T minus 2 days + Some things the Raptors should do

Let’s start off this morning by thanking Eric Smith for linking to the free ticket contest. Nice of him.

The season’s a mere three days away and the Raptors are picking up some injuries. They’ve all been to low-key players such as Hassan Adams, Will Solomon and Nathan Jawai but when your roster is this thin every little hit counts. Jason Kapono had to leave practice after banging his knee but its nothing serious so the people who will be playing the bulk of our minutes on opening night are all healthy enough to go. The general sense around this team is that we’re one major injury away from being a lottery team and that’s not an exaggeration. Most other teams are equipped to withstand injuries to a major player or two because they’re at least 2 or 3 deep at each position but we can only lay that claim to the center spot and that’s only because of Bargnani.

Even Jamario Moon’s suffering from an Achilles injury. Although he didn’t miss any practice time it wasn’t without some pain that he played. With Moon fit the Raptors had 10 men on the floor which allowed them to actually run a real scrimmage, otherwise they would’ve asked Jay Triano to step in at backup PG. Every time somebody bumps anything this year we’ll have our fingers crossed because we simply can’t afford any injuries. Such is the corollary of having a roster with “concentrated” talent.

Having good regular seasons often comes down to luck and injuries are a huge chunk of that luck. You can rack up many wins in a season if you happen to catch teams when their stars are injured or if they’re going through a bad stretch. Take for example our records against Philly and Atlanta last year. The Raptors are going to need some of that luck this year because on talent and depth alone we are NOT a top 4 Eastern conference team. We’ve already gotten a bit lucky with our schedule because we don’t have that lengthy West coast swing we usually go 0 for X on in the new year so that’s something to celebrate already.

Sam Mitchell’s thinking that Chris Bosh is ready to step his game up to the NBA’s elite level and join the ranks of Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and such:

“Chris is, I think now, trying to elevate himself to be one of the top players in the NBA to where people start talking about first, second-team all-NBA, I think he’s trying to elevate himself to that point…In the past, Chris would just come in … not go through the motions, but just do enough, now everything, every possession, every play is 100 per cent all out. I used to tell him all the time, the difference between Kevin Garnett and 95, 98 per cent of the league is Kevin played like he practised. And Chris is getting it, I think the light done came on.”

It’s true, the one thing that he’s carried over from the Olympics is the tenacity and effort he played with. Bosh was never a player whose effort could ever be questioned but now he’s also upped his seriousness about matters so much so that he’s treating every little thing he does as being crucial to the overall package he brings to the table. Having said all that, until he develops a strong post-up game with effective back-to-the-basket moves he’ll always make it easier for smaller, quicker 3’s to guard him. See Trenton Hassell’s defense on him last year. Team’s have shown that they can slow down Bosh by matching his quickness and forcing him to use his post-moves which at best can be classified as mediocre. Just telling it how it is, don’t get mad.

There are a few small things I’d like to see from this edition of the Raptors, I’ve narrowed them down to 8:

  1. Find an identity. Find some things that you’re good at and become great at them. Whether it be three point shooting, low-block scoring, man-defense or rebounding. You can’t be great at everything but you can focus on a few things and become very good at them. For example, Colangelo’s 2005-06 Raptors developed an identity of an offensive juggernaut that relied on three point shooting and when they played that style they usually won. Similarly this team needs to find a way to play which is best suited to them and force that style on play on opponents. Easier said than done but that should be Sam Mitchell’s #1 priority.
  2. If somebody gives you a hard foul, get mad. If you’re not going to get Ron Artest mad, at least get Rasheed Wallace mad.
  3. Script the first five plays of the first and third quarters so you get movement, continuity and some rhythm coming out of the gate. We’re not a team that plays catch-up very well and getting off to good starts in the first and third quarters is half the battle.
  4. Give O’Neal space to operate. We need to establish him in the post by clearing out space for him (this mean’s moving Bosh to the other side of the court) and avoiding spacing that makes it easier for defenders to help on him. This was lacking for most of the preseason.
  5. If Calderon isn’t cutting it defensively, yank him. It sounds harsh given our backup PG situation but he needs to understand that when he gets broken down it has a domino effect on the team. PG penetration was a big problem last year and although we have improved help defense this year in the form of O’Neal, it does not mean we can repeat our performances from last year.
  6. Get fast-break points. We didn’t get nearly enough last year because of our rebounding but this year with O’Neal around we can grab the rebound and throw a quick outlet to jump-start the break.
  7. When playing offense/defense, favor the offense. We lost at least a dozen games last year because of a stalling fourth quarter offense. I remember Jamario Moon taking too many bad, bad shots because he was left wide open by the defense. Flip that strategy around this year even if it means you’re putting someone like Kapono in a vulnerable position. You can’t always hide your weaknesses but you can exploit all your strengths.
  8. Acquire a small forward. This is the NBA and one can make a case that you’re only as good as your talented athletic wing players of which we have none. Unless the Raptors are tearing through the competition in the first half of the season, a silent trading deadline will surely be the wrong move.

These are all technicalities though. At the end of the day as Jack Armstrong pointed out, we need two of Jason Kapono, Andrea Bargnani or Anthony Parker to have career years if we want to make up for the lack of depth. Sam Mitchell’s echoing the exact same sentiments here when he says that two of Kapono, Parker and Moon need to step up. If the preseason is any indication of where things lie we’re going to struggle because of all the players mentioned in this paragraph only Andrea Bargnani looked somewhat in form. We’re all desperately hoping for a big jump in the quality of play from preseason to regular season which means that the practice sessions going on these days are paramount to getting off to a good start.

If for whatever reason you still haven’t had enough of the TS2, TSN, MLSE, Rogers, Bell nonsense, RaptorsHQ have done some “investigative reporting” to find out what really went down. I can sum it up for you: Fear not, you’re going to get the games so sit back and relax.

Don’t forget, we’ll try out live chat/blogging for the Philly game. It starts at 6:45PM right here on the front page of If the World Series goes to a sixth game next Wednesday, the game will start at 6:00 PM EST to avoid a conflict, in which case we’ll begin the live blog at 5:45 PM.

Today is a very important day in Raptors history. It marks 9 years to the day Master P was released by the club breaking many hearts.

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