Apr 14, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) is fouled by Toronto Raptors center Aaron Gray (34) at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Nets 93-87. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Gray - In Focus

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.

Feb 8, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) posts up against Toronto Raptors center Aaron Gray (34) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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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Tags: Aaron Gray Dwane Casey Masai Ujiri NBA Raptors Terrence Ross Toronto Raptors

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  • AM

    I agree with the article, but one thing that I like about him is that he’s a team-oriented professional. He’ll go in and simply do his job. He seems to accept his role, whether its starting or off the bench (which is always to balance match-ups).

    The team just needs him to be big and battle the oppositions bigs, and that’s what he does. He rarely steps beyond his skill set.

    He’s not an overwhelming special talent, but in the NBA, sometimes simply accepting your role can keep you around.

    I think he serves as a good complimentary piece for the team, especially JV (and Amir).

    • Newmarket_Brian

      Hi AM:
      A backup centre in basketball is like a left-handed relief pitcher in baseball. They should be relatively easy to find, but there always seems to be a shortage.
      I agree that Aaron seems to have the right personality for his role. He does what he’s asked, to the best of his limited talents, and doesn’t rock the boat. Contrast that to James Johnson, who got on the wrong side of Dwane Casey, and was shipped to Sacramento in exchange for a box of popcorn.
      Thanks for commenting.

  • Newmarket_Brian

    Hi SR:
    My apologies for this late response to your comment. Sometimes readers’ comments get “caught” in our system, for reasons I confess I don’t understand, and yours was one.
    I appreciate you including the clip, and I will look at it and comment further.
    Thanks much; back soon.