Developing two-man games

With no go-to player on the team, it’s time to develop go-to plays.

Eyewitness accounts from yesterday’s scrimmage. First courtesy of rapper, Bryan Colangelo:

Caught the scrimmage at UBC today.

Pretty ugly stuff, to be honest. Jarrett and Andrea’s chemistry seems to be improving in the two-man game, but both where have trouble finishing anything. Andrea couldn’t find his touch. He was getting shots that he wanted, but they just wouldn’t fall. We’ve seen this for years now. If he can’t consistently stick these shots in practice by now than what hope is there, really?

AJ was disappointing. Missing dunks. He’s obviously been working on his offense but has a very long way to go. Watching him try to spin into the post in traffic, fold under pressure and travel reminded me of something a first-year Bargs would have done. He’s a long way from contributing consistently on offense.

The whole team looked pretty damn rusty, except for Kleiza, and to a lesser extent Weems. Kleiza isn’t going to win us any games, but he was solid … hit his open shots, made solid decisions with the ball.

Honestly, I’m not too optimistic. Most of the team is comprised of scrappy, well-meaning players that are just happy to be in the NBA. The only guys that looked like pros were Bargs, Jack, Calderon, Weems and Kleiza (Barbosa wasn’t in the game today), and only Kleiza seemed to be playing to his expected skill level. DeRozan and AJ had moments but they still looked and felt just as green as last season. The rest of the team: Dorsey, Evans, Anderson, Wright, Banks … they just are lucky to be there.

After watching this practice, I’m really glad Jose is still on the team. Considering the personality and makeup of this team – which consists of players that seem either too young, too shy, too untalented, or too “English-is-my-Second-Language-ish” – they absolutely need Jack or Jose on the floor at all times. They are the most vocal and communicative players on the floor by far, and without them the team would be unwatchable.

Anyway, that’s my two cents.

Then we have Vanlivin:

I was at the scrimmage as well. Their was definitely a lot of rust, and a lot of green. Pretty sure this team is not going to be pushed around like the last few years though. Everything in the paint was contested except jose to derozan alley oop and a sonny fast break dunk on a nice lead pass from jack. Anderson is sporting a black eye. Evans seems in shape. Dorsey was a beast. Johnson looked like he partied last night. Alabi had to be told where to be quite often, but showed awareness of of exploiting his size. Their was actually consistent blocking out going on from both squads. Sonny flew in for quite a few rebounds while a couple bigs were battling underneath. Sonny looked really good, comfortable. Demar played some decent defense on him. Stuffed him once, stole it off him a couple times. I found all this exciting.

Jose does seems to be healthier. He also seems to be the leader. He just orchestrates like no one else on this team seems capable of. At the end of the game both squads at centre court gathered around Jose while he was saying something. He, Derozan, and Kleiza kind of just controlled this game. Decent chemistry between those three.

I like Jarret. I don’t know if he was just trying to have fun with the crowd. But he was much to nonchalant during warm ups and such. He talked a bit on the floor, but more so from the bench.

Banks is a great practice guard.

After today I am thinking it is likely that calderon derozan kleiza bargnani and someone else will be the starting five.

There you have it then, two honest takes from two true fans – I challenge you to find a better assessment of the scrimmage than this. Here’s Matt Devlin talking to Jose Calderon who says he’s healthy and ready to get better on defense. Interesting part about that interview is that Calderon has taken the initiative to be the team leader, at least when it comes to organizing team dinners. Up until now it’s been widely believed that Jarrett Jack will be the team “captain” and take on the role of team leader, but it sounds like Calderon is also in the running for the job. What that job entails or means I’m not exactly sure, but they tell me every team needs one so I’m going with that.

I attended this scrimmage last year, and the nonchalant attitude that Vanlivin describes was present there as well. At the time I told myself that one couldn’t expect much different in an intra-squad scrimmage game and left it at that, and the same is true here. The first look we’ll get at the team is October 6th against Phoenix, so I’ll reserve opinion and judgement about the intensity level of camp until then.

As Bryan Colangelo alluded to above, the two-man games our point guards develop will be key. The Raptors don’t have a bread-and-butter player anymore, so they have to make it up with bread-and-butter plays. The easiest way to go about that is get some chemistry going between a point and a big, or a point and a two. There are numerous examples of point/big tandems in the league, from Nash/Stoudemire to Calderon/Johnson, good chemistry between two players can lead to successful execution of the pick ‘n roll on a consistent basis and can serve as a starting point for offensive sets.

The point/two combo is harder to create, because it requires a two guard that’s committed to moving without the ball. Billups and Hamilton in Detroit were a prime example of two players being on the same page within the framework of an offense. A more recent example is Rondo and Allen in Boston, but then again we’re talking about Ray Allen, a Hall of Famer of which the Raptors have none. Assuming Johnson and Bargnani are the two primary bigs and that Johnson is slotted with Jose, it leads Bargnani to pair up with Jack. Right now I’m trying to recollect my memories about a player Bargnani felt truly comfortable on the court, someone he worked really well with and I’m drawing a blank. Maybe it’s because my face is covered Vicks and the fumes are getting to my brain, or maybe it’s because there hasn’t been such a player.

A possible reason for that is Bargnani’s alleged versatility, which has resulted in coaches using him in an ad hoc manner. Sometimes he’s seen trying to take a man off the dribble, while other times he’s launching threes, and then once in a blue moon completely at random you see him post-up somebody. It’s almost like he’s expected to do something one-on-one every time he’s got the ball and that he’s got license to operate outside the team setup. You’d think after playing with Jose Calderon for four years he would have developed some chemistry with him, but here we are talking about how Johnson and Calderon are a better fit even though they’ve been together for only a year. Will Jack and Bargnani finally form a threatening duo? Only time will tell, but for it to even have a chance, Bargnani’s role on the team must be defined much better and the apparent freedom he has to do whatever he wants needs to be taken away in favor of compliance with the team offense, specifically his point guard.

The Raptors’ approach with Bargnani has been (at least from what I can tell) to let him be a freelancer, because his skills are so unique that constricting him to play within a narrow and defined role would be a waste of his talents. That’s not exactly working out too great and it’s because Bargnani’s basketball IQ isn’t as high as people thought. It’s becoming more clear to me that he needs to work under specific instructions. This isn’t exactly a heavy criticism of him because most players in the league are that way, think of Channing Frye, Mehmet Okur or even Pau Gasol, these are guys that you always see playing a certain way because that’s how they become good fits for their respective teams. If the Raptors take Bargnani and say to him: Son, we are going to run 20 screen ‘n rolls with you and Jack every game, here’s how you should play them. That would be a better approach than filling his ear with delusions of grandeur about him being a franchise player about to rescue us from a decade in the lottery. More importantly, he’d be more efficient.

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