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I felt bad for this kid.

The $20 dollars was the best value of money you could ever spend on the Raptors. Myself, AltRaps and Wally were standing on the baseline the entire game and got a great view of the scrimmage. You can check out some pics and videos I took from my rather crappy camera. I’ll upload a couple videos later. The arena holds about a 1000 people and can best be defined by the word ‘intimate’. Yeah, I tried looking up better words to describe it but couldn’t. The scrimmage is more a show for the fans than an event from which hard and fast conclusions can be drawn, nonetheless, it does give an idea of the level of intensity, competitiveness and general flow of training camp thus far. You could also figure out how certain players are approaching the pre-season and what their level of involvement might be this year.

Antoine Wright said it was the most intense training camp he’s been to and he might not be exaggerating. There was no sign of anyone taking it easy in this game and everybody was trying to make their mark. Patrick O’Bryant even got into a debate with the ref after a foul against Bargnani to which the ref appeared to respond: Listen man, just tell me what you want me to call next time and I’ll do it but god damn man, it’s a scrimmage, take it easy! Calderon, DeRozan, Bargnani and Wright were on one team (coached by Iavaroni) while Jack, Belinelli, Rasho and Evans were on the other (coached by English). Jack’s team won 47-32 and he himself was the best player on the court today. He was the most vocal of anyone and was barking out some pretty complex sounding plays all game long.

He broke Calderon down off the bounce using the general shake ‘n bake menu and had Jose running around screens for most of the game. Wally thinks that Jack’s determined to take Calderon’s job and even though he’s not going to outright say it, you can see it in his play. Jack got to the paint and kicked out against a defense that looked programmed to stop any dribble penetration right at the top of the FT line. He showed good court vision in transition and was easily the Raptors’ best ball handler on the afternoon, he even showed some flair with two very nice behind-the-back passes that weren’t out of place but served to gain some advantage. Later Triano talked about him being vocal:

He’s been that vocal his whole life. He’s always talking, it’s good to have. Before we made the trade I used to coach against him and he’s giving calls out and he does not stop. It’s all basketball talk, it’s not fake or street talk. He’s communicating with his teammates and that is something we lacked last year.

When I saw Reggie Evans I thought he was 9 feet tall and weight 400 pounds. This guy is easily the strongest and most built Raptor and he plays like it. Evans is a one-dimensional player but he’s really good at that one sole dimension. You could critique his man-defense, FT shooting and jumper all night long but the man will bring us some real physical presence in the paint. He was tearing down rebounds, dipping his shoulder, boxing-out hard and hustling every trip down the floor. He finished strong around the basket, cleared space with his frame and didn’t allow anyone to get a rebound over him the time he was in there. His effort and intensity were at 100%. Later he said:

When fans come to the game, they at least want to see hard work. No matter if you win or lose, they want to see somebody going real hard because they’re working hard to earn a living just so they can come to our games. You never want to disrespect the basketball court. You want to come out here first-class, practise, shootaround, no matter what. You want to come out and play hard every time you step on the court.’

I don’t care if he’s building a house of bricks out there, fans will love him, especially in Toronto which is a city which rewards the Tie Domi-type.

If we talk about Reggie, we got to talk about Amir Johnson and he was very unimpressive. I was surprised by how reluctant he was to test his outside jumper and how weakly he tried to finish around the basket. He got rejected by the rim once and pinned by Bargnani on a baseline drive. He looks like the athletic-type but in this game he reminded Wally of one Jerome Moiso – there’s some talent there but can we ever find a way to get it out? Again, it’s probably a write-off game but of all the big men he looked the weakest. Even Patrick O’Bryant had a moment or two, the funniest one being Marcus Banks looking him off in transition even though he had a clear path to the rim.

