Recently, the perennially unproductive “offensive weapon” of the Toronto Raptors — Andrea Bargnani — went down with another injury. Although he’s having the best season of his career to date, Bargnani is still a below average player, and there is little evidence to suggest that he makes his teammates better. Shouldn’t that mean that the Raptors will be playing better without him?
Theoretically, but unfortunately, Toronto seems to generate unproductive players like the Hydra grows heads; when one is eradicated, another couple materialize. Exibit A is the Raptors’ Wins Produced for the 2011-12 season to date (taken from Patrick Minton’s wonderful The NBA Geek):
As noted above, Bargnani is now producing in the positive range, and will be out for the next couple of weeks. But the Raptors also added four new unproductive players during the offseason: Rasual Butler, Gary Forbes, Anthony Carter, and Jamaal Magloire. While Butler and Forbes figured to be unproductive even before the season started, Carter and Magloire projected to be close to average (at almost 37 and 34, respectively, age may have taken its toll on these players). Another unproductive player — Linas Kleiza — has returned from injury, and he is barely producing in the positive range. Still on the roster are Jerryd Bayless — who has never been productive — and Leandro Barbosa, who has not been productive since 2008-09 season.
On top of all that, DeMar DeRozan — who undeservedly made the All-Star Sophomore team last year and is regarded as one of the team’s promising young players — has reached a new low in productivity. At this point in the season, DeRozan is playing much worse than he did last year; as a matter of fact, DeRozan’s productivity has declined during each of his three years in the league:
*Note: average SG/SF taken from 2011-12 season; wins pro-rated for an 82 game season
As you can see, DeRozan has really struggled this year. Every single statistical category is either worse off than last year or shows no change. His shooting percentages are particularly painful — especially given that he has not reduced his shot attempts — but DeRozan is also below average when it comes to rebounds, steals, turnovers, assists, and fouls. The most positive part of his game right now is his ability to get to the free throw line, and even there he is doing worse than he did last season.
All told, excluding the injured (and so far improved!) Bargnani, that leaves the Raptors with eight unproductive players. And already these eight players have cost Toronto about two wins. This number grows to about 7.5 wins if we replaced them with average players. This is a shame, because Toronto actually has some good players on its roster. Well, at least three: Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson, and Ed Davis.
There are unfortunately two problems with Toronto’s “big three”. The first is that Calderon is very often underrated. Calderon’s lone below average season was his rookie year. Since then he has never failed to produce fewer than five wins in a season, and at his best he was a top five player in the league. That hasn’t stopped the Toronto front office from almost pulling the trigger on moving him or kept fans from considering him overpriced. As the only good player pulling significant minutes on the Raptors it is not a good place to be with him so close to the trading block.
The problem with Johnson and Davis is they play the same position. This puts the Raptors in a bind as when one of their top players in on the floor it pretty much comes with the expense of another being on the bench. With so many bad players guaranteed to be on the floor at once it hurts to have one of the few bright spots of the team seated.
The Raptors will not be a good team with so few good players and so many bad players. It’s also unlikely that things will turn around for the Raptors if they remain willing to shop their good players and insist on holding onto their bad players. In fact, the Raptors’ problems are so plentiful that blaming a single player or fixing the team is not a simple task. If we wanted to point at the biggest culprit though, as it currently stands DeRozan is killing the Raptors. And for that the front office seems ready to pay him even more money.
-Devin (with a little help from Dre)