Clever Mitchell’s shortening lineup to avoid early dismissal

Sam Mitchell doesn’t want to get fired. To ensure that he doesn’t get fired he’s trying his best to get off to a good start since this is the most vulnerable time for him. If the Raptors come out of the gates slow there’s a good chance that Colangelo won’t stand for it and look in a different direction because as the old adage goes, it’s easier to fire one coach than fire 12 players. Now that Mitchell’s been handed Jermaine O’Neal and has publicly acknowledged (however truthfully) that he’s got a good team, the excuses for a poor start are drying up. So to make sure that he gets the most wins out of this relatively easy early schedule he’s stretching his starters. I have no problem with that, good for Mitchell.

The short rotations that are being used so far are generating a lot of talk. I just don’t see what’s wrong with them if they’re accompanied by wins. Is your concern that Mitchell’s not showing faith in the bench and that the “strategy” of extending your starters isn’t sustainable and will burn out the players by February? If so, you’re right, but know that you and I aren’t the only ones that understand that. As questionable as some of Colangelo’s moves have been over the last couple years we need to realize that the guy has a pulse and that anyone with a pulse sees that at some point we’ll need to look at the bench to carry us through the middle of the games. Everyone on the bench including Hassan Adams will get a chance to prove their worth and if they do they’ll work their way into the rotation, if not, then we’ll make a move.

The 3-0 start couldn’t be sweeter, we’ve beaten two good teams and ruined a home-opener for the other. The interior defense has held its own even though the rebounding numbers aren’t there and our perimeter people are making the most of their opportunities by shooting a high percentage. The wing defense has been good enough and Anthony Parker is playing at a very high level, especially when it comes to his man-defense. I’d like to credit some of that to Jermaine O’Neal’s presence in the paint which is always in the back of any attacker’s mind. He’s come up with some spectacular defensive plays in all three games which send a message to any guard who might’ve been thinking of attacking the paint. Parker is moving his feet very well and is playing with the confidence of knowing that there is a second line of defense if he gets blown by. Even Calderon’s defense is being disguised by this new found defensive barrier. There’s no doubt that O’Neal’s presence has had the effect of increased defensive confidence on the perimeter.

Timely stops have won us games but without timely scores we’d be 0-3. So far our fourth quarter strategy hasn’t differed much from last year. Give it to Bosh, clear out and hopefully he scores or draws a foul. Now this is not sustainable and needs to be fixed. In the three games against Philadelphia, Golden State and Milwaukee we’ve been bailed out by a Bosh jumper, Bosh jumper and drive, and a Calderon three, respectively. In all three cases the play coming out of a timeout was not a play at all and the players simply freestyled their way to scores. Sam Mitchell’s main criticism has been the lack of a sophisticated playbook and until he gets one we’ll be living and dying by the sword of individual one-on-one plays. What goes around comes around and if we keep relying on simplistic “plays” like we have so far there’s no doubt we’ll hit a stretch where we struggle to score late in games because the shots that are going in now won’t be then. This is just probability talking. A consistent fourth quarter offensive scheme is a must.

Overall Mitchell’s done a great job of mixing and matching the way Bosh and O’Neal have been used. He’s made sure that neither is starved of touches and is playing to their strengths. The perimeter players knocking their shots down makes the big men look even better since most of the outside shots we’re taking originate from a Bosh or O’Neal double. Calderon’s been running the pick ‘n roll with confidence and has been consistently looking for his shot from 18 feet when the defender goes under. He’s shown that he’s not gun-shy and why should he be? The man is a great shooter. The combination of Parker, Kapono and Moon are providing high-percentage offense while holding their own defensively.

Bargnani’s getting progressively better and has decided to be a factor in the game even when his shot isn’t falling. He’s doing the “right” things on the court and is playing with confidence and energy. Most importantly he’s being allowed to play through his mistakes and fouls. If only the balance we’ve shown in the starting five + Kapono + Bargnani could somehow trickle down to two more players we’d be set. Those two players have to come from Solomon, Ukic, Humphries or Graham. Humphries’ production is dependent on playing time and if Mitchell gives him burn he’ll return the favor. I think you’ll see this happen, Humphries is more or less a proven player that has shown that he belongs in the NBA and can be a positive on a team. So that’s 1 and we’re up to 8. Now we need one from Solomon, Ukic and Graham. I’ve written of Joey as having a revival with his next team. That leaves us with one of Solomon and Ukic. Of the two we can safely say that Ukic is still very much a work in progress. His vision is there but the execution is not. Solomon hasn’t seen the light of day yet so its hard to comment but we’ve seen that he’s a good defensive player that has a mild case of mikejamesitis which if treated early can turn into something positive. Our best bench bet is to field a lineup of Ukic/Solomon (1), Kapono (2), Bargnani (5), Humphries (4) and say a starter such as Anthony Parker (3) for 6-8 minutes in the second or third quarter and see how they fare. The mileage may vary but the only way we’ll find out is if we let them loose. It has to happen soon, maybe not against Detroit but definitely against Atlanta.

Jermaine O’Neal’s saying that the Raptors won’t be helping up opponents off the ground anymore. In fact he says:

“This year you don’t see a lot of (Raptors) helping (opponents) up. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to step over guys if we knock ’em down. And that’s the way it should be.”

Then some reporter probably went up to Bosh and said, “Hey Bosh, O’Neal’s saying the Raptors are tough this year and weren’t last year” to which Bosh responded:

“I’ve always been a tough guy. I know it’s hard to imagine that because I’m thin and everything, but I’m a tough guy, man.”

At this point the stoned bystander interjected and said:

Yeah whatever dude man like you weren’t tough like last year when your buddy Ford got knocked the F out and lay there twitching with his mouth and shit wide open and eyes glazed. Naah man naah…that ain’t tough, that be called pussying out..naah mean?

The stoned bystander does have a point, Bosh is a hard-nosed player who plays tough but I’m not sure that’s been reflected on the court when the whistle has been blown. Tough nor not, I’m just glad that there’s such talk going around the Raptors dressing room and even team leaders like Bosh are looking at the mirror and evaluating themselves.

Matt Devlin’s doing an alright job so far as the play-by-play guy; there’s a piece in the G&M that hints at him and Jack Armstrong being more in-sync with each other than him and Leo. Rest assured I’ll be asking him that question if he ever does an interview with us. I’m liking him so far because he’s keeping things simple by letting the action do the talking and letting the fans do the opinion-forming. I just love the way he coaches the game as he’s calling it…Give him that shotUse both hands to rebound nowShow some patienceSlow it downRun a real f*****g play please. OK, I made that last one up.

This morning I was reading this piece titled Skiles slights Raptors and after reading it I couldn’t spot the slight unless his exclusive praise of our three best players is somehow seen as a swipe against the rest. And even if it was, would he be wrong? Here’s a slight though, some turd named Shane Howard is taking a shot at the Raptors in this lame attempt at humor.

The Toronto Star’s having a deal with Ticketmaster where you can get cheaper tickets for some November games including Detroit on Wednesday. So we shelled out some money on Saturday night and bought the chat software that we use to do the Live Blog, this means that nobody should get the “Max Users Reached” message anymore. So swing by during the game. We got three full days before the Raptors play again so we got to find some ways to cut through it….we’re trying to think of things but for now just go to the front page of the site and check out some articles on the web or maybe you want to know what Roko thinks of being a white PG.

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