Time to spend a few minutes considering the merits of one Aaron Gray, professional big lug.
Aaron graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2007 and was drafted #49 by the Chicago Bulls. He put in a few humdrum seasons there and with New Orleans, then was signed by the Toronto Raptors prior to the ’11-’12 season. Whatever Aaron did in his first season in Canada was sufficient for coach Dwane Casey’s purposes, and the big man (7’0″ & 270 lbs.) was re-signed to a two-year deal. This is Aaron’s final season in Raptor red unless he manages to convince GM Masai Ujiri he’s worth another go-round.
A modern NBA team plays “small ball” to a considerable degree, particularly if it has a talented number of players classified as swingmen, meaning mid-size players who can be moved from shooting guard to small forward easily (or even point guard, in a pinch). Aaron offers his coach no such flexibility; he is a Backup Centre, nothing more. Fortunately for him and his wallet, it’s an essential role which he fills acceptably. He’s neither a shot blocker nor a rebounder, as he has virtually no hops, so his defensive contributions are often of the intangible sort. Aaron can battle the Tier-2 centres to a draw, and will fill up the lane, forcing driving guards to change their shots or draw charging fouls.
On offense, Aaron’s contributions are….modest. He picks (but doesn’t roll, which is a big negative) and passes as well as any other backup centre, and doesn’t take ill-advised shots. He takes a fair amount of abuse under the opposition’s hoop, but his career free-throw shooting is an unacceptable 56.3%, so opponents will continue to hack with impunity. Aaron can hit baseline jumpers to about 12 feet, though not often enough to have plays called for him.
Aaron gives starter Jonas Valanciunas [JV] the requisite in-game breathers, and doesn’t damage the team when he’s out there. It’s reasonable to assume that Aaron is comfortable in his role; he’s never averaged more than 16.6 MPG [Minutes Per Game] in his 6-year career, and I’d be surprised if he hits 12 MPG this season. JV played 23.9 MPG as a rookie; barring injury, he’ll push 34 as a sophomore, and he will never be on the floor together with Aaron. Furthermore, I expect to see the Raps play small a lot this season, particularly if Terrence Ross’s considerable talent begins to manifest itself into production. Should that happen, Aaron’s minutes will be cut further, as he’s the last guy you’d want on the floor when trying to outrun and outgun the opposition.
Aaron Gray’s career has plateaued, and not at a high level. Nonetheless, he’s a small but essential cog in the Raps’ machinery.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.
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