NBA@2: Harrison Barnes A Toronto Raptor?
Tonight marks the last night of the 2011-12 NBA regular season, and while 16 teams are preparing for their first round match-ups, there are 14 teams who are now in full-time draft mode.
One of the more interesting teams that didn’t make it to the playoffs is the Toronto Raptors, a team that is poised to have the biggest offseason in the history of their franchise. They’ve been mired in mediocrity for some time, but with the right head coach now leading the team, a group of solid players who bought into his system and two lottery pick players ready to join the team next season, the Raptors should bring a new golden age of professional basketball to Canada in 2012-13.
The NBA hasn’t held the draft lottery yet (May 30), but the Raptors are likely to be drafting in the 6-7 range after the ping pong balls work their magic. That being the case, UNC’s Harrison Barnes should be of great interest to the Raptors. They have the front court taken care of with Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, James Johnson, Linas Kleiza, Jonas Valanciunas and Solomon Alabi (team option) under contract for next season. They could use some depth behind DeMar DeRozan at shooting guard, but that’s more of a free agency issue. What they really need from their first round pick is a legit wing player to complement the rest of the roster, and there just happens to be a player fitting that profile in this year’s lottery.
UNC small forward Harrison Barnes is not a future Hall of Famer by any stretch of the imagination, and he is not the guy you build your franchise around. Fortunately, the Raptors don’t need a franchise player – they already have some solid candidates for that label in DeRozan and Bargnani, and possibly Valanciunas. What they need is a great intangibles guy who will make the defense pay for overlooking him, and that role fits Barnes to a tee.
Barnes may not be great, but he is very good in a lot of areas. On the offensive end, Barnes ranked in the 73rd percentile in transition, 65th in post-ups, 64th in isolation, 64th as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, and 60th when coming off screens. He’s not much of a spot-up shooter and doesn’t cut to the basket for easy scores, but otherwise he does a lot of things well. The fact that Barnes is good in transition could help the Raptors address one of their biggest weaknesses on the season, as they ranked just 16th in the NBA in transition offense. He could also shore up their post-up game, where the Raptors were 19th in the league this season. Where Barnes struggles – the spot-up game – Toronto ranked 6th in the league this season, by far their nest offensive category, so that part of Barnes’ game wouldn’t be missed.
He’s not much of a defender, ranking in the 77th percentile when defending a pick-and-roll ball handler 64th in defending a spot-up shooter. Otherwise his rankings are pretty low, 42nd percentile and below across the board. That’s not ideal, but it’s not terrible either, as the Raptors have plenty of size in the paint to help clean up penetrating perimeter players.
Again, Barnes is not a franchise player who is ready to take the NBA by storm and make a franchise his own. He is, however, a great all-around player with strengths in a wide range of areas. He can step into a situation where a team already has some star players and be the James Harden, Jason Terry type of player who makes the stars more effective by filling in the gaps and torching an unsuspecting defense.
Don’t be surprised of the Raptors call Harrison Barnes’ number on draft night.
Richard Jefferson Ready To Lead
Not every player in the NBA could take the kind of move that Richard Jefferson was subjected to at this year’s NBA trade deadline. One day he was fighting for the NBA’s best record with the San Antonio Spurs, the next he was fighting for lottery position with the battered and bruised Golden State Warriors. But Jefferson, the consummate professional, took the move in stride.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Jefferson tells HOOPSWORLD. “As soon as I got traded here, knowing (head coach) Mark (Jackson) and knowing some of the guys on the coaching staff, I look forward to being a part of it.”
Many would qualify Jefferson’s time as a Spur as a failure; after all, he was expected to be the fourth All-Star-caliber player to help rejuvenate an aging lineup and get Tim Duncan his fifth championship ring. Rather than being the 20-points-per-game scorer he was throughout his prime, Jefferson struggled to find his shot in San Antonio. Instead of dwelling on personal stats, Jefferson points to the team’s success while he was there to define his time as a Spur.
“The thing is, we won 50 games one year, then we won 61 games, and this year when I left we were number two in the conference. We had some very, very good teams, we just weren’t able to put it together in the playoffs. I learned a lot from being around Coach (Gregg) Popovich. I learned a lot from being around, I think, three Hall-of-Famers in Tim, Tony (Parker) and Manu (Ginobili), and I look forward to brining some of the things I learned forward with this team.”
Jefferson admits he sees some of his former coach in his new one.
“I think there are a lot of similarities, but also a lot of differences in the way they approach the game. I think Mark has a bright future as a head coach. His basketball IQ is as high as anybody’s, but he’s in his first year and it’s tough to have such a young team in your first year and in a lockout season. It’s probably the toughest situation that you could come into as a first-year head coach and he’s handled it amazingly well.”
