As if Raptor fans weren’t feeling bummed out enough with the fact that once again we are all on the outside looking in when it comes to playoff basketball. Not only do we get to watch other teams competing for ultimate prize in basketball, but Raptor fans are witnessing a number of former teammates playing key roles on teams that may just win it all.
As always, there is a Raptor spin to this years post-season. Players we gave up on, begrudgingly traded or didn’t appreciate enough at the time are playing key roles in this years playoffs. In fact there are a number of players who may end up tipping the scale in their teams favour this year.
In no particular order here they are.
Ex Raptors in the 2013 NBA Playoffs
Marco Belinelli – On a Bulls team that seems to be put together by MacGyver (with duck tape and chewing gum) , Belinelli has been a key, unexpected contributor. If you’re a Raptor fan, you’re likely as blown away by his presence as anyone. He came up huge in game 7 of the first round series against the Nets and is continuing his clutch play in this second round matchup against the Heat. Belinelli has always been a streaky shooter, but in these playoffs he has been someone his team can depend on late in games and at key points when the Bulls need a bucket. Not something he showed much of in his Toronto days. He has also held his own on the defensive end and at times has had LeBron James guarding him.
Belinelli has found his shooting touch just when the Bulls needed it most and helped the banged up Bulls advance to the next round. Bryan Colangelo, if he’s watching, is seeing the player he was hoping he acquired a few years back for the Raptors. Only now, is he playing up to his abilities.
Jarrett Jack – Jack was originally brought in to Toronto to be a key backup combo guard for a team that was supposed to make many playoff appearances. He didn’t get that chance in Toronto, but he’s making the most of the opportunity now with Golden State.
He has become a huge part of everything that is going right for Golden State. He’s a veteran leader that is really helping take charge of this exciting young team. When they needed clutch shots against Denver, Jack was there. When they needed a veteran facilitator he was their man. Jack has looked like a very valuable asset on this playoff team. Against San Antonio he has been a strong veteran presence who knows where the ball needs to go. He also isn’t afraid to take a tough shot when needed. Don’t the Raptors wish they had him coming off the bench now.
Jarryd Bayless – When Bayless was in Toronto, everyone knew he had the potential to be something special. It was simply hard to find a role on this Toronto team and they let him go in the offseason. He’s found his role with Memphis, that is for sure. In these playoffs he has been a spark plug for the Grizzlies off the bench. He’s been the perfect mix of passer and shooter; exactly what you want in a combo guard.
The Grizzlies simply do not get past Denver without Bayless. He was a classic clutch playoff performer. He came in and hit big shots and came up with huge efforts when his team needed it most. The Grizzlies bench looks a lot more scary now as they play a very difficult 2nd round opponent in the Thunder. Watch out for Bayless again in this series. He has the speed and ability to cause big problems for Oklahoma City. The Grizz are gonna need him if they hope to beat the defending Western Conference champs.
Chris Bosh – Once upon a time Chris Bosh was absolutely everything for the Toronto Raptors. He was the focal point of any and every opposing defense he faced and felt huge pressure in the playoff battles he had here in Toronto. Fast forward to now and Bosh is still an amazing All-Star talent, but opposing defenses can’t always apply pressure on him because they are focused on stopping LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.
Bosh wasn’t a huge factor for the Heat in the first round against the Bucks, but then again, he wasn’t really needed. If the Heat are going to beat the more troublesome Bulls and eventually the upstart Pacers, Bosh is going to be a key part of any chance the Heat have to win. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer present huge issues for Bosh inside and if he handles them he has to face a Hibbert/West or Chandler/Stoudamire combo. If this team hopes to beat either of those teams they will need major contributions from Bosh on both ends of the floor. With Wade still not looking 100% and opposing defences ready to pounce on Lebron James, the secondary scoring from Bosh will be paramount to a championship repeat. Look for him to heat up in this second round, if he doesn’t the Heat may face more difficulty than was originally expected.
Matt Bonner – Matt Bonner was a fan favourite in Toronto and an energizer off the bench for a bad team when he was here. Since moving to San Antonio, he has become a very important part of the team off the bench and in spot starting duties over the years. This year he, once again, finds himself in the role of energizer and a key three-point threat off the bench.
Bonner isn’t a major factor for the Spurs but he can be a dangerous player off the bench at various times. He is a big body and can hit the three with consistency. Matt Bonner is to the San Antonio Spurs as Steve Kerr used to be to the Chicago Bulls. Bonner likely won’t get heavy minutes, but he may come into the game late to take very important shots, especially if Danny Green keeps struggling with his three-point shot.
Tracy McGrady – Was once a building block in Toronto and was the best player for Toronto in the franchise’s first ever playoff appearance against the Knicks. He was a star in Orlando and the major offensive threat when he was in Houston.
Now McGrady is relegated to the bench in a cheerleading role. But what an intriguing player to have at the end of your bench. I wouldn’t be surprised if Greg Popovich has something up his sleeve when it comes to McGrady. He could provide some instant offense off the bench and he has been a solid defender his entire career. If the Spurs get into trouble don’t be surprised to see a little bit more McGrady then you ever thought you’s see again.
Roy Hibbert – He never played for the Raptors, but is technically a former dino. Traded as part of the Jermaine O’Neal deal, Hibbert has been a perennial All-star and looks like he might be the key to the Pacers playoff chances this year.
Hibbert is gonna have to step up to beat the New York Knicks who will send Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudamire against him. So far he’s answered the call and has been the difference for Indiana thus far. He has been unstoppable inside and provided Indiana with much of their offense.
If the Pacers get to the conference finals against Miami, it may be Hibbert that provides the biggest challenge for the defending champs. He is a tough matchup for Chris Bosh and plays a position that the defending champs have trouble with. Miami has trouble inside all season and Hibbert, who is just hitting his playoff groove, may be too much for them to handle.
Mark Jackson – He wasn’t a Raptor for long, but this former PG great is now in charge of one of the most exciting teams in the playoffs. He has this Warriors team playing the best basketball the franchise has ever seen.
Jackson may seem to be in over his head in a coaching matchup against the great Greg Popovich, but he’s held his own thus far. He’s got this young team energized and believing in itself. He is getting key contributions out of rookie (and almost Raptor) Harrison Barnes, journeyman Jarrett Jack and a returning Andrew Bogut, plus he has had to overcome injury issues to his star Stephen Curry.
Jackson, and his coaching decisions to come, will have a major impact on how the Warriors perform the rest of the way. When Jackson was a point guard he was known for his ability to get steals, with any luck he may just be able to steal another series from the Spurs.
The Zan Tabak Herald