Bryan Colangelo’s Architectural Flaw

Title: Bryan Colangelo’s Architectural Flaw
Date: March 13, 2008
Original Source: Hoops Addict
Synopsis: Most of my work from Hoops Addict has since been lost from a server change-over they undertook, though I was lucky to find my backups. This article was a look at how most of Bryan Colangelo’s teams fair poorly in terms of rebounding differential, a potentially fatal flaw in his design plans for the Raptors.

Bryan Colangelo changed my life as a basketball fan. The day he agreed to become the President and General Manager of my beloved Toronto Raptors was a glorious one, and the sun has not stopped shining in Toronto since. He has transformed a doomed franchise into a competitive and developing team assembled with likable players and in a clear and enjoyable image. “The Architect” has turned the Raptors into the envy of those who cheer for bad teams, turning the team’s fortunes around instantly.

But as the Raptors sit 5th in the Eastern Conference, struggling to keep that spot in Chris Bosh’s absence and facing the gloomy fate of an unfavorable first round match-up, Toronto fans have begun to ponder this team’s long term potential under Colangelo. It seems blasphemous, but despite being a complete and utter genius, The Mastermind’s franchise plans have consistently had one fatal flaw – rebounding.

I don’t have to tell Raptors fans that the team is 21st in the league in rebounding rate and 5th last in offensive rebounding rate. And those are rates – in aggregate totals, the team falls to 27th in rebounds and 20th in rebounding differential. They are not awful, but any Raptor fan will tell you that those numbers are misleading, and the team just cannot grab rebounds on either end of the floor when the best bigs are on the floor for the opposition.

This isn’t new to Colangelo teams, either. Last year the Raps grabbed just 48.1% of possible rebounds. In his last three years there, the Suns grabbed just 47.7%, 48.9%, and 48.1% of rebounds. You’d have to look back to the 2000-01 season to find the last time a Colangelo-built team had a positive rebounding differential, and that year the Suns only grabbed 9 extra boards more than the opposition.

The Suns were built to be a fast-paced team, so size is obviously not valued highly. Colangelo employed Amare Stoudemire, a natural power forward, as a center. He used Shawn Marion, a natural small forward, as a power forward. He used Boris Diaw, a natural forward, as a center off the bench. Yes, his teams have always been successful and exciting, but there is an inherent truth about rebounding deficiencies.

A rebound is a possession, so losing the rebounding battle provides you with fewer opportunities to score than the opponent. For a high-octane offense, that sounds like a pretty serious drawback, and Stever Kerr agreed, trading for a true rebounding center as his first major move. While the Shaq trade was controversial and may not work out, the basketball world was in agreement that the Suns seriously lacked rebounding and interior presence.

And now the same criticisms are being levied against the Raptors. Andrea Bargnani, who plays like a small forward and is probably a natural combo-forward, is being asked to play center for the franchise for the foreseeable future. This may be the key flaw in the team’s future plans, whereas a future line-up with Andrea at small forward with a more natural center in place would make the Raptors a formidable rebounding and inside-outside team.

It’s not just the possessions, either. Offensive rebounds lead to easy buckets and defensive rebounds allow you to run the floor quickly before the opponent can set up defensively. Additionally, strong rebounding presence takes away a defense’s ability to double-team shooters on the perimeter, leaving deadly shooters more open than they would be otherwise. Sounds like a good thing for a team that shoots 40.6% from long range to have, right?

Additionally, rebounding is strongly correlated with postseason success. It’s definitely possible to win games without a rebounding edge, but you have to go back to 1994-95 to find the last time a team with a negative rebounding differential won the NBA Championship, and that Houston team made up for it by shooting 48% – for the entire season. The top-10 rebounding teams in the NBA have a combined winning percentage of .662 and only one is not a playoff team (Philadelphia). The Raptors, on the other hand, rank as the worst rebounding team currently in a playoff position, save for (you guessed it) Phoenix.

If I could pick any person to build my favorite basketball team into a championship contender, I would not hesitate to select Bryan Colangelo. I wouldn’t even interview other candidates, he’s that good. And I’ll moderate this entire article by pointing out that Colangelo has never once been permitted to cross the luxury tax threshold (which is probably why we didn’t solve a huge need by signing hometown boy Jamal Magloire when he became available last month), so Bryan has sometimes had his hands tied. That said, if he hopes to ever wear a championship ring and cement his status as one of the greatest executives in sports, he has to get this rebounding thing figured out. Unless MLSE opens their wallets for a player like Elton Brand this offseason, it’s a problem he’ll have to figure out internally or via the draft and limited free agent money, and it may require a change in his overarching basketball philosophy.

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