the wings that were taken after him (Austin Rivers, Jeremy Lamb, et al.) it's hard to fault Colangelo and Co. for the choice that they ultimately made on draft night (although revisionist history may choose to inappropriately chastise Toronto for passing on UConn centre Andre Drummond).

In fact, the only reason to really raise an eyebrow at Ross is because of Ross himself. The tools that he possesses fit the Raptors, but he has to do a much better job of utilizing them. He has to learn how to balance himself on his jumper, how to keep alert and active in team defensive schemes and how to attack defences with his dribble. He'll have a role in Toronto's rotation next season if he can address his issues, but his minutes will (and should) be dictated by production, not potential.

After Ross came Fields, Toronto's most controversial acquisition last summer. Fields was a pawn in Toronto's headline-grabbing chase for Canadian hero, Steve Nash. The Raptors loaded an offer sheet and sent it to Fields in an attempt to prevent Fields from being used in a sign-and-trade transaction between New York and Phoenix during the Knicks' attempt to acquire Nash. The plan backfired, though, when Nash signed with the Lakers and the Raptors were stuck overpaying an asset that would never be able to produce up to his salary.

Here's the thing with Fields: he's a great fit for this club. He's the only wing that knows how to set up his teammates, he restricts himself to smart shots within his range (he easily possesses the highest field goal percentage of Toronto's wings at 46 per cent), he understands the team's defensive concepts and he doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective.

The problem is that role players like him tend to make a fraction of what Fields is earning on his three-year deal with the Raptors ($6.3 million per year). In today's NBA, with the new restrictive salary cap and the more punitive luxury tax, teams cannot be so cavalier with player salaries. Fields was worth what he got paid to Toronto if it got them Nash, but it didn't get them Nash. Instead the club is left footing the bill for a meal they didn't even get to eat. Since the club is effectively stuck with him, though, they have to find a way to work him consistently into the rotation to a) help justify his price tag and b) because he actually represents a unique set of skills that the team could benefit from deploying.

After Fields comes the one-two punch of the DeRozan extension and the Gay acquisition. I've written extensively this season on both transactions and the troubling redundancies the pair presents, so instead of looking back on what was, let's look ahead at what has to happen to make this combination semi-defensible heading into next season.

If these two are going to continue to represent the bulk of Toronto's minutes on the wings then they have got to learn some shot discipline. Since the trade that brought Gay to Toronto, he and DeRozan rank 127th as a pair in offensive efficiency at 101.3 points per 100 possessions, which is below the team's mark of 102.5 points per 100 possessions (though it's above the team's pathetic 100.9 points per 100 possessions overall since the trade). To watch the Raptors play these days is to watch a handful of possessions every game devolve into a broken set resulting in Gay or DeRozan forcing up a jumper against two or three defenders several feet from the basket.

While neither player could be considered selfish while out on the court, both lack the playmaking instincts one would wish for in players that can attract so much defensive attention. DeRozan can make pre-scripted passes within set plays, but has total tunnel-vision when a play breaks down. Gay is a more than willing passer, but he's sloppy with his passing mechanics and is as likely to throw the ball at a recipient's knees as he is their waiting hands. DeRozan ranks 52nd out of 65 shooting guards in assist ratio, while Gay ranks 50th out of 69 small forwards. Conversely, DeRozan and Gay rank sixth and fourth, respectively, in shot attempts per game at their positions.

Dwane Casey has made a more concerted effort in the waning days of the season to split the two up more, which has helped both their efficiency and their productivity, but the club's offence as a whole still needs some serious tinkering before it's ready for primetime. Since getting Gay and DeRozan shots basically encapsulates the club's offensive stratagem, figuring out how to maximize that tandem will be priority number one in fixing what ails this club's efficiency woes. It's not often an NBA organization builds their offence around two non-playmaking wings that both shoot below 32 per cent from three-point range, but that's the road Toronto had decided to travel so it's incumbent upon them to make it work.

At $122.1-million, the Raptors have invested heavily in a wing rotation that has yet to prove much as a group on the NBA landscape. However, that kind of financial commitment signals the amount of faith that the organization has in what what they've managed to cobble together. It may well be the deciding factor on which the future of Bryan Colangelo rests; if MLSE believes in this expensive group as much as Colangelo then Colangelo may well be asked to stay to augment it, but if they do not share his optimism about this investment it may well be the last group Colangelo is ever asked to assemble in Toronto.



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