Slowly constructing a picture of this team

Raptors 98, Sixers 107

Pretend the Raptors are a 1000 piece puzzle and you got a month to figure out just exactly what that picture is. Pre-season’s all about figuring things out so it’s best to look at this game in terms of what was improved from last season, what problems remain and what definitely needs to be fixed before we have a shot at even staying with Cleveland for a quarter on October 28th. With Bosh and Turkoglu out, DeRozan got moved to the SF with Belinelli starting at SG. Evans, Bargnani and Calderon filled out the other three spots. Right of the bat you noticed two things, one good and one bad.

The very first play of the game was something that shaved a few years of my life last season: Lou Will turning on a high screen against Calderon – who appeared to be stuck in quicksand – and laying it in for a three-point play. Ugh. Jose looked and played like he was sleepy, his defense is already notoriously bad but it was his half-ass passing that raised my eyebrows. He had three early turnovers, all the result of some very casual and predictable passes that were easily picked off and run back for points. We had 25 turnovers on the night and it’s the main reason we lost. I think it was after the third turnover that even Sherman Hamilton was forced to comment something like, What the &^%$ is wrong with Jose? What indeed? I’m not going to offer any theories at this point and will choose to sweep this rather terrible performance under the rug of pre-season. All I’m saying is that people were making some very honest and hard cuts to start the game and he wasn’t delivering at all. He was the worst PG today and Marcus Banks is on our team. This needs fixing big time.

Before we get to Reggie Evans’ exploits, the early team defense needs comment. Belinelli, DeRozan and Bargnani played with very active hands early and forced turnovers. We had three deflections in the first six minutes alone and those are three deflections that just wouldn’t have been there last year. You could see the commitment to man-defense and keeping your man in front of you in the half-court and Belinelli was the most aggressive. He’s trying to impress Triano and his effort did that, but his eagerness cost the team as his attempts at steals and reaches were negotiated to our disadvantage by Iggy and Young, the latter also getting post scores on him. Still, his effort can’t be questioned and the message of the last few days is getting through to him. The confusion that results from constantly helping and then running back to recover killed us last year but last night the close-outs and recoveries were solid. Rasho, DeRozan, Jack and Bargnani get special mention for their team D. The transition defense was shoddy, especially when the game opened up in the fourth but I’d give the overall team defense was a B+, the blowout scoreline in the first half was entirely because of careless turnovers which are the result of having nine new players, this will get better with each game.

Reggie Evans started off the game as advertised – getting offensive rebounds, deflecting passes and as a bonus, scoring on drives. He overshadowed everybody to such an extent that his post-ups became the first option for the first half of the quarter. After that well ran dry and he started picking up fouls left and right, is when Bargnani started to assert himself. He was easily the most fluid Raptor on the night, knocked down a three, pump-faked Dalembert out of his shorts for a baseline dunk and always kept his dribble alive and feet moving. If he does that he’ll always keep other centers guessing, still would’ve liked to see him play a little closer to the rim but hey, it’s game one. He has a natural tendency to defer to other players which takes away from his effectiveness, whenever he’s the obvious scoring threat on the floor he asserts himself, but when he’s playing with Bosh you get the sense that he views himself as the second option. Great game and got bit by some terrible calls made by the replacements. Solid first game but if the next performance is is terrible it’ll totally make me forget about this game.

Trying hard to impress.

To some offensive stuff. Once Calderon was shown the pine, Jack came in and played well, really well. He again showed a tight dribble and got more penetration in one game that we had from the PG spot all last year. Good distribution, good court awareness and a genuine desire to push the ball, not just look up and stare. He looks for contact on the drives and uses the glass when finishing, if he keeps this up I see him going to the line 4-5 times a game. Belinelli’s trying hard to impress on offense too, he hit a spot-up three (which I think is what he brings most), took it coast-to-coast a couple times and showed some real athleticism in applying some finishes (the left-handed layup that didn’t go in came off a very impressive drive). All that was offset by some terrible decisions to jack it up when covered and off-balance, not sure whether Triano will reprimand him for that since that style is “part of his game”. He lacks discipline but in that is his strength, Triano’s got his work cut out in trying to keep him in balance.

DeRozan was playing out of position at the 3 and looked over-matched against Iggy to start things off but eased into it gradually. He got burned twice by losing track of him on screens and couldn’t keep up with his constant off-the-ball slashing. Eddie Jordan’s Princeton offense is all about a high-post presence and team basketball so you didn’t see our wings in too many isolation situations. The only guy on Philly that looked to get his was Speights who went 5-16 – all jacks. DeRozan took a while to get in the game, he didn’t attempt a shot till 4:20 of the second quarter and didn’t get his first points till the second half which is when Philly started pulling their starters.

