Pick, Blog and Roll

Friday, June 30, 2006

Out with the Nueva, in with the New

I was a Charlie Villanueva supporter last year. I even forced convinced my son to buy his jersey at an early-season game instead of Chris Bosh's. It turns out that wasn't a very wise investment, given the end of the CV31 era in Toronto. Charlie has been traded to Milwaukee for TJ Ford.

The writing was on the wall, and frankly, I was calling for Villa to be traded for a while. He's likely to have a decent career as a scorer in the NBA. I'm a little bit worried that he could turn into a great scorer. But he's a below-average defender, is "wildly inconsistent" (as they say over at Raptor Blog), and lacks the tough-mindedness and grit that GM Bryan Colangelo is seeking to inject into the revamped Raptors lineup.

[snip]

Apparently the Milwaukee Bucks also subscribe to the scientifically proven principle that most NBA trades involve teams acquiring players who've achieved career or season bests at their expense. CV31, you will recall, racked up 48 points against the Bucks in March 2006.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

2006 NBA Draft Predictions (aka "Pure Conjecture Report")

Now that everyone else has posted multiple revisions of their own Mock Draft Boards, it's time for me to plagiarize their good work throw down my own thoughts on how things will go down in New York on draft night.

In his short time as Toronto's GM, Bryan Colangelo has rid the Raptors of excess baggage while improving the team's summer cap flexibility with small but incremental gains. With that in mind, I'm speculating that the Raptors will be trading the player they take with the #1 pick. Which is convenient, as it makes for more interesting reading.

Without further ado...

1. Toronto: Rudy Gay **
Bryan Colangelo stated Tuesday that the Raptors would almost certainly hold on to their pick. On the same day, ESPN's Andy Katz reported that Rudy Gay was being considered by the Raptors ... and then not. The choice, according to Katz, is down to two. We've heard "Bargnani" for weeks. And speculation about Aldridge is rampant. Are the reports for real?

Here's the thing: the Raptors want to trade down, and everyone knows it. In the absence of sure-fire superstar talent in this year's draft, I suspect that all of the potential offers for the #1 pick are already on the table. Teams have been frozen in drafts past for fear of losing their guy. That's a danger here, and Colangelo alluded to it the other day in an interview.

Colangelo has scouted Bargnani more than any other GM. And he's seen more of the Italian forward than any other player in the draft. It won't send a good message if the Raptors pass on Andrea Bargnani. He could slide in the right circumstances....

2. Chicago: Lamarcus Aldridge
The Bulls are loaded with studs on the wing and in the backcourt. They need a forward who will contribute immediately. Aldridge is that player.

3. Charlotte: Tyrus Thomas
Before he trademarked #23, Michael Jordan was just an athletic and competitive kid from Carolina who made his mark in the NCAA tournament, oozed with potential, and possessed a strong work ethic. Thomas plays a different position and hails from Louisiana, but that's where the differences end. MJ sees too much of himself in Thomas, which is why he's going #3 to the Bobcats.

(On a related note: Jordan recently admitted that he didn't pay much attention to NCAA games last season. Which is another way of saying that he only took in March Madness, also known this year as The Tyrus Thomas Breakout Party.)

4. Portland: Adam Morrison
The most obvious pick of the draft ... unless something else happens, in which case I'll claim the blog was hacked by ESPN's Chad Ford.

5. Atlanta: Shelden Williams
The rumor mill has been churning for weeks on this one. Williams allegedly has a promise from the Hawks. He's a great rebounder, so he fills a need. It seems high, but in view of the press this has already received, I'm not keen on spending any time conjecturing on whether all clocks in Hot-lanta read 4:20.

(Speculation is rampant that the Hawks are picking for Houston here, and will acquire Williams via the Rockets' #8 in a trade. That's the second time I've used "rampant". I need a thesaurus.)

6. Minnesota: Brandon Roy
Kevin Garnett wants to win now. Marko Jaric isn't cutting it, and Rashad McCants is hurt. Roy fills a need, and will contribute immediately.

7. Andrea Bargnani **
The Celtics are just far enough down in the draft to miss out on the players they most covet. Which is why they'll take Andrea Bargnani, and ship him to Toronto along with a point guard in exchange for Gay and the contract of Alvin Williams. Gay probably isn't the #1 player on Boston's board, but he may be the only one in the top 6 who's selection ensures that Bargnani is still available.

