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Who is Jason Kapono?

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At the time of the Jason Kapono for Reggie Evans trade -- we as Sixers fans -- had mixed emotions. I had no idea why. I was ecstatic. Ed Stefanski had just traded one of our most expendable players for the best (percentage wise) three-point shooter in NBA history. Why weren't some as giddy as I was? Well, whispers about Kapono being the worst perimeter defender in the league and turnover-prone, one-dimensional player had them worried. Then I started to worry. So what did I do? I surfed the web to gauge the reaction from Raptors Nation, and what did I discover? They were just as happy as I was. Hmmm.

A few hours passed and my enthusiasm dampened. I went from calling my friend Alex to tell him that Ed Stefanski had just made the greatest trade of all-time, and I'll see his Lakers in the Championship next year, to... "ehh, on second thought, this trade was good -- but very minor."

Two days later, I received an e-mail from my boy Adam from Raptors HQ, and some of my enthusiasm has returned. Take a look.

So here's the deal on Kapono.

When he was signed as the Raptors big-free agent a few summers ago, it was viewed as a bit of a coup. Toronto of course had had issues with signing free-agents of much significance in the Rob Babcock era and after a promising start under Bryan Colangelo, I think many thought this was another step towards Eastern Conference crown.

At the HQ though, we weren't fans. The team needed upgrades in rebounding, athletic ability, and toughness, not to mention a player who could create his own shot from the wing. Kapono obviously represented none of these things, and even as an exceptional shooter, I strongly felt that we were over-paying for a one-dimensional player.

I asked Bryan Colangelo about this at the Raptors' Media Day that fall and his answer was very curious. He argued that with the likes of Parker, Calderon, Bargnani and now Kapono, this deadly outside shooting would result in more successful makes from the field and therefore less rebounds to grab. This left many of the media including myself scratching our collective heads, and sure enough, as the season bore on, it was obvious that Kap-One was not the answer.

There is no denying how great a shooter Kapono is, perhaps one of the greatest of all time in terms of pure form and the speed at which he could get a shot off. However for such a potent long-range threat, he just didn't shoot 3's often enough. For instance, even though Kapono was brought in to fire-away from long-range, in his first season with the Raps, he attempted only 1.5 three-pointers per game. To put that in perspective, the lowest number of 3's attempted by former Sixer Kyle Korver was 2.8 in his rookie season...when he was playing only about 12 minutes a game!

At first the blame for this was laid at the feet of Sam Mitchell, especially after the team looked to get JK more involved against Orlando in the 2008 playoffs and he came out guns blazing. However even under Jay Triano last season, and with repeated attempts to run plays specifically for the UCLA alum, Kapono just couldn't get it going consistently. He shot only 43 per cent from the field and from 3-point range, his lowest totals in years.

The bigger problem with Kapono's lack of scoring is that without it, he can be a huge liability. He's prone to fouls (it was essentially a guarantee that he'd foul his man within seconds of checking into a game), a terrible individual defender, and barely a presence on the glass. And in the current NBA, playing Kapono at the 2-3 meant he was usually matched up defensively against the best players in the league, ones who wouldn't hesitate to take advantage of his poor lateral quicks and lack of athleticism.

That being said, it's not all bad and I really think Kapono can be a valuable asset...in the right system. In Miami paired with Shaq and Wade, opponents were busy trying to either double Shaq, or being drawn to the rim thanks to Wade's forays into the paint, so Kapono had lots of room to operate on the perimeter, and plenty of opportunities to get his shot up. Toronto on the other hand hasn't had anyone who can create off the bounce since Vince Carter went south and Bosh isn't the back-to-the-basket threat that Shaq is. As well, Colangelo's attempt at a twin towers combo of Bosh and O'Neal in order to create room for his array of perimeter gunners fell flat. Therefore in Philly, if Brand can stay healthy and re-establish himself as a force down low, and Iguodala keeps attacking the tin, then suddenly Kapono becomes a much more lethal option. He'll still be a liability on D, but one thing Kapono doesn't get enough credit for is his basketball IQ and passing abilities. Both of these should be an asset to the 76ers, especially in Princeton-esque offence that Eddie Jordan will likely run, and I can see Kap-One killing the Raptors a few times this coming season by finishing fast-breaks with long-range bombs.

Here's what I took away from Adam's analysis:

  • Tis true, Jason is a bad defender.
  • Tis also true, Jason is one of the best pure shooters in the league -- if not the best.
  • One of Kapono's biggest criticisms is, he doesn't shoot enough. How often is an NBA player criticized for not shooting enough? This is encouraging news because it can be fixed. This isn't a physical or fundamental flaw. This is a coaching flaw. I sftrongy believe (as does Adam), if Kapono is in the right system, with the right coach, he can be a great pick-up for the Sixers.
  • Jason will get open shots. Remember how many times Donny-Ice found himself wide open when he was in the game? The same should happen with Kapono. Andre Iguodala is a great drive-and-kick guy, and Elton is an an above average passer out of the post.
Now I have a better idea who Jason Kapono is and how he will contribute to the the 2009-2010 Sixers -- and I'm still a HUGE fan of the trade. Bravo Eddy Stefanski, bravo.

Note: Huge thanks to Adam for providing commentary on Kapono. Who knows the players better than their fans? I'm in the process of giving him my commentary on Reggie Evans. Feel free to give your "Reg-gie" commentary in the comments. I'm sure Adam and other Raps fans will be reading.