The Toronto Raptors have always had issues up the middle. They’ve always seemed to be a little too soft. Not enough rebounding. Not enough scoring. And when the franchise finally got the All-Star calibre power forward it had looked for he chose to leave for greener pastures in South Beach.
The Raptors have never had luck when it has come to the power forward position. Whether drafting Rafael Araujo or the Andrea Bargnani experiment, the Raptors have always seemed to be let down by the position. A spot on the court where they were simply outplayed, outclassed and frequently beaten.
Scoring, rebounding, blocks and fouls have always (Bosh or no Bosh) been an issue at the 4.
Until last year.
Amir Johnson, he of the large contract, showed his value to the franchise. He was, arguably, the best player on this Raptors team on both sides of the ball. His defence was stellar. Maybe not a noticeable aspect of his game, but the Raptors had a defensive efficiency rating of 104.9 when Amir was on the floor last year. Not bad at all, especially when you compare it to the rating when he wasn’t on the floor.
Amir seemed to be all things for the Raptors last year. He scored at an impressive rate, was the teams best offensive rebounder and ran the pick n’ roll with great efficiency. He is also, unquestionably, the teams most popular player.
Amir wasn’t the most prolific scorer on the team, but he was the most efficient. If he can continue to keep himself on the floor, he is going to be a very dangerous player. The Raptors ranked in the top ten for offensive efficiency when he was on the floor. They were not nearly that good without him.
Once upon a time Amir was thought to be a terrible contract. A mistake. A classic overpriced, rich summer contract, but over the last year he has shown to be a bargain on both sides of the floor. He has not only played up to his contract he has surpassed it.
Amir’s contract now looks like a bargain compared to others in the league and he should continue to prove his value this season. If he stays out of foul trouble he’ll likely be able to repeat the success of this past year.
With continued efficiency, Amir might even be (GASP) an All-Star consideration.
Backing him up is the Raptors big free agent acquisition Tyler Hansbrough. His physical presence has been well documented. It remains to be seen how he fits into the Raptors rotation, but his skill set is something the Raptors have been lacking since the days of Oakley.
Hansbrough brings toughness and strength to the ball club. Players are no longer going to have an easy path to the basket. Hansbrough uses his fouls. If he fouls you, he’s gonna make it worth his while. In many ways, he is the anti-Bargnani. He can’t hot a three ball, not does he have a beautiful looking shot, but he does rebound. He blocks shots, fouls opponents hard in the paint and shows no fear (Metta World Peace aside).
He has always been a player you hate to play against, but fans may feel differently about him now that he is on our side. When he was acquired from Indiana, GM Masai Ujiri had this to say: “I’m tired of people who come here and call the team soft or pushovers and all those stupid names…Come to Canada and you come to play…That’s the identity we are trying to build. This is our team and we’re going to be tough out there.”
It is clear that Hansbrough’s addition was one that was meant to send a message to the fans, the franchise and most importantly the opposing teams.
Hansbrough brings something the Raptors haven’t had in years. He brings a work ethic that needs to find its way through the locker room. Teams that play the Tyler Hansbrough way usually win games. That is what Masai Ujiri hopes to accomplish.
Hansbrough could be the catalyst for a culture change in the city. Fans are going to love him and so will his teammates, because he is the type of player that can energize a crowd with a block, a steal, a hard foul in the paint or a loose ball being corralled.
The Raptors even have matchup opportunities at the 4. With Rudy Gay the Raptors possess the potential to really spread the floor. Rudy, who will usually find himself at the 3 spot, can slide over to the 4 when the Raptors go small. He possesses an impressive ability to change positions and force the opposition to alter their game plan.
The Raptors finally seem to have an advantage where there wasn’t one before. They can exploit matchups at the 4, go big or go small. With Tyler Hansbrough, Rudy Gay and Quincy Acy backing up Amir, the Raptors can switch up their game plan in a variety of ways.
Not since the early years of Chris Bosh have the Raptors had it so good at the 4. In fact, there is an argument to be made that they are better off now at the position than they ever have been.
Opposing teams are going to have to really do their homework when matching up against the Raptors.
The toughness Ujiri was looking for over the summer, appears to now be in place.
Zan Tabak Herald