Aaron Gray On A Roll In Toronto
Aaron Gray has been on a roll in Toronto with 16 starts since returning to the line-up after an early season heart procedure, but Gray’s roll is more about filling a role on the Raptors than anything you might see on the stats sheet.
The 7’ 2” center is still listed at his college weight of 270 lbs even though that seems highly suspect and has become Toronto’s immovable object in the middle. With Andrea Bargnani out size has been an issue at times and Gray is Toronto’s only other true seven-footer with any experience.
“He uses (his size) a lot,” said head coach Dwane Casey. “He is one of our best screeners. You’ll notice that when guys come off of him, they get open, and I like that about him.
“He sets the tone offensively for us as far as screening is concerned.”
“I just bring a physical presence,” said Gray. “Rebounding, defensively setting the tone, and trying to be more aggressive offensively, but really just setting screens. Trying to do all the little things that get us on the right track.”
Most games Gray starts the first and third quarters and plays limited minutes, trying to set a tone his coach hopes will continue after he returns to the bench. He averages just 17.6 minutes per game and it is easy to overlook his 4.0 points and 6.3 rebounds, but Gray has been grabbing an astounding 28.6 percent of the available defensive boards while he is on the floor, reminiscent of Reggie Evans’ recent efforts in Toronto.
“I am not the quickest or fastest guy, so along with my strength I have to use my mind,” said Gray. “I have to think a step or two ahead and be in the right position.
“I am not going to see the ball a lot on offense, so if I want to see it I have to go and rebound the ball. I am just excited to do that and it’s really my main role on this team and it’s a role I feel like I can excel at.”
Recently, the Toronto fans acknowledged his efforts as Gray worked towards his first double-double of the season with chants of M-V-P at the foul line. Gray was the unexpected beneficiary of a Detroit hack-a-Gray strategy.
“It was exciting,” said Gray. “I think they understand what I have gone through at the beginning of the season and how I have worked hard to come back. I think they just appreciate a guy who is out there working hard for them. I don’t think it was anything more than that.”
The chants of M-V-P were all in fun and Gray is someone who understands his role in the league and on the Raptors, but as a 27-year-old big man, he also knows he can still improve on his game.
“I talk to Aaron a lot because we both play the same position,” said the former All-Star Jamaal Magloire. “He is a young guy that is willing to get better. He asks a lot of questions and I just try to help him in any way that I can.
“I think his presence and his size is definitely a help for us. What I like most of all, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the basketball court, is his demeanor. He comes in, he’s a professional, he works hard, and he is willing to ask other guys what he can do to help them get open or help them in any way.”
“I talk to Jamaal every day,” said Gray. “Jamaal is a center who has been an All-Star in this league and people don’t really understand the accomplishments that he has as far as the national championship in college and being an All-Star here in the NBA. Being able to talk to him and go through different experiences, it has been great having him to mentor me.”
It has been one long extended tryout in Toronto for most of the team this season as Coach Casey and President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo evaluate which current players will continue to be part of the Raptors rebuilding process next year. Gray has been making his case for one of those spots.
“We’ll see,” said Casey. “We are still evaluating. Everyone is still being evaluated. I like a lot of what he is doing. He has great hands. He is smart. He knows all the positions on the floor defensively, so he is doing a good job.”
“I think there is a great opportunity here,” said Gray. “I think I bring something to the team that this team needs, but at the end of the day, it will be their decision because I love the city of Toronto and the team. They are rebuilding and really have a plan that is going in the right direction and to be a part of that would be great.”
A traditional reserve big man, Gray fills a role on the Raptors that can be very hard to fill. One only has to remember the likes of Alexis Ajinca, Patrick O’Bryant, or Loren Woods to realize not all big men are willing to accept the role assigned to them. Toronto has not had many centers that have embraced the role Gray relishes.
Next season, Casey and Colangelo will have a lot decisions to make about which players they wish to go forward with in their attempt to build a future contender, if Gray continues to do what he does, he should earn one of those spots.
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