Last Chance for Joey Graham?

For two years, Raptors fans have seen the “good” Joey Graham and “bad” Joey Graham, and we’re never sure which one will show up at the game. Coming into the final year of his rookie contract and a Raptors squad full of talent, can he be the impact player many so desperately want? Jeff Wong and Kinnon Yee take a closer look.

Kinnon: Okay Jeff, we’ve decided to look at one of the most difficult problems on this Raptors squad, in the completely inconsistent Joey Graham. Looking at the past year, he didn’t post horrible numbers (FG% was particularly high), but what’s it going to take to really turn him into that breakout guy that everyone looks for in a prospect?

Jeff: I think Joey’s had two years of decent playing time under his belt, so I don’t think it’s playing time. Maybe he needs a change of scenery? Maybe he’d be better off on a team with a more deliberate style? How ’bout a swap of Graham and salary ballast for Andrei Kirilenko?

But seriously, it’s been observed (i.e. by Doug Smith) that Graham is better suited in his natural spot at power forward. Yes, he’s got the athleticism to cover SFs, but he just doesn’t have as much of an impact there. His situation makes me think of Shawn Marion moving to SF when Amare returned at PF, and AK-47 doing the same when Boozer took over at the 4; they just didn’t produce like before.

Kinnon: Nevertheless, I think Joey’s situation has been different. On this Raptors team, there’s no question that they have an ability to score. We’ve got even more opportunities now that Jason Kapono is with the team, and I’ve always wondered, “Why doesn’t Joey bring that rebounding ability he’s supposed to have as a PF, into all positions he plays?” I mean, when it comes down to it, just because he’s playing a SF/SG position, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t go in for a rebound instead of hanging on the perimeter. This is especially true since Bargnani (at least on the offensive end) will be out closer to the 3 pt line on most plays, leaving the Raptors down one rebounder. Everyone knows there are two things that are the most troublesome for this current Raptors team: 1) Defending and 2) Rebounding. Three years in, we can safely say that Joey’s just not going to be that “lock-down” defender he was boasted as when we drafted him. Physically, he might be gifted to defend positions 2-4, but mentally, he has too many lapses at the pro level.

So, when it comes to finding a niche, he should be looking at rebounding again. With the logjam at the 4/5 positions, Joey should bring a rebounding intensity at the 3 spot which would make him a niche player within this squad and the league. In the end, that’s my advice to him to become a player that the Raptors need.

Jeff: Y’know, I used to think that rebounding is a matter of just “getting after it,” too. But I’ve read so much lately about a player’s proper position. Dr. Greenberg spoke a bit about how a player’s mindset determines whether they’re suited for playing PG, SG or SF.

I also asked David Thorpe about Joey Graham, his natural position, and rebounding in general:

I see your question as actually two questions.

First, can playing out of position make a difference? The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes!’. Graham’s inability to make deep perimeter shots, and his lack of creative scoring feel make it hard for him to score as a 3. His smaller size makes it tough to defend true ‘bigs’ as a power forward. He’s a classic ‘tweener’. [Jeff’s note: A definition of tweener here] Although he’s a great jumper, I’ve always felt he’s lacking in quickness, which is a great asset for a 3 unless you have real ‘craftiness’. Graham simply cannot overpower most 3’s or 4’s, and power is his only true asset other than jumping.

The second question, regarding rebounding, can be answered like this:

It’s not necessarily ‘intensity’ that has to be elevated to improve rebounding, but rather ‘awareness’ first, then dedication.

Here’s an example. Say you were very overweight, but never knew. It just never dawned on you until one day your doctor told you to lose weight by eating only healthy food and exercising. Now that you are aware that weight must be lost, you have a chance to do so, but only if you dedicate yourself to healthy eating habits. Graham, in my opinion, is simply not aware that he should be a better rebounder, or he is just not dedicated to becoming one. Studying film, going to the glass more, positioning himself properly when a teammate (Bosh) is making a move that typically ends in a shot, etc.

