Blowout wins are rare so forgive me if I take a little pleasure in soaking in the feeling that we kicked the living sh*t out of a team, even if it was just in pre-season. The blowout and ensuring ejections set up a nice little tilt against the Suns on October 17th at the ACC (1PM start). One of the guys ejected was Reggie Evans, who got a surprise start ahead of Amir Johnson and then proceeded to have the ball thrown into him in the post on more occasions that one cares to remember. Seeing how we have a horde of power forwards (Johnson, Davis, Evans and Dorsey) and 16 players in camp, Evans’ insertion into the starting lineup could be seen as showcasing for a trade. Not sure if the performance did enough to impress a suitor, but at least the Raptors sent a message that Evans is healthy enough to run up and down the floor and slap somebody on the ass really hard. Well played, Reggie.
Last week I wrote a piece about how talk was cheap and that the Raptors needed to put words into action when it came to generating points from their defense. What we saw on Wednesday night was quite the team effort, and the best part was that they were able to sustain it for the whole game. We saw high-traps, backcourt pressure, baseline seals, anticipation in the passing lanes, and even a few instances of forcing a man to a waiting help defense. Let me state once again that it was only pre-season, but these are things that were completely missing last year and to see them being preached in camp means that this camp is already 10 times more productive than last year’s fatigue-filled month-long vacation.
The paragon of efficiency that was Linas Kleiza against Phoenix raises a couple topics of discussion. First, it’s that he brings an edge to the lineup that was missing, I don’t want to call it a banal term like toughness or grit, so I’ll leave it as ‘edge’. There’s a zip and way to his game that hints at a quiet toughness, not the type worn on their sleeve by players like Jermaine O’Neal and Reggie Evans, or as pretended by Chris Bosh in moments where he got to dunk on nobody in particular in a blowout. One gets the sense that he’s mentally up for a challenge and will not back down in a situation which calls for a backbone. His will to compete and seriousness can become contagious and rub off on guys like DeRozan and Weems, maybe even help shed some of the amateur hour stuff YGZ® are into.
The other thought is that he could very easily be a decent player on a bad team. He was definitely underutilized in Denver and he’s going to be afforded a lot of freedom in Toronto, so he could go all Voshon Lenard on us and put up big numbers at the team’s expense. I doubt that he’s that type of player, but if this season heads south because of the tough early schedule, Kleiza will have plenty of chances (and the green light) to put up some nice figures. It’s not an indictment on him, just a possibly natural course this season could take for him.
Moving on, there’s a few things I despise in this world: Real estate agents, U2, pizza crusts, Sean Penn, the basketball team from Boston, USB keys that don’t work, and Erick Dampier. After mooching dinner off of Bryan Colangelo and Darryl Morey, this behemoth has moved on to Phoenix to see if the Suns are the ‘best fit’ for him. Chicago, Houston and Toronto are still apparently interested in him, but Dampier refuses to make up his mind. Chicago is the only one under the cap (by about $2M) and could offer Dampier the most money, which they obviously haven’t since Dampier hasn’t signed for them.
After watching a clearly-stoned David Andersen knock down two mid-range jumpers and then silently tip-toe his way in for an offensive rebound, I say we don’t need Dampier. Andersen is much funnier to look at, and is going to provide us with a substantial amount of humour through the course of the season. Other things going for Andersen are his Australian accent, his haircut, and the fact that he can be easily confused with a hobo. This guy is already touching Eric Montross when it comes to Raptors legend status.
On the trade watch, you might have heard that Shaun Livingston is experiencing soreness is his knee. I find this hard to believe because I always though that metal can’t experience any pain, I guess I was wrong. Unless Colangelo still has a thing for Diaw (don’t know why he would), Charlotte can do little to entice the Raptors back into trade talks for Calderon unless they up the ante to someone like…um…er…um…. Jose had an unimpressive evening in Vancouver, but he was able to move laterally without 1) grimacing 2) limping 3) clenching his face 4) clutching his hamstring and 5) clutching his groin. If he stays healthy and the team defense resembles even close to what it did on Wednesday, he can be a valuable contributor to the unit.
I still don’t know if he’s the guy you want with the ball in his hands distributing it to the likes of Weems and DeRozan (as evidenced by his pass to Evans on the break), but he’s definitely worth hanging onto until the trade deadline. His value is pretty low right now and if he has a good first half to the season, he will fetch more in February than he will today. All it takes is an injury somewhere to increase a point guard’s trade value, hang on to Jose, for now.
Finally, Andrea Bargnani. He needs to stop taking long twos. Why would you take a pull-up 22-footer? It could be the most difficult two-point shot in the game, one that even the best two guards in the league shy away from, and for Bargnani to take that shot as a first or second option is very poor decision making. Even when that shot goes in, it’s still a bad shot. More so because any move that preceded it has usually done little to create space, so all he’s doing is shooting with a guy within contest-range while coming down from his elevation. Compare that to Sonny Weems’ mid-range game, his shot is generally preceded by a drive-fake or some screen use that has given him space to elevate and get a clean look, his eyes have already been on the rim giving him a chance to size things up. Bargnani’s shot is a spur-of-the-moment decision where his mind has decided to shoot well after his body told him to, and that’s why it looks forced and like a line-drive. His spot-up jumpers follow a completely different trajectory than his pull-up jumpers, and that’s a sign of shooting inconsistency. Just saying.
Up next the Raptors travel to Boston on Sunday at 6PM, the game’s not on TV in Toronto but is being shown in New England on Comcast Sports, which means there’s going to be an online stream. And of course, an online chat.Follow @raptorsrepublic