I can also see GM Danny Ainge having interest in Mike James. James is not problem child per se, but his play was a distraction this year in Toronto. Ainge hasn't shied away from controversial players in the past (see: Ricky Davis, Michael Olowokandi, Antoine Walker). Any draft-day exchanges involving James will have to wait until July due to NBA free agency rules.

Picks 8-60
I don't have all day for this. You're trying my patience.

The Scientific Method (of NBA draft pick analysis)

The Raptors have continued a favorite past-time in NBA circles of picking up players who've posted season or career-high numbers against them. Here's the recent analysis:

    Kris Humphris
    Career high: 14pts
    Against: Phoenix (Bryan Colangelo era), 11/18/2005

    Rasho Nesterovic
    2005-6 season high: 14pts
    Against: Toronto, 2/8/2006
Which makes it perfectly obvious that the Raptors will draft Andrea Bargnani.

Il Mago is the only player among all draft candidates to have played competitive ball against the Raptors, even if it was only an exhibition game. By all accounts he played very well, and challenged Chris Bosh with his quickness and versatility.

So there you have it: the Toronto Raptors will select Andrea Bargnani in tomorrow's draft. As proven with "real science" that is about as accurate as anything else you're going to read in the coming 24 hours.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I'd like some "Garbaj" on the menu

This isn't recent news, but the Raptors are in the mix to sign Spanish league Unicaja forward Jorge Garbajosa to a contract. The signing was initially thought to be a done deal, until RealGM reported on June 12th that Phoenix is also in the mix. Which, it turns out, isn't all that surprising given that Garbajosa used to play under Mike D'Antoni at Benetton Treviso.

(Yes, another Italian connection. And on a related note, I learned the other day that Rasho Nesterovic also played in the Italian leagues before being drafted by the Timberwolves in 1998.)

Having just watched this video (which also includes footage of another player, who is apparently not NBA-worthy -- I guess he never played in Italy), I'm in favor of the move. Yeah, call me old-fashioned, but I like players who:

a) play defense
b) block shots
c) run
d) slash to the basket

"Garbaj", as he's called by myself and a few of his other closest friends, is the anti-Bonner. He doesn't hoist up as many 3-pointers. But he does everything else.

The Raptors won't find out if they've won the Garba sweepstakes until mid-July. In the meantime, I'll be brushing up on my Spanish visiting Babelfish in preparation of the welcome.

┬┐Hola Sr. Garbajosa, usted tienen gusto de un contrato?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Raptors buy some defense

The Raptors have traded Matt Bonner and Eric Williams to the Spurs for seven-foot center Rasho Nesterovic.

The Humphries-for-Hoffa swap appears to have been the precursor to this deal. Both trades point to an attempt to bolster Toronto's interior toughness.

While the Raptors will miss Bonner's 3-point shooting, they won't miss his lack of defense. And defense is the one thing that Nesterovic brings to the table.

Rasho's statistics are a bit misleading. He's not a great player and is overpaid at $7 mm per season, but he's reasonably mobile, fills a need, and doesn't immediately impact the team's cap space. He's also played sidekick to some very good players (Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett), which has its benefits.

There are better centers available (Joel Przybilla, Samuel Dalembert, Jamaal Magloire), but all would come at a higher cost -- whether the loss of cap space, a high draft pick, or simply missed opportunity to clear the roster of excess baggage. In a sense, the Raptors acquired Nesterovic for free, losing only two players who weren't in the team's long-term plans. A future second round draft pick was also included -- it's not much of a loss, and these types of picks exchange hands all the time.

Toronto "won" the highest opponent shooting percentage contest last year, largely due to defensive lapses and uncontested baskets in the lane. Which is another way of saying that adding Nesterovic is an attempt to fix a very specific, but high impact, problem with the roster.

It should be noted that Bonner and Williams are free agents after next season, while Rasho's contract runs for another three two years. So the trade does have ramifications for longer-term cap flexbility. But if Nesterovic plays a good one-trick pony, this will be a minor inconvenience.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

One player does not a team maketh

(aka "Jermaine O'Neal is not the solution")

Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal is allegedly on the trading block, and the net is rife with rumors about a possible Raptors-Pacers trade.

On the surface, it would appear to fill a need, and O'Neal is a very nice player. But one player does not a team maketh. Even a very good one.

Like Michael Jordan. Who didn't see post-season action or success until accompanied by Pippen, and solid complimentary cast.

Or Shaq. Who has always been surrounded by decent to very good players whenever he's achieved success, whether in Orlando (Hardaway, Anderson), Los Angeles (Kobe, Horry, Fisher, Fox), or Miami (Wade, Walker, Posey, Haslem).