Incidentally, I actually think Graham is rebounding okay. But he is a poor defensive player, as I see it, and poor on the other end as well. Not a good combination.

Kinnon: Coach Thorpe brought up some interesting thoughts about Joey’s predicament, which actually supports a lot of what Coach Mitchell has been saying for years. It’s not about his talent or athleticism, but his experiences and smarts. But back to his comments, Coach Thorpe has shown that it depends on how you look at the situation. It’s true that Joey might not be the scorer that most people expect out of the SF position, but in the end, he can bring other skills to that set instead. Putting it in a different way, if Garbajosa/Bargnani draw their bigs out to the perimeter, then that means that Joey should have a size and jumping advantage against the competition in the paint for those loose rebounds. Unfortunately, according to some preliminary reports, it seems he’s been working on his ball handling all summer.

Speaking of Joey’s game, what player do you think we can compare Joey to? He’s kinda unique in that sense, in that he kind of has a big body, but doesn’t throw it around much, and is more of a finesse guy at times. Potentially, he could become a taller, better shooting Reggie Slater, or Corliss Williamson. What do you think?

Jeff: It’s funny that, around draft time, he was also compared to Ron Artest. Physically, maybe, but I don’t think the basketball IQ is there.

I was hoping for a little Antawn Jamison: long-range shooting and rebounding ability. Is there still time? From what I remember, Jamison is a late bloomer. According to his stats, he didn’t play a full season until his third year, and he really blossomed in his sixth year, his only season with the Mavs. (Wow, has he been in the league 9 seasons already?)

Kinnon: We’re not getting any younger, Jeff.

Jeff: *Sigh* – I guess not.

I still have my handy-dandy spreadsheet of PERs from my Center Development article. According to these numbers, the average forward shows the most improvement (marginally) in their fourth year. If you isolate the combo forwards on this list (small number, I know) and extrapolate, Joey’s peak year should be his third year – next season.

Not very scientific, but gives me a little hope.

Kinnon: Finally, what do you think has caused Joey Graham to be able to stick with this Raptors squad, and not his brother, Stephen? Is it because Joey is that much more different, or are the Raptors just stubborn? Or is there really something that the staff sees that the rest of us don’t?

Jeff: I’m pretty sure there are significant differences between Joey and Stephen, not only regarding their contract sizes. Remember, in Oklahoma State, Stephen played fewer minutes, and in the post instead of his more familiar PG position. And Stephen continues to bounce around the league, so other coaches must agree that he’s not ready for primetime.

In fact, comparing his profile to Joey’s, you can see that these are two different players (particularly the ballhandling part), although twin brothers.

Kinnon: I honestly don’t see much difference in their game though. They more or less, played the same position in university, but teams have tried to groom Stephen into a different position, and let him “play through his mistakes”. Granted, it’s hard to tell because Stephen’s hardly had any burn in the league, and continues to bounce even though he’d probably benefit from some time in Europe. An unselfish Joey-sized guy, with some clearer understanding of plays (since he was a PG in high school for a time) and you just wonder which would actually be a better fit? Take Stephen’s brain and dump it into Joey’s more experienced body, and you’d probably have the guy the Raptors need.

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6 thoughts on “Last Chance for Joey Graham?

  1. Great score by getting Thorpe to offer his opinion. He’s one of the best basketball minds out there and anytime you can get his opinion on something it makes for a must read article. Great job guys!

  2. I wish Joey Graham would just get traded while he has a bit of value. He will be lost on the Raptors bench this season due to the quality of players that will pass by him on the depth chart faster than TJ Ford on a fast break.

  3. Some players it takes 3/4 years to find their spot in the rotation. Graham showed at the end of the year he can do the job, scoring and rebounding. Consistency is the problem. He is still a very cheap option for 07 and even if they pick up his option for 08.
    Compare his cost & potential to what some others are making. Graham/Dixon/Jackson/Moon are all on the trade bubble if something better comes up.

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