The player we were most excited to see was DeMar DeRozan. I actually yelled his name during the game which resulted in this rather angry look from the man. The opinion amongst us three was split as to what kind of game he had. We all agreed that his handle was suspect and that he needs to keep the dribble alive under pressure. Both teams deployed a high-trap to force the ball-handler to pick up his dribble around the top of the three point line and whereas Jack, Douby and Calderon managed to beat the trap through dribbling, DeRozan struggled.

I don’t know if the guy’s coasting but he looks like he’s coasting. There’s something about his on-court demeanor that gives you the impression that he’s playing at 75%, Wally felt that this was on purpose because he wanted to pace himself, I felt Wally’s theory was utter shite. AltRaps continued his moaning of how DeRozan should’ve dominated summer league and sticks to the opinion that DeRozan ain’t what he’s cranked up to be. I felt his off-the-ball movement was good, nothing great but good, he doesn’t park himself on the perimeter and moves East-West whenever there’s space available. He can run the lanes if he’s already a little ahead in transition but there were chances today where a DeRozan sprint could’ve resulted in much better options for Calderon on the break.

His spot-up jumper is smooth and on its way to being a solid weapon, it’s the pull-up that needs more work. A few times today he was up against Belinelli and Weems who were D’ing him up pretty hard. DeRozan responded with space-clearing dribbles and a quick rise for the jumper. The shots were semi-contested and the results were usually bricks. We saw in summer league how the mid-range game was his main weapon, not so much against better defenders. The talent and ability was evident in some of his drives (the one to finish off the game was beautiful) but overall I felt he’s got some ways to go before he can adapt to the pace of the game. His finishing on the break and athleticism are not an issue but his feel of how to react to defenses was poorer than I had anticipated, even at this early stage. If you had to make a decision based on this game alone, I would not start him just because he doesn’t look ready. I’m sure things will change over the course of the next couple weeks, though.

Let’s keep going with the wings. Marco Belinelli was aggressive with his offense, he didn’t do anything spectacular like throw it down but looked for the drive against DeRozan and Weems on a consistent basis. He obviously knew that the team’s defensive philosophy is to provide quick help and countered it with solid passes back out to the perimeter. He showed us his spot-up game and made a couple mid-range jumpers where he found space after his check went under the screen. That’s something I was expecting Jose and DeRozan to do more of but it never happened. Belinelli’s wearing the number 0 because of the whole Gilbert Arenas reason (nobody believed in me blah blah blah) and today he played like he had something to prove. You can debate between Wright and DeRozan for the starting spot all you want but one thing’s for sure: Belinelli will have a say in that race simply because he’s going to give it his best shot.

Before the game the Raptors were throwing down some dunks for the crowds and Sonny Weems and Antoine Wright were the ones that stood out. Wright is a legit 6’7″ athlete, I have my reservations about whether he can guard high-caliber NBA wings but today did a lot to make me feel comfortable. He definitely has the tools and quickness to do the job, and from what Triano speak of him, he has the IQ to go with it. He started the game with some aggressive traps against Jack and some motivated defense against Belinelli, but after the first quarter he took it easy. Sonny Weems at a legit 6’6″ is another athlete who seems to have bought into Triano’s defensive principles, his defensive effort was there and I love the stance he adopts when he’s one-on-one at the top of the key. His NBA career spans a mere 12 games so nobody really knows what he brings technically, all I can say is that he played hard today.

My man Douby didn’t have a great showing. He looked for his offense too early in the clock and then missed jumpers that made his decision to take them look even worse. He was in the game as a point guard but ended up playing like a shot-hungry shooting guard. Jarrett Jack’s insistence on breaking down Jose left him a little winded and he didn’t have a great game. He took some very forced shots including a leaner on the baseline that was pure bush-league. It’s just not the same for him without Bosh in there to run the pick ‘n roll with because it forces him to find the seams through other ways like penetrating on his own, using Bargnani as the high screen only for it to be neutralized by Reggie Evans, and looking for cutters who are being guarded pretty tightly.