Or Kobe. Nobody picked the Lakers to reach the playoffs this season. Phil Jax and Mamba proved the doubters wrong. But can you really say the 2005-6 season was a success?

Or Duncan. He's one of the top power forwards of all-time, but would Duncan's early championship success have happened without David Robinson at center? Now Duncan has Parker and Gino to share the load.

Or Garnett. He's Minnessota's 20 million dollar man, and consistently near the top of every player rating system on the planet. And he's only advanced past the first round of the playoffs once. And he didn't make it into the post-season in 2006.

Or Dirk. The Mavs are so loaded with talent it's rediculous. Jason Terry is (mostly) brilliant. Jerry Stackhouse is a killer. Keith Van Horn is decent, in spite of being much derided. Josh Howard is fantastic. Marquis Daniels is solid. Adrian Griffin is on the mend. And frankly, I would be quite pleased to have Dampier as the Raptor's center.

Which is why it makes no sense at all for the Raptors to trade Charlie Villanueva, the #1 pick in the lottery, and all of Toronto's cap space for Jermaine O'Neal and his $17-18mm contract.

Fuhggetaboutit.

O'Neal is very good. but he's not in the class of the players listed above. I'd rather keep CV3, add Bargani / Aldridge / Roy, and one very good + two decent role players via free agency.

Dombort: "Trade Villanueva"

Having rapidly become a geek with a blog an international media sensation with at least 5,000 5 readers, it follows that I should immediately begin misquoting my friends and audience. I mean, that's what reporters do, idnit?

So, mea culpa. Dombort may not have explicitly said that CV3 should be traded. But he did raise the question. And he didn't say we shouldn't. So what conclusion am I left to draw?

By the way, I agree:

    After finishing second in the rookie of the year voting, you have to wonder if his stock can go much higher in the coming years. If he posts similar numbers next year, GMs will likely conclude that he's either (a) running on auto-pilot, or (b) has a low ceiling.
Continue Reading "Dombort: 'Trade Villanueva'"

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Draft analysis, a la Jack Handey

It's amazing what personally attending NBA draft camps reading a few articles in the paper can do to help clarify one's opinions concerning the 2006 draft.

Or at least, that was the idea.

So without further ado or clarity, I present the first installment of my very own Deep Thoughts on the 2006 draft:

Andrea Bargnani
The videos are impressive, but he's an unknown commodity to all but a handful of scouts and GMs in North America. With Dirk Nowitski's ascention in the 2006 playoffs, the idea of drafting a European is less daunting than a few months ago (ref: Darko Milicic, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Fran Vasquez). But questions about fit and resiliency abound. Is this the right guy to join a Raptor front-court already featuring Chris Bosh and Charlie Villanueva?

LaMarcus Aldridge
He's big, Chris Bosh wants him, and would appear to fill a need. But here's the rub: the player he's most frequently compared to is Chris Bosh. Which is great for Aldridge, but if we're discounting Bargnani because his skills duplicate what's already available, shouldn't the same criteria also apply here?

(If the Raptors do draft Aldridge, perhaps they should go all out and add Joey Graham's twin brother to the roster. And let's not forget about Charlie Villanueva's doppleganger, Derrick Coleman. Are there any other ballers in the Bonner family?)

Tyrus Thomas
Everyone's other favorite big man, Thomas is only 19 years old and considered to be oozing seething bleeding ripe with potential. Which is another way of saying that he's got limited game, but will probably blossom evolve explode turn into something special. He's a great athelete by all accounts, and has improved by leaps and bounds in just a year. He's described as "Stromile Swift with a motor", which ESPN's Chris Ford notes is a compliment. But frankly, I would be more enthusiastic if he were described as "Stromile Swift with a motor and basketball IQ", because as one reader might say, "Stro's not the sharpest cookie in the jar".

Shelden Williams
I'm not suggesting the Raptors should draft Williams, but ESPN's Andy Katz makes an interesting point about "hot" propsects Aldridge and Thomas:

    "Williams scored 23 and 13 in the Sweet 16 loss to LSU while Thomas had nine and 13. In a blowout win over Texas earlier in the season, Williams scored 23 points, had six boards and recorded five blocks. Williams was quick to point out that Aldridge scored most of his 21 points when the game was already decided."
The trouble with Williams is that he's 22 years old and a known commodity, which makes it tough for scouts and GMs to get excited about his potential upside.

To be continued ...

