The Raptors have carefully monitored his minutes and brought him along slowly, but is this at last that rookie wall that has stopped so many first-year players in their tracks?
DeRozan himself says no.
“Nah, everybody has their couple of games,” DeRozan said. “Friday night, I couldn’t make any shots, but it comes with it. I ain’t worried about it. I ain’t gong to let it get me down. Just come out (Sunday at Oklahoma City), play and try to get it going.”
For Jay Triano, the coach who has consistently sent him out there night after night as a member of his starting five, these valleys in an 82-game season for a 20-year-old are not cause for concern, but actually expected.
“I think he’s still working hard, but he’s got to get through this,” Triano said carefully balancing the needs of the team and the individual. “He has to get used to playing 82 games and concentrating … He can’t settle for shots all the time. It’s the same things over and over but it’s part of the growth a young player.“
We love what he is doing and we love where he’s at. He just has to keep working.”
Much was made of the three-point attempt Hedo Turkoglu threw up with the game on the line on Friday. A day later, the Raptors head coach was still of two minds on the decision to go with it.
“We ran it earlier in the game and it worked,” Triano said. “He has to drive to create the other options. Even if he drives on that play, we know where the help is coming from and that’s the pass. Jose (Calderon) was right there in the corner, wide open.”
The Raptors need to find some way to put together a complete game against a quality opponent without Bosh, who won’t play before Friday at home against New York.
In beating lesser opponents like New Jersey and Washington, they were able to mask some deficiencies purely on talent; in losses to Portland and Cleveland, the inability to play consistently at both ends cost them dearly.
The fight they showed in sticking with the Cavs in a 126-118 overtime loss on Friday was admirable and they had a shot to win on the last possession of regulation time.
But they still gave up too many points against the Cavs and there is a tendency for the offence to bog down without Bosh to anchor it.
Studio analyst Kenny Smith of TNT has upgraded his opinion of the new-look Milwaukee Bucks.
He now considers them the fifth-best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, ahead of teams such as the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls.
"If Andrew Bogut had won four or five more games before the all-star break – he was playing like an all-star," Smith said last week during TNT’s doubleheader. "But injuries didn’t get him over the top. He’s healthy now and playing like an all-star.
"Brandon Jennings does not have to be a 55-point scorer. He doesn’t even have to be a 20-point scorer. A 16-point, eight-assist guy will get it done in Milwaukee. They are the best second-tier team. The top four are Cleveland, Boston, Orlando and Atlanta. But they are better than Toronto."
Coon points out there is only one other option if the Thunder was sold on acquiring Bosh’s services — a sign-and-trade with Toronto. Under league rules, teams can sign their own free agents with the sole intent of trading them. But it’s a complicated maneuver in which both teams and the player must agree to a deal. It would require the Thunder to include roughly $6.6 million in the deal and likely mandate a few more assets for the rights to Bosh.
"But it could work out to everyone’s advantage,” said Coon, a computer scientist and information technology director with the University of California-Irvine by day. "Bosh gets a bigger contract by signing with Toronto, OKC gets a player they can’t otherwise afford, and Toronto gets something back for a player they’d otherwise lose for nothing.”
That kind of deal, however, would blow up Oklahoma City’s cap status with a likely maximum extension for Kevin Durant kicking in before the start of the 2011-12 season and a high-dollar deal for Russell Westbrook being tendered a year later. It remains to be seen whether Thunder management is willing to test its small market revenue and splurge on a luxury-tax level payroll.
Another potential concern whether Bosh would even fit with the team’s current nucleus is available points. With Durant, Westbrook, Jeff Green and James Harden, the Thunder already has four young players capable of posting 20 points on any given night.
"Bosh is a great player, an All-Star,” said Green, the incumbent power forward who would be affected most by the addition of Bosh. "You never know how he would fit in because he’s a guy who demands the ball. He’s a great player, but who knows what will happen. That’s not up to me to say that he’ll fit great here because I’m still here.”
There will be five teams fighting for the four spots. The Bulls and Raptors have both played well since New Year’s and appear to be in good position. But the Bucks, Heat and Bobcats all are hovering around .500 and one of them isn’t going to make it.
The Cavs may be watching this race somewhat closely to see which team ends up eighth. So far they are undefeated against the Bucks and Heat, but have lost three times to the Bobcats this season.
But it wasn’t just Raptor fans that were surprised, some of the Cavalier coaches raised an eyebrow that Turkoglu didn’t drive the ball. He had a slight size advantage on any defender and for parts of the game, Toronto fans saw exactly what they did in the playoffs a few seasons ago. Turkoglu, as a member of the Orlando Magic, always seemed to get to the hoop against the defence of Anthony Parker or Jamario Moon. Yes, he got a good look at the shot and that is all that coaches ask for. It was a shot that Turkoglu could have made and had just knocked down a few minutes earlier but there was a better shot to be had in the estimation of many, including Turkoglu.
"In that situation, I could have taken a better shot instead of taking that three," said Turkoglu in hindsight. "You can’t really say much about it now."
To all the howls of a better call from the bench; a play was called out of the timeout and that’s all head coach Jay Triano could do. It’s up to the players to go out and execute and if they audible at the line of scrimmage the coach can only sit back and watch. However, in these eyes, playing at home, it seemed only natural to put the pressure on both the defense and the officials by driving and not settling for a jumper.
I’m struggling to make sense of the Raptors strong play over the past couple of months. I don’t know whether these performances are sustainable or not.
A lot of unanswered questions regarding the Raps true quality but we’ll find out a lot of answers over the next few weeks.
At this point, I would consider the Raps the second or third best lower seed in the East behind Charlotte. I choose to put Milwaukee ahead of the Raps because I think the Bucks strong defensive play will be more difficult to play against come playoff time but they’re neck and neck with the Bucks for that spot. The next few weeks will decide whether they deserve to be ahead or behind Milwaukee.
Experiencing the development of the Thunder first hand the past couple of years, the Raptors should be wary coming into this game. The Thunder have simply taken it to the Raptors and the Raptors have had little response to counter the Thunder’s athleticism. And while I wouldn’t say that the Dinos are reeling from their last couple of losses, they seem to have lost some of their defensive edge. I’d attribute some of that towards the absence of their MVP Chris Bosh because he has always been one of the most vocal and talkative Raptors on the floor. And with Bosh uncertain to even make the trip out West, the Raptors will need to find some way to find that defensive intensity against some of the tougher teams in the league.
To put it mildly, it has been a less than ideal time to lose your best player.