He got by his man (usually Young, Green, Speights) on a few occasions but always looked to pass instead of looking for his own. It was a shame because so many of his drives (Belinelli’s, Jack’s and Banks’ too) weren’t converted because of us shooting only 41%. He bounced in a three, absorbed contact on two drives and setup a few scores for the second unit, but that was when Philly had packed it in so I don’t know how much to read into that. His ball-handling needs to improve before he’s going to have an impact as a slasher and perhaps that’s why he doesn’t look for his offense much. I’d like to see him be as aggressive as Belinelli who is playing loose and without fear of mistakes. At the same time I tend to forget that he’s only played one year of college ball so he’s not that far removed from high school, so him taking it step-by-step and easing into things is probably for the better.

The ball movement overall was an A-. Even when the offense went scoreless for almost 3 minutes in the second it wasn’t because we weren’t moving the ball. We got dribble penetration from all our guards except Jose and made at least one or two extra passes out of the kick-out. We didn’t take early shots, kept the passes crisp and didn’t settle nearly as much as we’ve done in the past. If we had just shot a higher percentage we’d have a fighting chance in this game without our two best players. I can’t remember a sequence where you could call our offense stagnant, it might’ve been unyielding and unproductive, but wasn’t the frustrating monstrosity that we have become accustomed to under Mitchell. This team played like a team and I’d like to see this continue when Bosh and Turkoglu – two players that will demand the ball the most – return.

I can’t remember the last time one of our guards took somebody into the post and had a shot at scoring until Sonny Weems did it in the first half. Weems to me runs the floor as well as any Raptor, he doesn’t even wait for the PG to collect himself and make eye-contact, he just goes and puts the onus on the guard to find him. He was a catalyst in the fourth quarter run featuring Banks, Douby, Johnson and O’Bryant that fell short after Banks scuffed a pass with 42 seconds left with the team down 5. The alley-oop pass from Banks he finished was the highlight of our night.

Amir Johnson needs to finish around the rim much more authoritatively. He’s got to be quicker and more decisive; if he’s to be the first big off the bench we’ll need better offense from him and his defensive work needs to improve. His jumper is a question mark and his post-up game is unrefined, unless it’s laid out to him on a platter I don’t see where he’s going to find his offense. He had 10 boards, mostly in that loosely played second half where Philly’s percentage dipped from 60% to 45%, but the moment that stood our for me was when Speights ripped a couple rebounds away from him despite not having position. Triano will not stand for that. You can see his potential to be a Camby-type shot-blocking, high-impact-low-risk guy but you can also see him being a non-factor if the game is slowed down into a possession battle. I know this review sounds harsh for a guy who almost got a double-double off the bench but we’re relying on him to be a big presence around the rim so I’m setting the bar high.

Douby’s our quickest PG.

Rasho was terrible. Philly was playing a bit of a deep zone at times which left him wide open around 15-18 feet out and he bricked 9 out of 12 attempts. Brand and Dalembert aren’t great matchups for him – too agile and too long, he’s more valuable against big lugs and today was a complete write-off. How do you play 15 minutes in pre-season against the other team’s junk players and still not score? I don’t know, ask Patrick O’Bryant. I don’t remember much from him except a 22 footer with hit that area between the rim and the backboard. If you’re ever played the sport you know it makes that weird thud of a noise which makes everyone go, WTF? The backup C remains a big question mark.

My man Douby didn’t get to knock down his jumper but did showcase his quickness. Him and Banks basically broke down Philly on every play in the fourth quarter to make a game of it. Again, it’s the garbage time of garbage times so you can’t read much into it, but they did play well and got easy dribble penetration while allowing it just as easily from Royal Ivey and Jrue Holiday. For a change, it was good to see our guards play well.

Here are some short overall thoughts:

  • Team Defense: B+. Good communication, active hands, fighting through screens.
  • Team Offense: B-. Way too many turnovers, both forced and unforced but the ball movement, passing and off-the-ball cuts were crisp.
  • Transition Defense: C+. Any time you’re playing Philly you’ll end up looking bad, they’re a very athletic team and excel at this.
  • Transition Offense: B-. The second unit did an excellent job when the game opened up but the first half saw us labour in trying to move the ball after made or missed shots.
  • Best Player: Andrea Bargnani. Strong offensive showing, went about the right way in taking advantage of Dalembert.
  • Worst Player: Jose Calderon. Take his worst game from last season and multiply it by a 100.
  • Pleasant Surprise: Reggie Evans. Good to know he can have an impact in more than just theory.
  • Needs to get better: Rasho Nesterovic. It’s scary to think how thin we’re at C.
  • For more player ratings check out the Roll Call which made it’s much anticipated return soon after the game.
  • Box Score.

The chat was great, especially when the webcams turned on 🙂 I’ll be going to the game tonight.

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