Even without Carmelo Anthony, the Denver Nuggets are a much more talented squad than the Raptors, but that is still no excuse for how bad the defense was on Friday night at the ACC. The first half was just painful to watch as the Raps surrendered 74 points, and even though Toronto was staying in the game with their own offensive production thanks to one Linas Kleiza, it was just a matter of time that they would hit a lull. That they did, early in the 3rd quarter as Denver took a 20-point lead and hung on for a victory.
Let`s start with the positives, just to get them out of the way. Linas Kleiza and Sonny Weems were the standouts offensively, although they struggled with their defensive rotations all game. Kleiza can be one of the more consistent offensive options on this team, he just needs to get into a flow sometimes. I like the idea of giving him some touches as soon as he comes off the bench, preferably post-ups. He`s very effective down there and one could argue he is our best option in the post. With help from Bargnani and Barbosa, he carried the team in the first half.
Our other swingman, DeMar DeRozan, did not do so well. I’m a little confused on the direction the ball club wants to take with him. They start DeRozan and play him big minutes, yet he is clearly struggling. He has to be one of the worst shooting 2’s in the league but wait, it’s about development, because Bryan Colangelo hand-picked him therefore he doesn’t need to earn his minutes, he is a player with hidden talent that Colangelo saw, who will eventually blossom. As closed-minded and unequitable as that approach is, we’ll give you that Bryan, but at the same time maybe you should run more plays for him? Yet Bargnani is the one they clearly cater to offensively. Kleiza was brought in, he takes away touches from DeRozan, so does Barbosa. These are clearly moves to make the team better now and ignore the development of DeRozan. Are the Raptors about trying to win or trying to develop? You can’t have it both ways, especially when the kid is struggling. It’s unbelievable, the way this GM has babied his draft picks. It sends a message to the team that it’s more about who you are than what you do, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced that at some point in our lives and know what kind of resentment that feeling can bring personally, let alone to the culture of a professional sports team.
Amir Johnson needs to stay in the game for the Raptors to have any chance of defensive success, far more than any other Raptor. He hasn`t done that the last couple of games and has given his critics ample ammunition in the name of inconsistency. He`s the kind of guy who takes it personally when the other team scores on him and that`s completely understandable. The off-the-ball fouls have to stop though, they are completely avoidable since Amir has the ability to make up for bad positioning a lot of the time. He did struggle to stay in front of Al Harrington, which I found kind of surprising given Johnson’s length. Not many guys have made Amir look bad like that this year, and of all the people Al Harrington ended up doing it. The Julian Wright sub was the right move and the defense did respond with Wright`s presence, now if only the Raptors could find a consistent role for what he brings.
Barbosa still amazes me with the combination of speed and body control on his drives. It`s a thing of beauty. His vision is underrated as well, and it was something that wasn`t needed with Steve Nash leading the team in Phoenix. Didn`t like how Bayless automatically got the starting nod and took him out of his comfort zone of coming off the bench. He struggles when he tries to do too much and as a starter he did just that. It was clear that he felt the pressure, and just like Jarret Jack, he`s his own worst enemy sometimes. When he played like a point guard, he racked up quality assists, but as a scorer he missed a couple of shots early and then tried to score inside, which is not his forte. Defensively, Chauncey Billups was giving everyone fits. It just goes to show that good perimeter players will find a way to the rim, Calderon in the lineup or not,and it`s the way the interior help comes in that determines ultimately how successful they are going to be.
Cue the diatribe. The Colangelo draft pick thingie was a rant. This is a diatribe.
It was very reminiscent of last year’s team , which had a decent offense but equally bad defense. The beginning portion of last year had the Raps toying with title of worst defensive team in NBA history, but they eventually “buckled down” to avoid that notorious title. Yet last year, all the talk was about how the offense lacked flow, and was too Bosh-centric and the Bargnani wasn’t being involved offensively. The problem was a really soft interior presence that had Bosh, who was the main offensive weapon and although decent defensively, not good enough to bail out Andrea Bargnani’s complete apathy on that end of the court.
Until recently, the team was a little better defensively, partly due to a favourable schedule, and partly due to Reggie Evans who took away any second-chance point opportunities and Amir Johnson, who’s length and quickness make him one of the best defenders in the league. What we saw on Friday night was the evolution of Andrea Bargnani as a player. On Wednesday, during his 41 point night and last night after garnering much attention and accolades about how great his game at Madison Square Garden was, his defense was unbelievably bad. So bad, that it didn’t even matter that he scored 41 and 26 respectively, in my opinion. Before it was an issue of his pathetic help defense and historically bad rebounding, but now that he feels that he’s a great scorer, his one defensive ability, post-defense is now suffering from his inherent “caliper-test” indifference. He’s just there to score and simply exist on the defensive end. nothing more. Is it any surprise that the Raptors are sending help the last two games whenever Amare or Nene are posting up Bargnani by easily establishing position inside, and when they do, the other team has intelligently swung it around to the open man for a three. It shouldn’t be and it’s now another issue this team will have to deal with, because the coach sure as hell ain’t.
As of last night, the team’s does 12.01 points per 100 possessions better when Bargnani is off the floor. 12! Michael Jordan himself couldn’t make up for that kind of defense. So you think it’s a product of matchups and a better bench? The next worst is Demar DeRozan at 4.31 points/100. That’s almost an 8 point difference for two guys who share the majority of their time on the court together. Just think about that. Last year the number for Bargnani was also a team-worst negative 9.10 with Hedo Turkoglu a distant second at negative 4.56. Year before that? Bargnani again the worst at negative 7.41 and Jose at negative 4.37. So not only is he the worst for the last 3 years with different lineups and rotations, but it’s just getting worse! People use the word pylon, and if you watch him closely, that’s exactly what he’s become. Guys drive to the rim and he just stands there with his hands straight up. That’s not defense. You only do that if you got a guy coming straight at you and you’re between him and the rim. If a 6 foot guy is trying to make a layup and you’re at the rim, then at least attempt to jump. But pylons don’t jump I guess.
It is important if you’re a fan that cares about the things that actually win you games. If you want to put up a poster of the guy because he drops 20 a game and you want to be like him, then by all means it’s up to you. If you don’t realize how much more important the role is of a center on defense than the other positions, that’s your problem. If you don`t realize how bad Andrea Bargnani is on defense, that`s fine, but do realize he`s actually getting worse every year and the organization won`t do a damn thing about it, because of an almost eerie kind of bond between him and his general manager. Or the GM doesn`t realize how bad his defense is, which is probably even more scarier.
End of diatribe.
And who the hell is Gary Forbes?Follow @raptorsrepublic