As Wednesday’s curtain raiser draws nearer, Barbosa’s status is by far the biggest concern surrounding the Raptors, other than the big-picture issue on how this team will perform in the absence of a star player in a star-driven league.
The rule of thumb is to complete a pre-season without any setbacks, but Barbosa suffered his mishap in the exhibition finale last Friday against the New York Knicks, who will provide the opposition at the ACC on Wednesday.
Whether Barbosa gets to renew acquaintances with former coach Mike D’Antoni and New York’s newest star in Amare Stoudemire, who played with the Brazilian Blur in Phoenix, wasn’t known on Monday.
“I’m not sure exactly what it is,’’ Raptors head coach Jay Triano said of his backup shooting guard, one of the few players on the roster who can actually create his own shot.
Further tests on Barbosa were expected on Monday.
Everyone is predicting doom and gloom for this team, but the reality is that no one knows in a climate of so many unknowns.
Defensively, it’s no secret the Raptors will apply a lot of ball pressure, will get out and defend the three-point line and demand that players rotate.
Defensively, at least on the surface, this year’s team will have a difficult time defending the paint because the Raptors’ two bigs, Bargnani and David Andersen, aren’t really bigs.
It’s offence where one finds the greatest mystery, an issue that excites Triano.
“We’ll be more creative and less predictable,’’ he said.
Triano’s best break-down players are Leandro Barbosa and Jarrett Jack, two guys who will find a way to attack the rim.
What plays get drawn up, how many touches a certain player gets on any given night, who will be asked to win a game, it’ll all depend on who is riding the hottest hand, which is a far cry from the last two years when Triano’s hands were basically tied.
“We’re going to find out all year that it’s a team thing,’’ Triano added. “We’ll manage everyone’s touches, but guys will have to accept the fact that one night it could be one guy, on another night it could be somebody else.
“It’s going to mean a huge repertoire of plays we’re going to need to have for each guy and not just one or two like we did (in past years).”
“We’ve been preparing the Knicks since the day before we played them (in Montreal),” Triano said. “We’re putting things in that we’ll focus more on in the next two days on the actual specifics of what the Knicks are doing.
“All of our (defensive) coverages (Monday) were designed around our last game.”
One advantage the Raptors hope to keep over the Knicks is in rebounding; Toronto outrebounded New York 41-39 on Friday with Reggie Evans hauling in 11 boards in just 20 minutes.
“He knows his role is to get us extra possessions, whether it’s diving on the floor, knocking balls loose or getting rebounds and his role isn’t really to score,” Triano said of Evans. “And he’s done that very effectively.”
The Raptors, not blessed with the greatest talent in the league, will need Evans’ energy to be infectious.
“He’s done his job and he’s made a sacrifice to do his job and I think that when other players recognize that that’s what it’s going to take for a team to be successful and they accept their role and do it to the best of their ability, we’re going to be okay,” the coach said.
The over-under lines for Toronto wins this season sit at 26.5.
And the Raptors are No. 7 on SPIKE.com’s “The Top 10 Teams Nobody Would Miss if They Went Away” list.
“Quick… name one player on the Toronto Raptors,” SPIKE.com writes, lumping them in with such less-than-illustrious company as the Atlanta Thrashers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
It’s all just fighting words for Triano.
“I love that challenge, I love the challenge when people tell us we’re no good,” the coach said.
The Raptors’ stock plummeted when Bosh left after seven seasons to join the star-studded Miami Heat. Bosh was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder and the cornerstone of a franchise left having to rebuild the foundation.
While he’s long gone from Toronto, the Raptors are still using their former all-star forward to sell tickets. The team is promoting 11-game ticket packages that include a choice of the Miami Heat’s two trips to Toronto, and Bosh, with new teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, figures prominently in the ad campaign.
The three Raptors in the ad are youngsters DeRozan and Sonny Weems and the underachieving Andrea Bargnani.
General manager Bryan Colangelo says that perhaps the absence of one star player might not be a bad thing.
“It’s not that we’re treating our players differently this year — there’s a little less focus on any one player, there’s no one you have to defer to,” Colangelo said during training camp. “It’s actually quite refreshing from the standpoint of the way that I think that Jay is dealing with the players, and with the way the players are dealing with the approach.”
If the score is close in the final seconds of a game this season, Raptors head coach Jay Triano said he will have a number of options. “Last year, if we didn’t run a certain play late in the game it was like, ‘Wow, why would you pay this guy that much money and not give him the basketball?’ Now we have an opportunity where we can disguise certain things. We can change up who we go to when the game is on the line.” Triano said Leandro Barbosa and Jarrett Jack are his club’s two best options when it comes to one-on-one situations. “Those two find a way to get to the basket,” he said.
In the moments after the Toronto Raptors selected him 13th overall in June’s NBA draft, Ed Davis was asked what he knew about the city. “My favourite player, Chris Bosh, plays there,” he said.
But Davis will not get a chance to play with Bosh, now a member of the Miami Heat, this season,
“I would have loved to learn from Chris Bosh, but he went his way and I’m here,” Davis said. “It doesn’t make a difference to me.”
