The Hawks have been the Raptors’ nemesis the last few years, and this game provided further evidence that athletic teams are just too much for Brian Colangelo’s defensively-challenged outfits. They, the Hawks, have been playing .500 ball so far this season, but it looks like they are starting to pick up steam, because they put on a clinic on Sunday afternoon. Some Sunday schooling for the young Raptors.
Atlanta used their versatile bigs as the point of attack and constantly found the open man with deft interior passing and kickouts, often swung to the weakside where shooters were constantly left open. Toronto hasn’t had too many clunkers this year, the Utah and Washington games come to mind, but this may have been the first one at the ACC. The crowd really didn’t get a chance to get into the game and spur the home team on, although the last game played here the crowd was seen giving a standing ovation chanting “REGGIE, REGGIE, REGGIE!” There was no Reggie on this day, to bail out Andrea and Co. as they bricked shot after shot in the second half of the game.
It looks like Reggie won’t be out for too long, and it’ll be interesting to see how the team does in his absence. His defense is not as bad as some make it to be, because it’s a function of effort, and who would dispute that Reggie hasn’t been leaving it all out there every night. Sure, he’s kind of ground-bound and his ON/OFF defensive splits are not good, but that’s more than likely due to sharing a lot of floor time with Andrea. His offense is, well offensive, and I’ve heard the “it’s like playing 4-on-5” argument, but how does that explain Ben Wallace during the great Piston years or Dennis Rodman on the Bulls, arguably the greatest team of all time? The point is that rebounding has great value, and it’s not like if you found Reggie alone under the rim, he would not be able to convert a layup. Maybe we still hold our breath, but that’s just part of the guy’s charm, right? He’s a man’s man. I’m sure everyone saw him rallying the troops at half-time. If he’s talking to me out there, I might not understand exactly what he’s saying but I’ll pretend I’m hanging on every word, because he can back it up with action and he’s kind of scary. Not the fake kind of scary that our so-called potty-mouthed, clipboard smashing, GM yes-man of a coach is.
The rebounding wasn’t at the level it’s been and the offense was not either. On a day that Jose started off well, penetrating and finding Joey Dorsey on nice alley-oops, but then fizzled off considerably, Jarret Jack would have been nice insurance. Instead Leandro Barbosa threatened to be that guy, and probably would be if he decided to take it to the hole more than occassionally. Barbosa is so damn quick off the dribble and he’s able to convert layups at full speeds. It’s quite the talent, one of the best in the league at it, but for some reason he consciously tries to show his offensive versatility by balancing out those attempts with jumpers, which he is not so talented at.
Jerryd Bayless might have been that guy as well and he was actually trying to take the ball to the hole every time, with some level of success. He gets an E for effort, but little guys like that who are just looking for their own give off that TJ Ford/Mike James (yes Mike James) vibe. Granted, the team was struggling and not much else was working, but if you don’t have Monta Ellis-level talent, that schtick is going to wear pretty thin pretty quickly. I keep hearing that he’s still young and their’s still a chance to develop his point guard skills, but he hasn’t been asked to do any of that so far. Yup, it’s been only 2 games and his heart is in the right place, so let’s see how this one plays out.
This was a day that the Young Onez will try to forget. First it was DeMar DeRozan, now Sonny Weems has been afflicted with the plague of mediocrity. Let’s talk about DeRozan, because he was selected by Bryan Colangelo and therefore is guaranteed to be an NBA star who needs to be force-fed minutes without much accountability. His jumper is shot, pardon the pun. He’s been taking fewer shots due to this, but that doesn’t explain the passiveness. If anything, DeRozan has proven that he can draw fouls at the NBA level, but he just isn’t trying to right now. Maybe his shot will become a consistent weapon one day, or maybe he’ll be a poor man’s Cory Maggette, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Defensively, the intentions were good but misplaced as they constantly provided help on Josh Smith and Al Horford, who made the Raptors pay dearly. Smith can thank them for the 10 assists and his third career triple-double. Joe Johnson drove into the lane unmolested whenever he attempted to. Julian Wright should have been playing with his length and defense to counter a guy like Johnson. Can’t count how many times a Hawk scored in the paint with little to no resistance. Which brings us to our favourite subject, Andrea Bargnani.
Let’s preface this bit by saying this: Bargnani has proven himself to be a versatile, aggressive scorer this year, some would say elite level and probably not be too far off the truth. His rebounding has been abysmal but somewhat masked by Reggie’s excellent work on the glass. So credit where credit’s due.
The problem is that, when he’s not scoring efficiently like the past 2 games, he becomes an absolute liability like he has been the last couple of games. There were a few instances where Bargnani just stood there as a Hawk swept in for a bucket, and in other cases, he over-helped when it completely wasn’t necessary. They guy’s basketball IQ is questionable, and he’s not a quick enough jumper to get away with it. On the occasion he leaves his man for help, which he is definitely doing more now, that’s it, he ain’t ever coming back to that guy no matter what happens after that. This was a major reason why Atlanta looked so good with their interior passing on Sunday. Consistent with his aversion to his own rim, when he helps, he helps “out”, to a guy that’s further out and then stays in that general area. Either he’s not being coached, or he’s not listening, but the guy has to stay near the rim for the majority of defensive possessions. That’s how the game works. Watch Amir Johnson, watch any center on any NBA team and see how they stay close, ready to provide help at the rim. Actual help, not jump straight in the air and near the guy and wave kind of help. You want to block the guy, not come up to say hi.
He needs to be efficient, and has been for the most part. It was beautiful how he abused the Hawks on drives and shooting over them in the first quarter, but when he struggles it’s usually at the worst time, in the end. Either he runs out of steam, which means he’s clearly better off as a 25-30 min player, or he can’t score when good teams ramp up the defense in crunch time.
There was no crunch time on Sunday, but I found it kind of funny that the garbage time lineup of Jerryd Bayless, DeMar DeRozan, Julian Wright, Amir Johnson and Joey Dorsey would have been the ideal lineup today. I have faith in Joey Dorsey, he might have been tentative having been thrown into the fire, but he will be alright against guys not named Al Horford. Amir Johnson didn’t start because Jay didn’t want to affect the rotation, which is just laughable. How important is the rotation? Important enough that you aren’t starting arguably your best big? Rotation’s do not win games. Scoring efficiently, preventing points, and rebounding do. Amir does all three of these things well.
Next up, the Wizards waltz into town on Wednesday.