As important as Jackson it to the Warriors’ future, Jefferson has a significant role to play, as well. He’s the only player in the locker room who has been where the Warriors want to go – the NBA Finals.
“I talk to the young guys a lot about their approach,” says Jefferson. “Next year things aren’t going to automatically be better when (Andrew) Bogut’s healthy and when Steph (Curry) is healthy. Things aren’t going to be automatically better because every other team is going to get guys back and get guys healthy. It’s how you approach the game, how hard you work, the way you execute and just your general approach to the game. That has to start right now. This is also a great opportunity for some young guys to get some good minutes in some crucial games.”
David Lee already had a level of respect for Jefferson before they became teammates, but is impressed by the impact Jefferson has impacted the youthful Warriors.
“He’s already done that this year: to be here and advise the young guys on ways to go about their business and how to be professional,” says Lee. “That’s going to be huge for us next year, adding not only Richard Jefferson but some other veterans to go along with it. Whatever roles that may be, just to bring professionalism on this team and guide these great young players we have here.”
Talent certainly won’t be an issue for the Warriors next season, with another high draft pick joining what is already an impressive team on paper. Jefferson’s focus is on making sure that potential is realized on the court.
“We’re going to have to figure that out. Talent doesn’t necessarily get you to the playoffs. How you work, how you approach the game, your work ethic, your execution . . .those are things that great teams always bring to the table night in and night out. Talent-wise, we’ll be as talented as anybody in the league, but the next part is our execution and how we approach the game moving forward.”
With Jefferson in place, the Warriors believe they are ready to make significant strides forward as a franchise.
“He’s a player who has had a tremendous amount of respect from different people around the league,” then-GM Larry Riley said at the time of the trade. “He’s been in a lot of playoff games and our objective is to get him in some more playoff games. We know the situation this year and how tough it’s going to be closing out this year. We’ve significantly changed this team. We have a solid coach, we have a solid roster.”
Now all they have to do is put it all together in a unified package that gets the Warriors – finally – out of the Western Conference’s basement.
Playoff Seedings In The Balance Tonight
The last night of the 2011-12 NBA regular season is upon us, and while some teams have nothing left to play for, some absolutely need to win tonight to put themselves in the best possible position for the first round of the playoffs. Here’s a look at the tonight’s crucial games across the Association:
Dallas Mavericks @ Atlanta Hawks: The Mavericks are basically a shadow of the championship team of a year ago, but Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry hope to at least put up a fight in what is likely their last season together. If they lose tonight they will meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, which doesn’t bode well for the defending champs. A win tonight gives them a shot at meeting the Los Angeles Lakers instead, a prospect that became marginally more appealing when Metta World Peace earned a suspension that could stretch into the second round. Meanwhile, the Hawks can secure home court advantage in the first round with a win.
Milwaukee Bucks @ Boston Celtics: The Celtics have already locked in the fourth seed in the East by virtue of winning their division, but if they lose tonight they will still not have home court advantage in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks, who would have the better record. The Celtics don’t control their own destiny here, as a Hawks win in the above makes the result of this game irrelevant. Still, expect to see the Celtics fight like they have something to lose tonight, as that may very well turn out to be the case.
Philadelphia 76ers @ Detroit Pistons: The Sixers will most likely end up with the East’s eighth seed and a date with the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. However, if the Sixers win and the New York Knicks somehow find a way to lose to the Charlotte Bobcats, Philly would move up and play Miami in the first round. How’s that for motivation?
New York Knicks @ Charlotte Bobcats: Conventional wisdom would say the Bobcats will play the game of their lives and avoid the NBA’s all-time worst record with a last-ditch win over the Knicks. In this case, conventional wisdom would most likely be dead wrong. The Knicks are rolling, and should have this game safely put away by the third quarter. A win gives the Knicks the seventh seed and a date with the Miami HEAT.
Denver Nuggets @ Minnesota Timberwolves: The Nuggets control their own destiny here, as a win gives them the West’s sixth seed and a first round showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers. A loss, combined with a Dallas Mavericks win, would drop them down to the seventh seed and put them up against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. Given how many injuries the Timberwolves are battling, this one should be a foregone conclusion.
Orlando Magic @ Memphis Grizzlies: The Memphis Grizzlies also control their own destiny, as a win tonight locks in home court advantage in the first round as they take on the Los Angeles Clippers. The Magic already know their fate, win or lose. They will take on the Indiana Pacers in the first round while All-Star center Dwight Howard watches from the sidelines.
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NBA Chats: There are three NBA chats on the schedule today. Steve Kyler will kick things off at 10:30 a.m. EST. Next up, Joel Brigham will answer your questions at 1:30 p.m. EST. Finally, Mark Nugent will hold his weekly chat at 6:00 p.m. EST.