A lengthily response to an interesting comment over at RaptorsTalk
The Shooting Guard + Small Forward option vs Small Forward option
Okay, my first attempt at writing this failed miserably so I deleted it. I’ll start again and with one straight forward sentence – The foundation of the team is more important than the short term needs that this squad currently has.
The difference between the two in my mind is: When you talk about the foundation you talk only about the core structure of the team – in this case Jose Calderon, Chris Bosh, Jermaine O’Neal – and discount the rest of the roster. When you talk about the needs of the team you talk about guys like Jason Kapono and Will Solomon in conjunction with the core of the team.
The Foundation’s Needs
Firstly, the foundation that this team needs is very clear. With the trio they presently hold it’s abundantly clear that a fourth player is needed for two main reasons
- Bosh and Jermaine while excellent aren’t dominant enough to control a game (to a Championship level) without a good perimeter crew
- Jose has too much pressure on the perimeter. Scoring wise the perimeter only has role players. Calderon is the only player who can create his own shot. Calderon is the only playmaker on the perimeter, so he’s the only perimeter player that regularly creates shots for teammates. As long as these two facts (scoring/playmaking) are true, the Raptors will lack diversity. Also, their fourth quarter execution is always going to be difficult until he gets more help, too predictable and one-dimensional.
What type of fourth player is needed? That player needs to be able to:
- Score at a high level, second option so 18-20ppg (minimum)
- Score from the perimeter with jumpshots/penetration
- Some creativity off the dribble
- Solid one-on-one defender + solid rebounder
with additional preferences in descending order of importance
- Best option is also a playmaker/passer/ballhandler (think Joe Johnson rather than Jason Richardson)
- Better D+Rebounding + perhaps general all round play (above option better but not elite)
- Better scoring
Let’s play out the argument with an example – Gerald Wallace vs Jason Richardson
Gerald Wallace was chosen by RapsFan as one of the better options (along with Marion) on a small list of players I offered up in a comment. One of the other players was Jason Richardson. The fact they’re two teammates and two very different types of wings makes for an interesting comparison, one that will help bring a greater definition for the needs the Raptors have.
#1 Gerald Wallace
Gerald Wallace fits the short term needs of the squad very well. He’s a small forward. He’s athletic. He’s a very good rebounder. He’s a quality defensive player. He can score. Fills a lot of holes very well.
Medium term fit is poor though. Here’s a few reasons:
(1) Gerald Wallace defensive value comes primarily from being a help defender, someone who scrambles and tries to get turnovers. While that’s useful it’s not primarily what Jermaine/Bosh need, Bosh/Jermaine need someone who’ll stop dribble penetration and Wallace is barely an average one-on-one defender (something which has drawn the ire of Larry Brown).
(2) Gerald Wallace’s points per game is impressive but the way he scores is less so. He scores primarily out of the low post, mid post, broken plays and fastbreak opportunities. The spaces he likes to take offensively on the floor are the exact same spots Bosh and Jermaine take so spacing becomes a major issue, the Raps suddenly become easier to defend and it’s harder to take advantage of his scoring ability.
(3) Staying on his scoring, Wallace only scores from isolation plays in the halfcourt or broken plays. This means a lack of fluidity to the offense, because now there’s three frontcourt players who all need an iso or post up … offense will regularly lack movement and secondary threats in possessions. Said another way – it’s a my turn your turn offense
(4) Streaky jump shooter. Not a strength of his, his offensive value comes from high percentage hoops in the paint. Once again causing spacing issues for Toronto.
(5) Wallace is a poor passer and a poor ball handler for his position. Despite being a wing he does not help Jose Calderon, that burden of running everything on the perimeter is still on Jose’s shoulders.
So now we go back to the drawing board, the club is clearly improved, but clearly still has major flaws.
- Defensively they still need a one-on-one stopper. Dribble penetration defensively is still a major issue
Offensively the addition isn’t good enough to form a foundation for a contender.
- Wallace will be doing well to score 16ppg when playing alongside two players who take his favourite positions/touches on the court. Chris Bosh is still without a true second scorer.
- The way Wallace scores his points will not help Bosh/Jermaine/Jose. He adds nothing new that they do not already have. Several of his touches/shots will be ones that would have gone to Bosh/Jermaine otherwise. His complementary scoring he does create will be closer to an Anthony Parker/Jamario Moon level, than a true second scorer.
- The team will not improve it’s execution in the fourth quarter because at a basic level it’s still the same play (isolation)
- The offense will stick lack balance and Jose Calderon still has no help threading the offense together. Another poor passer/playmaker/ball handler. Calderon will still need to make all the decisions he’s making right now.
#2 Jason Richardson
Jason Richardson is a 20-24ppg scorer. He’s one of the best jump shooters in the league. He’s one of the most versatile scorers in the league – stand still jump shooter, jumpers off the dribble, high post, mid post, low post game, midrange game, can beat his defender off the dribble, can get to the rim and finish, can get to the line (although doesn’t do it enough), and can score on the fastbreak, can run off screens off the ball, good cutter, work the pick and roll off the dribble.
Richardson is able to get his baskets no matter what offense a team runs. He’s a low usage player who doesn’t need many touches to score, and he can play off of (alongside) any type of player. Richardson is a clutch shooter at the end of the games and plays well in big games (put the Warriors on his back in the final month of that season to get them to the playoffs). His versatility and athleticism makes him a very tough scorer to limit/contain.