Let's get (meta)physical

It's no secret that the Raptors need solid interior presence. They were destroyed on the boards last year, ranking 27th out of 30 teams. But does it follow that Toronto should use its #1 pick on a center, whether via the draft or trade?

Although the 2006 NBA finals feature two of the better rebounding teams in the league, rebounding differential is not as accurate a predictor of success as you might think.

Among the top 10 rebounding teams are Utah (2), New York (6), LA Lakers (7) and Orlando (8). Three of these squads didn't make the playoffs, and I only include the Lakers in the mix out of sheer amazement.

It is generally true that bad teams are poor at rebounding. But take a look at #28: the Phoenix Suns, over a full board per game under the lowly Raps. With Amare Stoudamire and Kurt Thomas back in the mix, it's logical to conclude they'll be better next year. But that's irrelevant to the Suns success (or lack thereof) in the 2005-6 season.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Connecting the dots, Euroleague style

I've been following the Euroleagues for almost 5 years 30 minutes, and would like to share a little in-depth analysis with you.

Andrea Bargnani's season statistics with Benetton Treviso are worth a quick look. The numbers aren't spectacular, but ppg averages are lower across the pond, and Bargnani had to share the rock with Drew Nicholas, who is a Euroleague scoring machine.

Also playing for Treviso is the formidable gumby Uros Slokar, whom the Raptors picked up in the second round of the 2005 draft. His per-40 numbers are decent (16 ppg, 10 rpg), and he owned AEK in game #13, which is pretty exciting.

Over in Spain, we find another Raptor second rounder from the 2005 draft at Tau Ceramica. Roko Ukic played injured for much of the year, and it shows. This just isn't is same Roko who won the Croatian National Championship with KK Split, the 2006 King's Cup with Taugres Saski Baskonia Vitoria, led the 2003-04 Adriatic League in steals (2.0 spg), and the 2004-05 Croatian League in assists (4.5 apg).

I think I speak for everyone when I say that I'm looking forward to better things from Roko's Euroleague web page next season.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Raptors could use a little magic

I don't know if Andrea Bargnani's nickname is really "Il Mago", but there's definitely something special about this video where he goes off for 25pts shooting 10/11 against Lottomatica Roma. He shows a nice touch from beyond the arc (4/4 in the game), a quick first step, and a knack for scoring wild Ginobli-esque buckets on drives to the hoop.

Raptors trade Baby for cap space, teen spirit

Rafael "Hoffa" Araujo (aka "Baby") has been an enigma since he broke into the league. His selection by the Raptors with the eighth pick in the 2004 draft didn't make all that much sense, even if he did appear to fill a need. There were better players available. Good players. Players that I had heard of. With better nicknames. Like "Iggy".

His college stats were good (18pts, 10rbs), which measures well against any centre in the 2006 draft. And he showed quickness and versatility in the post. We haven't seen much of either since. He seems too slow for the NBA game, is over-aggressive and foul prone, and doesn't appear to have caught on (or been taught) how to play position or help defense.

Perhaps these are deficiencies that can be corrected, and the Jazz may be the team to do it. Hoffa went to BYU, and has a following in Salt Lake City. And the Jazz have that "slow-but-serviceable" big man history going for them (see: Greg Ostertag, Mark Eaton). He's certainly not lacking in energy or effort, and appears committed to address the quickness issue, as evidenced when he dropped 20lbs before the start of the 2005-6 season. And, let it be said, he's got better offensive potential than the other stiffs they've worked with. Hoffa's got some game.

How about the guys coming to Toronto? Two underachievers with attitude problems, if the reports are right.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that. It's a low-risk trade; the Raptors weren't getting much from Baby anyway. And both Kris Humphries and Robert Whaley are decent per-40-minute rebounders, so they'll fill a need. Even if they only get 18 minutes of burn a night, combined.

The beloved "upside" of this transaction would appear to favor the Raptors more than Utah, given that Toronto has gained another million or so half-a-million in cap space. Although it does seem like the Jazz were looking to divest themselves of these players.

But let's be realistic -- to get talent in the NBA you either have to draft it, overpay, get lucky, or find bargains. It's pretty clear where Colangelo's thinking's at with this trade. He's shown a knack of getting value out of cast-offs (Boris Diaw, Eddie House) and underappreciated players (Marion, Bell). Will the trend continue?

While I'm asking questions, I wonder what Michael Stewart, Jelani McCoy, Jerome Moiso, Loren Woods, Maceo Baston, and Mamadou N'diaye think of the trade...