It is early, but Dwane Casey and Jerryd Bayless want to make one thing clear.
“I don’t want a point guard controversy and there won’t be one,” said the Raptors coach emphatically after practice on Wednesday afternoon.
Casey talked up the 23-year-old former Arizona product, who was tremendous in 14 starts for the Raptors last season (18.1 points, 6.7 assists, 46.7% shooting in 35.3 minutes per game) before adding that at this point, incumbent Jose Calderon is the likely starter.
“It’s going to be a good battle with he and Jose, we’re going to have to figure out who is the best for us coming off the bench, who is going to be our starter,” Casey said.
“(Bayless) does give us juice off the bench … changing the game, pushing the basketball. If I was leaning one way, it would be that way right now, but I haven’t made my mind up 100%.”
Calderon is both the longest-serving Raptor and the team’s highest-paid player. He is one of the best point guards in the league at running the pick-and-roll and a more consistent shooter than Bayless, but he has been beset by nagging injuries which have turned him from an about average defender to a poor one.
Calderon won the starting job from T.J. Ford in the past but had lost the role to Jarrett Jack last season before Jack was swapped for Bayless.
While historically Calderon has performed far better as a starter than a reserve, he is not the long-term answer, so at some point, Casey and the Raptors probably will extend Bayless’ role if he doesn’t start right off of the bat.
Casey considers Bayless “one of our best ball stoppers,” but acknowledges what most consider Bayless’ main liability: a propensity to score the ball rather than create for others.
“His biggest challenge is handling the pick-and-roll situation, seeing his teammates,” Casey said.
“No question. That’s what the game really comes down to in crunch time. Either running (the pick and roll), or defending it is the toughest thing.”
Bayless, a more capable on-the-ball one-on-one defender in the open court than Calderon, doesn’t really care what transpires.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked about his role. “Whatever coach Casey sees and envisions for me, that’s what I’m going to do. I want to be here for a long time, so whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it.”
The most significant aspect of Casey’s defensive system is that it could allow someone like Calderon to seemingly improve at that end of the court. The coach has said all along that he will devise a scheme that plays to the strengths of his players and one that will allow more help than needed.
The Raptors will run a more traditional defence — packing the paint, offering some help on screen-and-roll situations, taking away straight-line drives that the team gave up all too often last year playing a more spread out style — that the coach said this week would overcome some of the individual physical limitations of his players.
“It’s packing the paint pretty much and . . . around the league, most teams do that so it’s not too new for me,” said Bayless.
Best case scenario: The Raps take full inventory of all of the various pieces in their collection, decide on a true core for the team, and find a few bites on the trade line. There’s no rush of any kind in Toronto; Bryan Colangelo can explore every single possibility out there, while Casey slowly gets the young guys (Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan, et al) up to speed on their defensive fundamentals.
For that to happen: The Raps need to continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing. It’s almost strange to say it at this point, but credit Toronto for not seeing this season as some critical launch point, and credit Colangelo for electing to fill out his roster with low-salary, low-risk players. Many basketball fans have an instinctive, adverse reaction to any team signing Jamaal Magloire, but at this particular juncture, he legitimately makes sense for the Raptors. Toronto is taking aim for next season — when prized draft pick Jonas Valanciunas will make his way to the NBA — giving little reason to invest or trade for alternative center options. Magloire isn’t good, but he’s cheap…and Canadian, which certainly doesn’t hurt. He’s not the answer, but he also won’t be any kind of problem.
This isn’t a team trying to scrap toward 35 wins with the books as forfeit, but a team being mindful of its future as it attempts a slow rebuild. It can be an arduous process, but barring a Draft night home run, it’s what must be done.
More likely, the Raptors will: See above. There’s only one direction for Toronto to go right now, painful as that might be for Raptors fans.
Prediction: 18-48, but hopefully with a brighter future.
2010-11 Record: 22-60
Key Departures: Reggie Evans, Coach Jay Triano
Key Arrivals: Rasaul Butler, Coach Duane Casey
In year 2 of the post-Bosh rebuilding project, the Raptors find themselves with a young roster that struggled to find its way in a top-heavy East last season. Bryan Colangelo’s dream of building a Suns-east roster produced a ton of shots (10th in Pace), but it also resulted in a ton of misses (21st in Off Efficiency) and abysmal defense (last in Def Efficiency). They did have bright spots though, mainly in Demar Derozan and Andrea Bargnani. Derozan quietly had an excellent season, averaging almost 18 per game on 47% shooting and giving fans glimpses of the franchise player that
will leavehe is capable of being. Derozan’s athletic prowess is well documented, but the real key to his development lies in improving his jumper from long range and becoming a more willing passer when he gets cut off on his drives. Bargnani also improved his scoring stats for the 5th straight season, but his rebounding and defense is alarmingly bad. I know he is a perimeter player at heart, but averaging 5 rebs and less than a single block per game is inexcusable for a starting center, and he will have to provide some form of basket protection for Toronto to improve defensively, especially since Reggie Evans has gone elsewhere. There are plenty of areas where Toronto can stand to improve, but they basically progress as Derozan and Bargnani progress.
Prediction: 17-49. Derozan breaks out this year and becomes known for more than his dunks, but the Raptors don’t have enough talent to make the playoffs this season. The growing pains continue.