What does bother Davis is that when his teammates take the court tomorrow to open the regular season against the New York Knicks at the Air Canada Centre, he will be in a suit, not a uniform.
The 6-foot-10, 208-pound forward tore the meniscus in his right knee on Sept. 15 while playing in a pickup game. He underwent arthroscopic surgery a few days later.
“Not being able to play in any games hurts, but just watching practice, watching the guys have fun and work hard out there and knowing I can’t contribute right now … It has been real tough.”
Raptors head coach Jay Triano does not know when Davis will be ready to return.
“In terms of starting full contact [drills], he has a ways to go still,” said Triano. “He’s starting to move and shoot the ball and he actually participated in a couple non-contact drills [on Sunday], so we’re getting him more ramped up.
“We have coaches working with him every day, we have him observe in practice and mentally rehearse what he’s supposed to be going through physically, and hopefully that makes the transition easier when he actually does it.”
Andrea Bargnani will get a lot more touches and should be the undisputed focal point of the offense. There aren’t any other 7-footers in the league who hit 37% of their threes, and it’s a rarity to have a player like that who’s also solid in the paint. As long as he’s willing to take on more responsibility, the Raptors have the centerpiece to build around. You can also look for second-year SG DeMar DeRozan to take more shots this season. He’s going to wind up becoming more than just a dunking machine.
Two words: Linas. Kleiza. Anyone who knows me knows that I love this dude’s game. I’ve been a Denver Nuggets fan for the past 7 years, so I’ve had the opportunity to see Kleiza play in Carmelo Anthony’s shadow for his entire career. Linas is a bulky 6-8, 245, so he can definitely bring the ruckus, but he’s also suprisingly quick and has real shooting range (career 34% from 3). He is not the replacement for Chris Bosh down low, though. Believe me, he is not a starting PF. The most glaring hole in his game is on the defensive end, where he doesn’t block shots and forgets to box out. What you can expect from him is solid offensive play at the 3-spot, with an exceptional showing of athleticism here and there, and better numbers than Turkoglu put up last season. Go get ‘em, homie!
The bottom two teams in the east are the two teams that lost out on the biggest superstars. The post-Bosh era begins and all spotlights point to former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani. While he is no Dirk Nowtizki, he is a very talented seven footer who can shoot from outside, but the help is just not there yet. DeMar DeRozan begins year No. 2 in the NBA after his one college season. Another talented, young player, but he is not ready to step up to All-Star level yet. Toronto is probably the team with the greatest European feel to it, but that will not translate to postseason success this year.
Duds: too many
From the examples above, a team that out-performs experts’ prediction usually have several things in common:
1) Improve defense. The Bucks were a good defensive team in 08-09 but they were excellent in 09-10. The Raptors were horrendous defensively in 05-06, but average in 06-07.
2) Internal improvement from players. Bogut really improved for the Bucks last season and Elton Brand in 2005-06.
3) New off-season additions perform better than expected that includes the rookie from the first round. Look at the Raptors in 06-07 for example.
Can our defense improve enough to make a difference? Can DeRozan, Weems, and other Raptor players improve dramatically on both ends of the court? Can Ed Davis be a rookie of the year candidate? If the answer is yes to all these questions, then the Raptors will be the Cinderella team of 10-11.
So the Raptors should still be able to get to the line at a fairly high rate and still should be able to create points when they need to, but what type of offense will they run?
I think they’ll try to get as much of their offense through pressing and trapping on defense. It will mean a lot of high scoring games and a lot of exciting fast breaks. Still, they’ll need to run a half court offense since that’s where most of their point are going to come from.
So far, I’ve seen a lot of motion offense, especially early, when the coaches hadn’t implemented much of an offensive gameplan. It was one of the reasons for Bargnani’s early struggles. Scoring in a motion offense requires constant movement and the ability to break down the defense when needed. Bargnani doesn’t do either of those things.
As the preseason went on, we saw more of a structured offense. We saw more pick and roles (or pick and pops) as well as running the offense through the high post, in almost a variation on the triangle offense. It’s incredibly doubtful that they will be running the triangle offense since it’s a very difficult system to learn and after last year’s roster unable to grasp the defense, trying something that they might struggle with on the offensive end might be too much.
I haven’t mentioned Kleiza, yet, but he’s going to be a big part of the offense. In the preseason, at least, he seemed to be the first option. When he was on the floor, the offense almost always went through him. They either give him the ball on the perimeter and set a pick for him, or allow him to post up down low. He’s been able to shoot a very high percentage, so far, and has shown the ability to score consistently inside and outside. Unfortunately, Kleiza hasn’t shown much of an ability to get to the line, in preseason, but he showed that ability in four seasons in Denver, so it’s likely he’ll be fine in this regard. Another thing that is a bit of concern is that, despite Kleiza’s scoring, he needs people to create for him. He doesn’t really have the quickness to take people off the dribble, but he does move very well without the ball which helps make up for his inability to create for himself. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Kleiza ending up as the team’s leading scorer.