Raptors’ centres need to unveil new skill

The Raptors offense has been brilliant on occasion, but needs to find another gear. The talent at centre is there – can they provide the missing link?

The Toronto Raptors have reason to be comfortable, if not ecstatic, about their situation at the centre position. The depth chart lists Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl, all of whom have proven themselves to be NBA-worthy.

Jan 27, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Terrence Ross (31) controls a ball as Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) tries to defend during the third quarter in a game at Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Raptors won 102-86. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 27, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Terrence Ross (31) controls a ball as Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) tries to defend during the third quarter in a game at Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Raptors won 102-86. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

None has so far emerged as an All-Star, or even a candidate. This is odd, particularly in the Eastern Conference where there’s a dearth of quality centers. The starting center(?) in the All-Star Game this month is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will tip against Anthony Davis. Unibrow’s backups are DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol, so the West has true centers to boast of.

If one (or more) of our crew is going to take the next step and develop into an All-Star, he will need to add the 3-point shot to his repertoire.

Some teams already have a stretch-5

According to ESPN, the top shooter of the long ball among NBA centers is Brook Lopez. The Brooklyn Nets big man hits 1.8 of his 5 tries per game, and has drained 81 so far this season. That’s 78 more than our guys – even that’s a misleading statement, because Bebe has hit all 3, on 9 attempts.

The idea of a stretch-5 in Raptors colours has been out of favour since the bitter final days of oft-injured and seldom-interested Andrea Bargnani. But that was a while ago, and it’s time to reconsider.

Toronto’s offense has become, to my eyes at least, somewhat predictable, and will be more so now that DeMar DeRozan appears to be back to stay. He will get the ball in isolation for the bulk of our half-court sets, and will pass out of those situations only when he has no recourse to shooting.

As for our centres, JV and Kyle Lowry have proven successful at the pick and roll. Given that JV is used to having the ball in his hands at the top of the arc, why shouldn’t he fire away on occasion? He’s making foul-lines jumpers (well, they are set shots, since he doesn’t leave his feet) with reasonable success and, according to reports, has been trying to extend his range in practice.

Nov 6, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) goes to the basket against Toronto Raptors cenetr Jakob Poeltl (42) at Air Canada Centre. The Kings beat the Raptors 96-91. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 6, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) goes to the basket against Toronto Raptors cenetr Jakob Poeltl (42) at Air Canada Centre. The Kings beat the Raptors 96-91. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Technique matters!

I like to consider a big man’s shooting percentage from the free-throw line when pondering the additional responsibility of shooting threes. In that regard, all the members of our triumvirate offer encouragement. Poeltl needs to pull up his socks (57.7%, on a mere 26 shots), but Bebe has made 65% of his 60 attempts, and JV is the gold standard at 85%.

What about shot technique? Who passes the eye test? None of the three has shown major hops, which I would like to see, but none is outright bad either. We aren’t talking Joakim Noah or Andre Drummond here.

Paging our coach

Over to you, Dwane Casey. You’re the coach, and the players will do what you ask or sit down. The NBA hasn’t stood still; its best players add skills to their kit bag every year. Just for fun, I glanced at Marc Gasol’s career results. How many 3-balls did he make in the first 8 years of his career? 12. How about this year? 75, and counting. Memphis, which was considered too old-fashioned to have a hope, sits 32-22.

Give it a go, Dwane. Bargnani is eating bon-bons somewhere; forget about him. The giants you have in front of you can make those shots, if you let them off the leash.

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