Though defence is still a major concern for Jay Triano — “We need to take more pride in our man-to-man-defence,” he said after practice on Thursday — the head coach also recognizes that his players are getting better through force-fed experience, and takes pride in the fact they give him an honest effort every night.
“Our effort and intensity is good, we just have to finish plays and I think a lot of that has to do with youth,” Triano said.
“Our young guys are learning how to play. (Atlanta veterans) Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby have been around double-figure years, against our guys, who are in their infancy in terms of their development as players. We just have to keep working them and they have to learn from playing guys like that what it takes to score, how they’re getting scored on.”
To a man, Triano and his charges feel things are on track and progress is being made of late.
“We’ve been playing much better,” Jose Calderon said.
“Atlanta was beating us every game easy, so it was kind of nice to compete against them (for the entirety of Wednesday’s heartbreaker), because (they were) one of the teams we never played good against.”
Added DeRozan, the sophomore who has taken the biggest leap forward this season: “We’re getting better and better every game, learning from our mistakes and it’s definitely working.”
Baby steps, perhaps, but you have to learn how to crawl before you can learn how to walk.
Sundiata Gaines‚ your timing could not have been much better.
The Raptors brought the point guard in on a 10-day contract on Thursday largely because incumbent lead guards Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless have been hobbled by injuries for weeks.
Lo and behold, Bayless reinjured his tender ankle on Thursday and is now questionable for Friday’s home tilt with the Detroit Pistons.
Gaines, a 6-foot-1, 24-year-old native of Queens, N.Y., has bounced around the NBA, totalling 40 regular season games and has one memorable game-winning shot to his credit while with the Utah Jazz.
Gaines averaged 23.9 points and 6.9 assists with Idaho of the D-League last season, but Raptors head coach Jay Triano considers him more of a facilitator than a scorer — something his team desperately needs at the moment.
“He is a point guard who can set up and run offences rather than he’s going to come down and look for his own,” Triano said of Gaines.
“We don’t need points from that position as (much) as we need someone who can orchestrate who gets the basketball.”
Gaines said he had other offers but felt like Toronto was the right fit for him.
“I had some choices, but the Raptors were the best opportunity,” Gaines said.
“It’s a new beginning. I’ll come out and play hard (and) everything else will take its course.”
Calderon said it is difficult for a point guard to come in on a short contract and pick up the offence, but said he will help get Gaines acclimated.
“It’s kind of tough. But that’s why I’m here, I will help him get ready as quick as possible,” Calderon said.
6’9" and 210 pounds is fine for a small forward, but that is definitely undersized for where he gets most of his minutes. Yet Johnson’s still putting up decent numbers and getting in on the hustle plays.
You don’t need a medical degree to see he’s playing through a good amount of pain: He’s constantly reaching for his back; he’s wincing; he’s slow to get up after being knocked to the hardwood; and, you don’t need to be a professional athlete to know that a back injury is restrictive for everything—from jumping for rebounds to running back on defense.
He signed a healthy contract last offseason, so it’s nice to see he’s trying to earn that paycheck. It demonstrates a passion for basketball and his team. And, when healthy, he can average a solid 12 points and 7 rebounds.
Then, against the Sacramento Kings, I finally saw something I’ve been waiting awhile for: Johnson on the bench. It’s not that I don’t want him in the game. I just don’t want to see him starting.
Raptor fans appreciate the effort. It’s admirable; but the Raptors are a better team with him in the second unit.
We can only hope that head coach Jay Triano takes that winning line-up against the Kings and runs with it even though he put Johnson back into the starter’s role against the Atlanta Hawks.