Raptors really miss John Salmons on the defensive end

SAN ANTONIO  - For most, John Salmons didn’t move the needle the way Patrick Patterson or Greivis Vasquez did when they came over in that now franchise altering trade with the Sacramento Kings last December.

While Patterson and Vasquez became integral parts of the second unit, Salmons bounced around playing now and then and did the things that go unnoticed by the average fan.

He certainly didn’t fill the boxscore, but in crunch time when Dwane Casey needed stops and a calming presence on the floor, Salmons was invariably one of those he called upon.

These days the Raptors head coach doesn’t have a guy like that and while Salmons role cannot justifiably be considered large in comparison to the core rotation guys that made up that 2013-14 team, his role was big when the Raptors defensive needs were biggest.

And his absence is being felt quite a bit right now.

James Johnson and Lou Williams, the two new additions to the roster, have come in and added to the rotation but in different ways.

Williams role is almost 100% offensive and he has filled that more nights than not.

Johnson is a big, athletic body but does not have the old-man smarts or defensive discipline that made Salmons such a benefit to the Raptors last season, particularly late in games.

Johnson answered another need with a big, physical presence that can match up with the Joe Johnson’s of the world but as far as being consistently in the right place and on point with the defensive schemes, Johnson is not in Salmons’ class.

At the age of 34 last season, Salmons had been through the wars and for him playing team concept defence was second nature. Johnson may one day get there but it’s not a level you attain without years of experience.

Before they traded him to Atlanta for Williams and Lucas Nogueria, the Raptors were in reported discussions with Memphis to send Salmons and the cap relief he would provide a team acquiring him there in exchange for Tayshaun Prince and a first-rounder.

Prince would have provided the same type of defensive steadying influence that Salmons had last season, but that deal never came to fruition.

Williams, without question, has been a boon to the offensive side of things and is among the most likely to battle it out for sixth man of the year, but right now with 18 games remaining, it’s the teams’ defensive woes that are most concerning.

The team has a defensive rating of 107.5. That’s 107.5 points allowed per 100 possessions and it matches the worst defensive rating in the four years Casey has been the Raptors head coach.

The team was actually statistically better in it’s first year and certainly better last season when it had a defensive rating of 105.3.

Salmons’ absence isn’t the only reason for this obviously. Jonas Valanciunas is still learning and as the middle of that defensive unit his on-the-job training is just something the team has to live with. Amir Johnson seems to intermittently be showing signs of all the wear and tear on his body, although he did have a stellar second half in Tuesday’s loss in San Antonio, looking every bit the energetic Johnson of a couple of years ago.

But the lack of a veteran wise in the ways of defence to go along with a guy like Johnson, who has had his own consistency issues this year, is a bit of a hole on this roster.

Offensively this team is going to score. If it’s not Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan carrying the load in the starting five there’s always Williams and Greivis Vasquez in the second unit to pick up the scoring not to mention Patterson.

But defensively this team is lacking.

Casey had been preaching a need for more desire on that end, but more recently his pleas seem to be centred more on a desire for some defensive intellect on his team.

At this stage the only answers have to come from within that 15-man roster.

And a Salmons-like presence among that 15 does not exist.

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