Raptors’ Barbosa In Demand Once Again?
Until two seasons ago, Leandro Barbosa was the ultimate change of pace sixth-man on a high-flying Suns team that had averaged 55 wins for six straight years. The Brazilian Blur was a one-man fast break who showed the same speed and determination in half court situations until an unfortunate wrist injury cost him half a season and a career-worst shooting percentage during his final year with Phoenix. That same year, newly-acquired free agent Hedo Turkoglu wasn’t working out in Toronto, and the teams swapped players hoping the change of scenery would improve the fortunes of both.
Being shipped to a team that has only rarely made the playoffs and had just lost their only bona fide star player to Miami in free agency didn’t seem to bother the easy going and up-beat Barbosa. The combo guard was well received in Toronto and looked great in preseason until he fell on the same wrist he had previously injured. An assortment of braces only seemed to hurt Barbosa’s ability to shoot, and a nagging shoulder injury added to a tough season where he missed 24 games and his new team only won 22. In the process, Barbosa fell completely off the radar around the league.
Throughout it all, no one ever heard Barbosa complain, demand to be traded, or play any of the games sometimes associated with veterans traded from a winning program to a lottery team. After the end of the season, Barbosa picked up his player option to play in Toronto again this year.
“I love to play. I love the game,” said Barbosa after a recent Raptors loss. “It is an honor for me to come and bring a lot of energy and try to help the team to win some games.”
Barbosa has been saying the same things since he arrived in Toronto and his play on the court only serves to accentuate the sincerity. Playing through those wrist and shoulder problems last season, Barbosa was third in scoring on the Raptors with 13.3 points in 24.1 minutes per game. However under new Head coach Dwane Casey, a fully recovered Barbosa got off to a surprisingly slow start this season.
“He hit a slump there early and then he bounced back and played well,” said Casey. I was probably more surprised by his slump early than DeMar’s.”
It has been unusual when a healthy Barbosa doesn’t seem to play well. He consistently puts out effort on both ends of the floor and Coach Casey has a surprising level of respect for his game.
“Leandro, he works at it to get open if you watch him during the game,” said Casey. “He’s constant movement. He doesn’t get pinned in and that’s the mark of experience. A lot like Ray Allen, you can game plan for him, try to pin him in, try to top lock him but he doesn’t let it happen.”
As a career sixth-man who now comes off the bench behind the very young DeMar DeRozan on a losing team, the spotlight doesn’t often fall on the contributions Barbosa has made. Between 2005 and 2009, Barbosa averaged over 15 points per game while shooting over 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range, and since his early slump this season, he is back to his old self. For the past 10 games, Barbosa has averaged over 17 points per game while shooting 49.6 percentage from the field and 50 percent from range and has been Toronto’s most reliable scoring threat in Andrea Bargnani’s absence. His personal success comes from a relentlessly positive attitude and a desire to win no matter what the circumstances.
“When the coach puts me out there it is because he has confidence in me and crediting what I do, so I just come and bring energy and play the way I like to play,” said Barbosa. “I don’t care if we are losing or not, I am playing to win. If we don’t win, I am going to play harder so we can win the next game.”
Not just a productive sixth-man with a good attitude, the Raptors view Barbosa as a role model for the 22-year-old DeRozan to emulate on the floor. A point Coach Casey has made on numerous occasions this season.
“Leandro got his groove back and that’s where DeMar needs to get to,” said Casey. “Where teams game plan for him, put a man and a half on him, (the goal) is to still work to get his position and get open like Leandro. He has to make more of a muscle to get open. Leandro, they do him the same way but he works until he gets open. That’s where DeMar has to get to and he will.”
The quiet 29-year-old Barbosa is easy to overlook as part of the future on a rebuilding Raptors team that has made Bargnani and DeRozan the faces of the franchise, but every team needs productive veterans surrounding their star talent, rebuilding or otherwise.
“Leandro came in and gave us a spark,” said Casey after the win in Phoenix. “He did a great job. That’s his niche. He is going to have a long career in the NBA doing that.”
The Raptors hope that long NBA career continues in Toronto, and they will look to lock him in long-term. His style of play carries with it a broad appeal in a league where speedy guard play has become the staple of successful teams, and the Raptors don’t want to let him slip away as a free agent.
“We would definitely like to have Leandro remain a Raptor and we will look to re-sign him, but the timing of a deal could be next summer,” Raptors President and General Manger Bryan Colangelo told HOOPSWORLD recently.
What happens with Barbosa in Toronto is yet to be determined, but this low maintenance, productive veteran has made a significant contribution wherever he has played. Coaches and general managers know that Barbosa, despite his unheralded status, will continue to be the guy who is always playing to win, no matter what the situation is, and on a more successful team, he wouldn’t be unheralded.
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