It’s already reaching the point where you look at the losses piling up, and they start resembling shiny, gleaming lottery balls. Yes, the Raptors level of play against some of the tougher teams in the Western Conference may have given reason to think this game was for the taking, but in light of last night’s performance, it’s possible that those teams took the Raptors lightly and played down to their level. The optimist in me hopes that they just played down to the Bobcats level, but let’s face it, there’s not many teams that we really say that about. Now, I’m starting to think, is there anyone that we’re better than? Are the Toronto Raptors the worst team in basketball? This leads to this new realization and a new sense of optimism about getting that nice pick in the 2012 draft. Well, if you are an optimist, what other avenue do you have? With potentially a top 3 pick, Bryan Colangelo would have to draft a player with sublime talent and/or no glaring holes in his game, right? Right?

So now we’re 1-7, and even the lowered expectations aren’t being met. Does this place the super-nice, uber-loyal Jay Triano’s job on the line? If it does, it would be the second time a coach has been unjustly fired during Bryan Colangelo’s tenure. The first firing had nothing to do with performance and much more to do with the handling of Andrea Bargnani, which I hope everyone is now learning, was probably the right approach for the notoriously ambivalent athlete. This potential firing would somehow indicate that the talent exists but is not being maximized.

What talent? It’s hard to tell the difference between our bench players and our starters. At the point, which is arguably our deepest position, we have two guys that are inconsistent, show flashes of brilliance, but don’t stack up to the new crop of PG’s throughout the league. DeMar DeRozan is still a work in progress but no-one can say that he’s even an average starter by league standards. At the three, Linas Kleiza was a role player for Denver just two years ago, but he had a great year in Europe, which apparently turned him into a starter. The power forward is a guy who has always been a role player off the bench brought into exercise his one and only skill, rebounding. Guess what, he’s starting, and that’s still his one and only skill. Continued with the trend of mono-skilled Raptors is Andrea Bargnani, who can shoot decently, other stuff not so much. A small forward playing center.

The one positive you can take away from this, and this is a testament to Colangelo’s ability to find good mid-range talent, is that our bench is above average. Unfortunately the NBA is quality over quantity, so without 2 or 3 bonafide stars it doesn’t matter how much the talent “adds up”. You could argue there’s for at least 3 positions, the bench player is equal to, if not a better player than the starter.

Jose was a legit starter in this league not too many moons ago. He’s clearly playing a style that’s more effective and is better for the long-term development of this team. I hope Jay realizes this and isn’t afraid to not only give him crunch time minutes like last night, but major minutes on nights that he’s playing well.

Sonny Weems had not just a good game, an eye-opening game. He showed some things that I don’t even thing DeRozan can do right now. He surveyed the defence, actually drove and kick and didn’t look out of place doing it. Heck, he actually looked to put the ball on the floor consistently. If he can achieve this skill with any consistency, then how do him and his BFF Demar stack up as prospects? His jumper is much better than DeMar’s already, now the other skills are starting to surface. It hasn’t been just this one game, its been a stretch of decent games that he’s strung together. It does look like there will be a good synergy with these two. If one starts playing better, than the other one will be motivated to step up as well.

The most obvious starter/bench argument actually is at power forward. It’s time to set Amir Johnson free, seriously. He had another decent game, and was part of another second half Raptor run. When the Raptors have looked good this year, it’s been when there defense dictates their offence. Turnovers are created and Johnson runs the floor very well for a big man. If we can wait 5 years for a 25 yr-old Bargnani to learn rebounding and help defense, DeMar to learn how to dribble, then I’m sure we could give this 23 yr-old some time to cut down on the fouls.

The interesting thing is that we’re not even talking about a complex physical skill, or about an effort issue. It’s just all about what’s going through that noggin’ of his. He’s obviously quick enough to get to the right spots in time, which is half the battle, and he’s got to understand that. This is the confounding part about using blocks as some kind of quantitave metric for defense. Just being there between the offensive player and the rim with your hands up will affect the outcome of that play. Not to the side like Bargnani likes to do, but actually in front of the guy. Amir does this well enough but then he feels like has to go for the block and ends up getting some arm. Not necessary. The couple of times he started last year he actually stayed out of foul trouble, so it could be that he expects to play aggressive enough to barely foul out every 20 or so minutes he plays, which would be quite ingenous if true.

Why is Reggie in the starting lineup? Probably because you need a rebounding machine to compensate for one of the worst rebounding big men in the history of the game. Amir’s a decent rebounder, but Reggie probably has a slight advantage, but the man cannot finish to save his life. I’d really like to see him in a jump-off with Rafael Araujo, and I don’t even know what a jump-off is.

After the latest round of public admissions that Bargnani needs to drastically improve his help defence, I was keeping a close eye on Il Mago, and indeed there was a noticable difference in his defensive approach. He even got a defensive 3 second violation because he was leaving his man and roaming over to the strong side. To sum it up, he was actually rotating, but probably a little too early, and the Charlotte bigs did get a few easy buckets because of Bargnani’s overzealousness, but we will take what we can get. It’s no surprise that he grabbed a few more rebounds today, because providing a good rotations for a center means that he will be near the rim more often than not, instead of tying up his man a few feet away. Same for Amir, being there is half the job done. Hard to get a rebound, if you’re not where the rebound is. Makes sense. Going to lose my marbles watching this team.

He, Bargnani, always shows something after taking some criticism, but will he actually build from last night’s performance, or was this just a one-off to get people off his back For the umpteenth time? We’ll see.

Not one to complain about this, but the Raptors got the short end of the stick on a few calls last night, including that non-call on Bargnani where Stephen Jackson stripped the ball. It wasn’t a clean swipe, more like he stuck his mitt in there and when Bargnani reacted it flew out. Tough way to lose the game. If you thought Chris Bosh had trouble closing out games, I think we’ll be in for a real treat with Bargnani as that go to guy, especially if they keep putting smaller guys on him in those situations.

In every game except against Cleveland, the opposition has had the best player on the court who the Raptors knew could kill them at will. Amare Stoudemire, Gerald Wallace, Monta Ellis, Deron Williams, Tyreke Evans, Kobe Bryant and Brandon Roy. It’s like you know it’s coming and there’s nothing you can do about it. The Raptors need to start double teaming good players if they want to have any chance at success. I know this means that we’ll have to rotate well and that’s still a soft spot around here, but this team rolls at least ten deep, so the energy level should be high on a nightly basis.

Or not. Let the losses pile up and shield your eyes from the overwhelming glow of those gleaming lottery balls.

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