Richardson is also one of the best, if not the best, rebounding two guards in the league. He’s also a good defender who could be a very good defender if he didn’t have a whole offense resting on his shoulders every night. His strength defensively is his man-to-man defense.
Richardson is also one of the most athletic players in the league.
He’s not a playmaker/passer but he is a solid ballhandler and he can create his own shot from the perimeter. It’s not the perfect fit because you’d rather have a Brandon Roy/Joe Johnson, someone who can take some of the playmaking duties away from Calderon …. but Richardson ability to create his own shot and solid handle does enough to make it work.
The structural fit of the team is far stronger with Jason Richardson because he fits into the present core (Jermaine, Bosh, Jose) much better. He’s also easier to fit role players around because his strengths correlate better, and his weaknesses (unlike Wallace) don’t decide the player that needs to be acquired.
Jason Richardson is not good enough to be a Contending team’s best perimeter player except in one scenario – a playmaking point guard who’s an excellent floor general, someone who can thread the play together. Also a good supporting cast and deep level of high caliber talents (four).
Okay, that was the first part of equation, now onto the second part. Most trades have a consequential action, in this case it’s who needs to start alongside Wallace/Richardson on the wing and can they be acquired.
This is the problem of judging the need from the whole team rather than the core, it can give you and unfavourable foundation to build around. As we covered in the Wallace section earlier, Gerald certainly improves the squad but still leaves major weaknesses in play. So who does his teammate need to be?
Anthony Parker is a good role player. He’s a two way player who contributes in a number of different areas. Is a Calderon-Parker-Wallace-Bosh-Jermaine combination enough to contend for a title? No, it’s not. Parker scores a good clip (12ppg), is a great shooter (40+% from downtown, TS% 58%), and a useful defensive player. What’s missing? Dribble penetration. A legitimate stopper defensively. Ability to create his own shot from the perimeter. How many role players have this combination of skills? Very, very few.
Let’s change it to two extremes.
(1) A stopper at the two guard spot. Let’s say Bruce Bowen off last season’s Spurs.
Is a Calderon-Bowen-Wallace-Jermaine-Bosh lineup good enough to contend for a title? I do not think so, I think it’s too weak offensively to get the job done. It could be a great defensive team though and a very good rebounding (not elite) team.
Bear in mind that a player of Bowen’s caliber (last year) is not acquirable, and that the team will likely be playing with a lesser player.
(2) The best role player in terms of scoring and shot creation in the league is JR Smith.
Is a Calderon-Smith-Wallace-Bosh-Jermaine lineup good enough to contend for a title? Probably not, but it’d be a dangerous team that could win a few rounds in the playoffs. A Smith/Calderon backcourt would be one of the worst defensive backcourts in the league, and Wallace is no stopper on the wing, so defensively there would be huge concerns. You could help limit that by having good defenders off the bench but it’s likely to much to overcome. Calderon’s below par defense puts too much pressure on the wings to be positives defensively. Offensively that’s an incredible team. Rebounding wise it’s very good.
Bear in mind that a player of Smith’s caliber is not acquirable and that the team will likely be playing with a lesser player
So let’s get back to the player that Gerald Wallace would need alongside him, this player would likely need to be a mix of these two skills – even rarer and harder to acquire – without losing the necessary shooting. The odds of landing that are terrible – in fact off the top of my head I can think of only one role player in the league making MLE or less money (not rookie contract) that can do that.
To add context, the fifth wheel would likely need to be a Stephen Jackson or Tayshaun Prince level player. Because the foundation is not strong enough with Jose-Wallace-Bosh-Jermaine, ergo, the four man foundation has to stretch to five players. This requires bringing in another high level player who’ll be making $7-10mil per annum. Since the Bosh-Jermaine-Calderon-Wallace group is making so much money, this option is not achievable.
This is where the benefits of the foundation come to fruition. Richardson’s strengths fit alongside the Raps trio much better, and his weaknesses do not cause major trouble on the rest of the squad.
Also, it’s very much possible to find and acquire role players who are steady rebounders and good defenders on the wing. Pietrus is an example of one last year. Bad case scenarios also have good fits like Keith Bogans.
My preference: After trading Parker+Bargnani+makeweights needed for Richardson. Then trade Kapono for an expiring contract to free up some spending money so the Raps actually use their MLE in the offseason, and sign Trevor Ariza.
Is a Calderon-Richardson-Ariza-Bosh-Jermaine lineup good enough to contend for a title? Yes, I think so. Offensively that’s a very good team, defensively that’s very strong, and it’s also very strong on the boards. Get a good bench to go with it and you definitely have a contender on your hands. It’s not a frontrunner like LA or Boston, but it is a contender (Detroit or New Orleans level).
One small point – if Richardson makes them a contender but not a frontrunner like Boston/LA, what does?
What would the squad need to be a frontrunner for a title?
That goes back to the start of my thoughts and fourth option on the needs for the fourth player in the foundation – a playmaker/passer/ballhandler in conjunction to Richardson’s skills – That player is Joe Johnson or a Brandon Roy. A higher level version would be Tracy McGrady. A higher level again is Pierce, Kobe, or a LeBron James.
I think Jason Richardson is the far superior option for the Toronto Raptors.
Also, I do not think it matters one iota whether it’s a two guard or a small forward that’s acquired. In contrast, the skill set of the player matters very much.