Kapono finding his niche

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

OAKLAND -- The more shots he misses, the more confidence Jason Kapono gains.

It's the gunslinger's mentality, a necessary mindset that separates an average jump shooter from the very best.

When he's in rhythm and burying open looks, there aren't many shooters in the NBA as lethal as Kapono.

His release is among the best in the NBA and his feel for the game is quite high, even though Kapono doesn't have much in the way of hops.

With the Raptors concluding their six-game trip last night against the Golden State Warriors, Kapono entered the late-night tip fresh on the heels of an 0-for-5 shooting night in Portland on Saturday.

While Kapono occasionally will force his offence, he is among the most patient and prudent players in heaving his jumpers.

"I know I've made shots during my career," Kapono said. "Everyone is going to go through stretches where they miss three, four, five shots.

"That's not a big deal. It gets magnified when you take only three or four shots."

When his shot is on, Kapono gives the Raptors a shot in the arm. Toronto's offensive philosophy is to pound the ball inside to Chris Bosh and Jermaine O'Neal, establish some semblance of a low-post game and force defences to collapse.

When teams get drawn into the paint, shooters such as Kapono should, in theory, be given good looks at the basket.

Interim head coach Jay Triano admitted yesterday that perhaps the team has been too fixated by dumping the ball into the post and that he should be doing a better job of getting Kapono and other perimeter players more involved.

Clearly, Triano was defending his players because the inside/outside approach works more efficiently and effectively than strictly relying on the outside jumper.

Good teams develop that habit, which is part of the reason why the Raptors aren't a good team.

Bosh and O'Neal have been Toronto's best players of late, a fact that hasn't been lost on Kapono.

"Our wing guys, myself included, have to find ways to contribute," Kapono said.

Other than make shots, what Kapono, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker and Joey Graham must do is attack the rim, which isn't exactly breaking news.

The problem these guys face is when they settle for a jumper. When the Raptors have played well, they've moved the ball and have been aggressive in attacking the rim.

Kapono knows it, as does everyone else on the team.

In his past five games prior to last night, Kapono made a combined four trips to the foul line.

What Triano has to do is find that balance between getting his post options enough touches and Kapono better looks. When you talk to the Raptors coach about Kapono, you hear nothing but praise.

The problem with Kapono is the perception that he's just a three-point specialist, a guy who can't defend his position and someone who lacks athleticism.

"He's our best post passer,'' Triano said of Kapono.

What might come as a surprise is that Kapono ranks favourably on the Raptors from a defensive perspective.

It's not about locking up on one's man, blocking shots or recording steals.

It's the understanding of defensive team concepts, of knowing where to be on the court and when to rotate.

"He knows how to read defences,'' Triano said. "He's not quick, but he knows where to be and Jason ranks very high."

On every possession for every game, the Raptors rank each player based on 10 different categories.

Is someone boxing out? Getting back in transition? Defending the pick and roll? If someone gets beat is the player rotating?

The coaching staff looks at all the information and gives a player an efficiency rating.

Kapono ranks among the highest.

"Jason just knows how to play the game,'' Triano said.

"He's well-rounded in what he does. He's a lot more than a shooter."


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