Amongst the many nicknames I've had foisted on me, one of them is 'Stats.' I'm not ashamed of that sobriquet, but I have to admit, I do feel Stats are the worst of the degrees of lying. A post over at the Wages of Win Journal seems to get half the story straight. It blames a lot of the current woes of the Toronto Raptors on DeMar Derozan. And I agree with the writers of the piece.
But some of the other factoids in the article don't hold up to the eye test. In fact, the long-running evaluation of Andrea Bargnani as the worst player in the NBA has long rankled. True, last year, I stepped off the Bargnani Bandwagon and stopped hoping for all-stardom. But at his worst, Bargnani was an NBA starter. He wasn't particularly awesome on defence, but was, and is, a better one-on-one defender than Chris Bosh, for example. His problem was help defence, an idea he never seemed to grasp.
Until this year.
And suddenly, when healthy, Bargnani was playing at an all-star level. Sure, the stats gurus still found ways to mark him down, WITHOUT seeing him actually play. Can't remember Chris Sheridan EVER nominating a Raptor game as the Game of the Night to watch. I'd wager that the folks who regularly denigrate Bargnani see him play less than five times a year. And it wouldn't surprise me if they hadn't seen Bargnani in action at all.
With Bargnani, the Raptors have played at almost a .500 level. That's PLAYOFF good in the woeful East. Without him, the club has placed it's life in the hands of Derozan, who's fumbled it with inaccurate shooting, tepid driving and a level of fumble-fingered dribbling that rivals the most cement-handed centres in the league. Outside of one glorious three-point shooting night and the lane-driving tour-de-force in New Jersey and Derozan has been awful all season long. And even in the Jersey game, he kept missing free throws, an annoying trait to any basketball purist.
So, the writers are right on spotlighting the puerile performance we've almost come to expect from Derozan this year. The article got in the usual jabs at Bargnani, who's numbers are above-average, not that you'd know it from the text. And the article highlighted Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis as the only Raptors worthy of an NBA uniform.
Calderon is my favourite Raptor. Has been for years. I normally brook no bitching from basketball no-nothings about the pass-happy Spaniard. And he was pretty good through, oh, about the first three weeks of the season. But somewhere in the first Bargnani absence, he got tired. And has been awfully tired since then. His turnover rate, one of the best amongst NBA guards has risen dramatically. He's also getting some of HIS turnovers charged to others because, well, he's JOSE CALDERON, and he doesn't turn the ball over. His shooting has become something to be worried about. But he's actually doing better under Dwane Casey's defensive scheme than he did under Sam Mitchell and Jay Triano. So he's still a plus, especially when compared to the alternatives ... Jerryd Bayless, Anthony Carter and Gary Forbes. Bayless now stands revealed indisputably as an under-sized two-guard and it's time to stop this PG nonsense when talking about him. Carter is no longer NBA worthy and Forbes is just a Bayless in an earlier stage of trying to fake it at the point. To their credit, Bayless and Forbes try hard and seem like good guys. Not NBA point guards though.
Amir Johnson started the season with a pretty good run for ten games. Since then, he has been awful to horrible. His bread-and-butter pick and roll needs a side-dish of three-point threats, or a single threat (Bargnani) to be effective. No Bargnani and Amir seems to be unable to re-jig successfully. It seems he takes his offence back on 'D' too. As a result, I can't believe that the stats haven't given all of his plus value back from the first ten games AND then some. In the past 36 hours, it's been revealed that Amir is going through some personal issues. I hope, fervently, that they resolve themselves for this giant bear of a guy, one of the nicest basketball players I have ever met. But at his current level of play, Amir Johnson would never even get on the floor for about two-thirds of the NBA.
Which brings me to the real eye test of the stats mavens. Ed Davis. He's been Amir Johnson bad ALL BLEEPIN' YEAR. He's clueless on defence often enough that you wish he could IMPROVE to 'Bargnani of yore' bad. He does block shots off the ball, which have to be disproportionately represented in the stats and he collars enough rebounds given the plentiful opportunities to ALMOST average more than Bargnani. But his shooting range is still only Reggie Evans deep. Everybody who knows me knows I hated the Davis draft pick. I wanted Patrick Patterson and maintain that Patterson, who isn't exactly lighting up Houston's stat sheets, would have been a far better fit for Toronto. Still do.
Next year, the Raptors have to make a decision. Keeping Amir Johnson or Ed Davis. The team needs a three-man rotation and the addition of Jonas Valanciunas means one of Johnson or Davis should be traded for another asset. While they still have some value. And I know WHICH of the two I'd move. At least Amir has shown value IN the past.
The eye test and the stats disagree. Especially this year. One's lying and I know which one it is. So do you, if you've watched many Raptor games this year.