In Week 2 of our "Tweet Bag" series, we tackle Toronto's leaky defence, Andrea's role with the team (along with his trade value) and how the Raptors were able to secure the services of Kyle Lowry. Let's dig in.
@andrew2doucette: Why has the defense been so poor this year? We improved at PG, SF and C on defence. What gives?
Defence takes chemistry, and like you said, there are new players at PG, SF and C in the starting five this year. Plus, the two returning players are DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani, hardly known for their commitment to the defensive end of the floor. The big disappointment has been Bargnani, who was so active on defence at the start of last season and seems to have completely reverted back to his old self early this year.
There are other factors, too, though. Jonas Valanciunas is a rookie and is still adjusting to the size, speed and skill of opposing NBA centres. Landry Fields was playing with zero confidence before his bothersome right hand took him out of action. Jose Calderon has been logging time at shooting guard, where he has been obliterated defensively. The bench has been more active than smart, defensively, and the team's rotations lack the consistency needed to develop a defensive rhythm. Plus, they played Dallas and Oklahoma City recently, two top-ten offences, which has hurt Toronto's defensive efficiency.
All that said, the overall defensive impact that this team has had has been noticeably weaker than expected. They currently rank 22nd in defensive efficiency, a far cry from 12th, where they finished that season. Dwane Casey looks lost as to how to correct team's early woes (which also include below average offence, issues with focus and a lack of roster cohesion) but he has to find a way to right the ship defensively because having a strong defensive core is the team's only shot at making noise this season.
@stephen_hogan10: What do you think of Amir starting and Andrea coming off of the bench?
That's a complicated question. In empirical terms, Bargnani probably should be a reserve in the NBA, playing a role like Al Harrington did when he was with Denver. His inconsistent energy makes it hard for a coach to know what they are going to get from him night-to-night and high-volume, low-efficiency scorers have really become bench staples around the league (Terry, Crawford, Smith). I think that is an inevitable future for Toronto's enigmatic big man, but I doubt it ever happens in Toronto.
The big problem is that a starting front court of Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Landry Fields (or Alan Anderson) would not be able to score. While DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry possess some scoring punch, it isn't nearly enough to offset the lack of offensive prowess from that front court combination. The Raptors sit at 18th in offensive efficiency right now and they simply cannot afford to remove Bargnani's scoring potential from their starting five.
Beyond that, though, it's also hard to see Bargnani, with his unpredictable nightly effort, embracing a role off the bench for this team. Yes, you can make the argument that a player should just accept whatever role a coach assigns to them, but Dwane Casey is having enough trouble motivating him with the first unit, can you imagine how desultory the results could get if Bargnani was demoted to the reserve crew? It's a nice idea, but Bargnani is going to be the starter, likely for as long as he's wearing a Raptors uniform.
@Steebo: What would you consider realistic trade options for Bargnani (not Bargs, Jose for Pau)?
Not to be evasive, but this is a tough question to answer. Who would have thought that Toronto could have landed Kyle Lowry for a protected first round pick? Who would have thought that Orlando would sacrifice Dwight Howard for Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and some protected firsts? Who would have thought that Portland would turn down a sign-and-trade offer of Derrick Williams and picks for Nicolas Batum?
The thing about trade value is that it doesn't really exist, at least not in any kind of empirical way. One team may covet a player because their particular skill set is seen as a necessity (like when the Warriors sacrificed Monta Ellis to get Andrew Bogut's post defence). Another team may be looking for a way to reorganize their cap commitments (like when Portland gutted the veteran contingent on their roster last season). Another team may just get bamboozled (like Indiana was when they sacrificed Darren Collison for Ian Manhinmi in July).
So, what's Bargnani's value? Who knows. It wouldn't surprise me if Toronto settled for a salary dump, swapping Bargnani's three remaining years for David West's one, for instance. Nor would it surprise me if the Raptors managed to pull off Bargnani and Jose Calderon for Pau Gasol. So many variables enter into the conversation when you are talking about trades and trade value, and they are only multiplied when you are talking about a player as divisive as Bargnani. I do think you'll hear his name tossed around A LOT around the trade deadline, so perhaps we'll all get a better sense of his value when February rolls around.
@canadafubuki: Lowry has been playing great! How were the Raps able to get him for so little? And how does the trade rank vs [Colangelo's] others?
For those who don't know, the Raptors traded Gary Forbes and a protected first round pick to get Lowry this summer. That pick was the key to the deal. It's protected in such a way as to virtually assure that it will land in the lottery (basically by establishing a floor for how low the pick can be when it's moved), an imaginative way for Houston get value for their standout point guard.
Now, how "little" Toronto gave up is still to be determined. If the pick they sacrifice winds up being a top-five pick in the next few years, then that represents a serious payout for Lowry. If the pick lands in the late lottery, then it was excellent value for the Raptors.
For Houston, the pick got them exactly what they wanted. They wanted an asset they could use in a trade for a star, and it was packaged in their trade for James Harden last month, so they got what they wanted out of the deal. So, you see, the value of the pieces in the Lowry trade are all relative, and still not entirely known until the pick that was sacrificed has officially changed hands.
For Colangelo, it's one of his best trades. The club absorbed some risk based on the unknowns over the pick, but Lowry was a stellar addition to the club at a position that needed it. He's one of the only two-way players that Colangelo's ever acquired and he immediately vaulted the Raptors in the playoff conversation (and his absence has begun to take them out of it). You can't do much better than that, short of trading for a superstar.