You could tell Calderon’s trying to shed the label of the conservative point guard by getting rid of the ball in the backcourt but it seems a little forced because his efforts didn’t lead to any scores. It’ll take some time for DeRozan, Wright, Belinelli and Jack to be on the same page with him when it comes to running so I expect a finer product later in pre-season. I have to point the following out for completeness: He missed two DeRozan corner-cuts. The latter was not pleased. I think Jose’s night was summed up on the play where his corner three was blocked into the stands by Douby.

There was a really douchy moment in this game. It happened when Andrea Bargnani faked Rasho at the right elbow who jumped giving Bargnani the option to let him fly by and take an open jumper or try the drive. Bargnani instead leaned in and drew the foul (could’ve been easily called an offensive foul because of the shoulder sticking out) for two FTs. Now, this might be fine strategy in a game-situation but is that the kind of “cheap” play you want to execute against Rasho in a scrimmage game? I thought it spoke of his confidence – rather get the two cheap points than actually risk missing a shot.

Overall, Bargani was unimpressive. Other than beating Patrick O’Bryant to the rim after a head-fake, he didn’t have much to say. A rebound here, a score there, but nothing that could make you say that he’s any different than last year. Again, it’s only one intra-squad scrimmage but those are the impressions I got. He needs to be dominating the likes of O’Bryant, Evans and Rasho off the dribble but instead I saw a lot of settling and hesitation in his game. Instead of making up his mind early and going to work, he’s thinking too hard and making life difficult for himself. After all, if you have Rasho Nesterovic on you 18 feet out, the decision of what to do needs to be damn obvious.

A quick note about Rasho. Nothing’s changed from what you saw of him a year ago except that he looks a little skinnier. He tried his little jump hook and mid-range jumper but it wasn’t falling. Defended Bargnani well and also got defended by Bargnani fairly well, the latter blocked a fadeaway which made Rasho 0-3 at the time. We talked about Bargnani’s man-defense on the drive home and Wally felt that even though it is pretty good, he doesn’t finish off the play by actually getting the rebound and stops playing once his man has taken the shot. No arguments there.

I thought our team defense was very good. There were hard close-outs, contested shots, timely help, and good recovery. The communication was there (led by Jack) and the players seemed to know their role in the play. For example, when Belinelli ended up checking Bargnani on a switch on the perimeter leaving, leaving Evans to momentarily guard Douby, they recovered quickly. The high traps were organized and successful in wasting seconds of the shot-clock, however, there wasn’t any backcourt trapping. There weren’t too many clean looks for anybody and the overall defensive discipline needs to be credited for that, I think that’s one of the main reasons for the low scoreline.

Nobody can say much about the offense because our two best players didn’t play. The interesting thing to note was that a lot of our offense was initiated by the center holding the ball, much like the triangle offense. Bargnani, O’Bryant and Rasho all started several possessions with them holding the rock in the circle and several cross-cuts going on around them. It was usually passed back to the point or wing but the off-the-ball screens also created a few clean looks for the wings after a quick-pass to the corner. This was something totally new. Another new source of offense could be the most simple one yet: break your man off the dribble without the help of anyone and create. I’ve already pointed to Jack as the best example of this against Calderon. You can throw Belinelli into that mix too.

A word about Marcus Banks. He really is totally useless. Quincy Douby doesn’t even have to play in order to be ahead of him in the depth chart.

We met Alex English after the game and he’s a super cool cat. It should also be mentioned he’s the greatest player on the current roster. Overall, a great day even though it involved 9 hours of driving. Thanks to AltRaps for hooking up the tickets.

Random notes:

– Marcus Banks almost hurt someone. We were praying for the coaches to take him out so no further damage would be inflicted on anyone, including the audience.

– The announcer was trying the old “DeMar DeRozan ssshhhhhhooting two” when somebody got fouled but i made no sense since the crowd was already quiet.

– Wally firmly believes in the value of the adjusted +/-stat. AltRaps, not so much.

– The Raptors sent the second string Dance Pak to this one. Some of them actually declined a photo-request of some locals. Don’t flatter yourself girls.