I used to think Boris Diaw looked like rapper/singer/producer/composer Pharrell Williams. Now I just think he ate Pharrell. There, I had to get the token Diaw fat-joke out of the way early, or I’d be trying to shoehorn it in somewhere else the entire article.
Tonight, as on most nights, the Raptors were equal parts exciting and excruciating, fascinating and frustrating. They looked at times like the team we’ve been hoping they’re turning into, but a scoring drought or defensive lapse was always waiting just around the corner to kill any momentum. To wit, the Raptors lead after the first quarter for just the second time in their last six games, but watched the lead slowly evaporate over the second and third quarters, only to fall behind for good midway through the fourth.
On an individual basis, Andrea Bargnani showed us the darker side of his on-going Two Face impersonation, looking largely disinterested except for a few occasions of help defense, finishing with just 12 points on 4/14 shooting. He did chip in with eight rebounds, though…but when that’s the best you can say about your star 7-footer, that’s likely an issue. I get the feeling from the Twitterverse and the chat that I wasn’t as outraged with Bargs as most, but his disappearing act really has to come to an end. If he wants the contract of a superstar, the respect of a superstar (and I guess nobody has claimed he does), and the label of superstar, he has to be ready to play like one on more nights than not. The disinterest he shows roughly once a week isn’t acceptable, and while they may just be bad games that look worse because of his emotionless demeanor, there should never be a doubt in a fan’s mind whether or not a player worked hard. But I digress, as I’m sure the commenters will gladly handle the role of Bargnani post-game analysis.
Leandro Barbosa also had his ups and downs, tidying up a poor game with an eight point fourth quarter. Linas Kleiza had one of his rare performances where I didn’t curse his name, but quietly misfired on 6/9. Demar DeRozan showed flashes of his potential, as he tends to do, delivering a few nice drives, a sometimes-effective jump shot, and of course a nasty one-handed jam towards the end of the third quarter.
His best buddy Sonny Weems was even more frustrating, displaying poor shot selection yet again en route to a 4/13 shooting performance. Sonny manages to look the part, playing with intensity and being in the right place a lot of the time, but he forces his offense far too often and the criticism that he thinks he’s Kobe Weems held true tonight. In November, Weems railed off eight straight double figure performances, but has had just three in the past 11 games. It has been menacing to watch, as he showed us just a month ago that he can be a moderately efficient scorer. While he’s shooting 46% on the season, he has finished at just 38% over the past 12 games.
Amir Johnson was efficient with his 12-and-12 effort, but the team’s refusal to run plays for him persists. I realize that his offensive game is still raw, but he is a 60% shooter who manages just six attempts a game in 22 minutes. If nothing else, he suits the roll of dive-man splendidly and should be utilized further in the pick-and-roll game. His seven offensive rebounds see him right at 3.0 per game for the season, and he continues to be near the top of the leaderboard for rebound rate. His fouling reains a problem, with five more tonight, but his development will be a key point of analysis for the rest of the season as one of the team’s brighter spots.
With a team full of inconsistent indvidiuals, it should be little surprise that the Raptors change identities on the fly. While they displayed great help defense tonight, complete with six blocks, it’s this same help defense that they could not adjust against the Knicks and Pacers for three straight losses. And while the ball movement is at times spectacular, the team also falls into long spurts of playing one-on-one basketball, a strategy that does not suit this unit. With Jose Calderon out for a third straight game with a sore foot, the team was of course lead by Jerryd Bayless, the posterboy for this team’s tendency to show something great one play, and something awful the next.
A few games after Bayless was acquired, I argued he should be in the starting lineup for reasons other than the question of who is better between he and Jose. In Jose’s absence, I think it’s been reaffirmed that Jose is the safer, more efficient, more controlled master of this team and it’s offense. That said, Bayless has shown without a doubt that he was worth gambling on, showing us over and over that he has the skillset to become a top scoring guard in the league. The rest of his game lobs questions out at us fans, like whether he’s a good defender or just quick, whether he is too out of control when driving, whether he has a little too much T.J. Ford in him or just enough Russel Westbrook.
He gets to the basket with reckless abandon, which has afforded him trips to the line, scores at the basket, and the respect of yours truly. His 31 point outburst against Detroit was wonderful to watch, a reminder we needed that individual players can take over games at this level. Still, he is careless and reckless when compared to Calderon (who isn’t?), and it can be argued that he only involves others using drive-and-kicks, not the transition game.
There was a sequence late in the game that was illustrative of my point: In the last 44 seconds, Bayless missed a three at the top of the key, forced a layup in traffic that resulted in a timeout that was almost a turnover, scored an insane degree-of-difficulty layup, and then turned the ball over trying to dribble between Bargnani and two Bobcat defenders. It showed determination and aggression, two things this squad appears to lack some nights, but it also showed his inexperience and a little too much zeal.
This, of course, is a part of the development process. The Raptors need to see what they have with Bayless, and it’s becoming more clear with each game, but there is a lot more to be discovered. At the very least, I’m confident Bayless could play the role of scoring guard off the bench. At his apex, he may become an above-average all around point guard, though he’ll probably never shed the “scoring guard” label, which is fine.
It wasn’t Bayless’ fault tonight, just like it wasn’t the fault of any one player. The inconsistencies can be maddening, the 8 turnovers frustrating, the 52% opponent FG% depressing, and the 13 blocks by the Bobcats infuriating. The fact that Nazr Mohammed and Kwame Brown combined for 28 points in 37 minutes is enough to drive any fan mad, but if the team can get on a run where most players are playing to their upside, our patience will be rewarded with some damn good basketball.
And “if” my Aunt had balls, she’d be my Uncle. So there’s also that.