Let’s have a go at the starting lineup and rotation.
Jarrett Jack: Even well before training camp the prevalent feeling was that Jarrett Jack had been anointed the starter because of his relationship with the younger players and the franchise’s attempts to trade Jose Calderon. Such wasn’t the case, Calderon got a fair shake in preseason and had the chance to outplay Jack and force Triano’s hand into starting him. It didn’t happen, while Jack ended up playing two more minutes than Calderon, he managed to put much better numbers. Jack averaged 12.5/3/4.9 to Calderon’s 5.5/0.9/5.3, if that wasn’t enough to seal the deal, he shot 55% from the field compared to Calderon’s 32.6%. Both are poor defenders, but Calderon’s advantage over Jack is supposed to be his offense and that did not materialize.
Andrea Bargnani: He led the team in minutes played for the preseason. Perhaps Triano felt playing Bargnani heavy minutes would give him a head start, but the Italian didn’t take advantage of the time to get his game going. He shot 35% from the field and looked every bit the stiff that he’s accused of being; he got better as the preseason went on and Triano focused on establishing him early in games. If that’s what it takes, so be it. Make no mistake, he’s only starting because there’s nobody in camp there to challenge him. David Andersen’s strong showing was good for a second or third string center, nothing more.
Reggie Evans: It would make little sense to go with Amir Johnson as a starter after Reggie Evans displayed great energy in the last two games. He did well to control his impulse of hoisting his offensive rebounds and didn’t let his energy level dip at any time. The 23 minutes he averaged were two more than Amir Johnson who he outrebounded by 3 (8.3 to 5.3). Triano was fair to Johnson as well; he gave him the chance to make the spot his own which he didn’t take advantage of. Johnson displayed a lot of the same issues and tendencies as last year and whether the summer was any beneficial to him remains a question mark. Evans starting would balance out the rebounding that Bargnani doesn’t bring to the table, but keep in mind that the Raptors would now have a PF/C combination that don’t move well laterally at all. Johnson is better than either one at that, but I doubt he’s done enough to usurp Evans. Don’t forget that more playing time for Evans could mean that he becomes that much more marketable.
Linas Kleiza: The depth at small forward is going to be an ongoing issue, after Kleiza there’s a significant offensive drop-off to Julian Wright. The latter doesn’t seem too be high in Triano’s mind and averaged only 8 minutes in preseason. There’s a better chance that Triano will opt for one of Sonny Weems or DeMar DeRozan to play small forward than call on Wright. Kleiza showed dead-eye accuracy from three by shooting 9/16 (56%) in preseason, and confirmed the belief that he’s capable of being more than just a sniper who occasionally wanders into the paint on the weakside. His defense was made to look poor a couple times, most notably in the first Boston game, but that’s not enough to keep him out of the starting lineup.
DeMar DeRozan: Every team needs a guy who can get to the line and DeRozan is the Raptors’ man for that. The jumper is shaky (42.7%), the confidence precarious and the free-throw shooting poor (64%). Come to think of it, Barbosa’s surprising defense, outside shooting, and aggressiveness with the ball in his hands should earn him a spot ahead of DeRozan. The only reason the USC-man is starting is because Barbosa is already classified as a bench player who can add some scoring punch to the second unit. Keep a close eye on DeRozan’s defense, specifically how he chases opposing shooting guards across screens and how he plays his angles at the three-point line. Those are two problem areas for him and depending on how tight Triano’s defensive leash is, DeRozan could be in trouble if he doesn’t step up.
The Sixth Man
Leandro Barbosa: Somebody pinch me because I did not think that he would be offensively efficient (46% FG, 36% 3FG, 81% FT, 13.6 ppg) or this active on defense when he was acquired. He was the team’s leading scorer and already looks to be in mid-season shape, showing no sign of the ankle injury that had him sidelined for an extended period last season. He did pick up a wrist injury and hasn’t practiced since Friday, no concerns though as Triano calls his downtime “precautionary”. Defensively, Barbosa has not conceded an inch and looks to be thriving in the new pressing Raptors defense. He looks to have taken over the role of the bench-scorer from Sonny Weems. Don’t classify him by position, he’s just a basketball player.
Second Unit Soliders
Jose Calderon: If preseason is any indication, then Triano will continue to split minutes at point guard which will see Calderon get his fair share of run. This isn’t going to be your traditional PG situation where the split is around 35/13, this is more like 25/23 or 27/21. The reason for that is Jack is bound to run into bad form which will immediately result in Triano shifting the minutes over to Calderon, much like last year except backwards. With arguably four point guards on the roster, the showcasing of Calderon is not complete which will factor into his playing time. Calderon has to improve his shooting because his turn-the-corner speed appears to be gone and if his mid-range game is sinking, he’s basically worthless. To anyone.
Sonny Weems: 11.4 points on 45.9% shooting isn’t bad and an improvement over his seasonal numbers from last season. The question is whether he has the desire to be more than just an average scorer, we know he has the jumper and the athleticism but what else? His off-the-ball movement was poor for most of the preseason and the Knicks game was the first time he looked to distribute the ball after drawing a double, something he should have been doing much early on. The defense was on and off which tells me he’s got a switch for it and that scares me. If this is a guy we’re going to be building around as part of the YGZ®, then somebody needs to light a fire under his ass.
Amir Johnson: His website is called Amir 3000 which lead you to believe he’s a 1000 years into the future. In reality, he’s still stuck in last year. Maybe it’s the pressure of signing a new deal and being featured as an NBA team’s foundation, whatever the case, he hasn’t shown any improvement so far. Only real games will tell whether he’s learned how to stay on the court and play smart, but looking at a foul rate of 4.89 (worse than last season) says he can only play 29.34 minutes a game. I know that’s just math being math but you have to be concerned. At the same time, if the franchise is willing to give a 25-year old Bargnani more time, no reason why we should judge a 23-year old Johnson at this point.
David Andersen: Looks to be a decent trade by Colangelo. Forget his basketball play, I’m already liking the man for his intangibles. He battles on the boards and tracks back hard on defense enough for me to look past those occasional threes (which he sometimes hits). Did I mention he has a mid-range game? He’s got everything you want in a third stringer, except that he’s a second stringer on this team.
Rounding out the Bench
Joey Dorsey: Made the team, congratulations! He’s a Reggie Evans clone except with better lateral movement on defense, and an idea of what to do on a pick ‘ n roll. He can use his body to carve out space on the inside and could find himself playing alongside Bargnani to counter the latter’s rebounding deficiency. I can see Triano using him when the energy-levels are low or when Evans is having a bad game (very likely).
Julian Wright: Didn’t get much of a chance to play but when he did, he didn’t do anything too wrong. I can see Triano using him as a situational three and if he shines in that role, he could find himself playing more minutes. Maybe even at the expense of Kleiza or Weems if their defense isn’t up to par. After all, Triano can only afford to have so many bad defenders out there if he’s preaching defense.
Marcus Banks: Will only play if one of Calderon or Jack get injured. It’s a shame too because he has something to offer on the defensive end.
Solomon Alabi: Not ready yet. Clearly.Follow @raptorsrepublic