I’m trying to figure out reasons why the Raptors have won five straight. Jose Calderon’s momentary resurgence has a lot to do with it, and to some extent so has Alan Anderson’s return from injury. Of course, the public furor is also a product of the Raptors missing Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry, two players who you would argue were the #1 and #2 offensive options heading into the season. Improved three-point shooting, something I’ve always felt has been lacking for some time here, is a possible reason for the revival. The Raptors are shooting 36% during their winning streak, which is up from 33% before it started. Three percent may not sound like much on paper, but it’s good enough to be the difference between the current 11th and 27th ranked teams in that category. The ensuing confidence that made threes results cannot be discounted and can yield more points – before their winning streak the Raptors took an average of 7 threes a game, and in their winning streak they’re taking 10.

The absence of Bargnani, a 32% three-point shooter who takes 4.5 threes a game, can be cited as a cause for this percentage improvement as simply more capable three-point shooters are taking those shots. The deeper reason though, is a general one: the floor is being spaced really well. A well-spaced floor is more than players spread across evenly, it’s about the players being in positions that cater to their strengths. The strongest evidence of this happening has to be the extended playing time received by Ed Davis, and more importantly, how it’s affecting Jose Calderon.

Empirically, there’s always been a certain synergy between Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson, and if you go some ways back, between Rasho Nesterovic and Jose Calderon as well. Calderon has never been a great drive-and-kick point guard, but he is excellent at working with his big men in pick ‘n roll situations. Essentially, Calderon being paired up with Ed Davis caters to him much more than Bargnani simply because Calderon`s strength is working with big men in close quarters. I’ve pointed to some stats in the recent post-games that speak to just how much of Calderon’s assists go towards big men that roll to the rim: Valanciunas, Davis, and Johnson. Of course, this alone does not a five-game win streak make, but a jump from 20.39 assists per game to 24.4 during the win streak is very significant. In NBA rank terms, that’s the difference between the 2nd ranked and 24th ranked team in that category!

The quality of opposition has obviously been a factor with four of the five games at home. Detroit, Cleveland, and Orlando are games that you would’ve penciled the Raptors to have a chance in under any circumstance. The Dallas and Houston wins were a nice surprise, the latter is to date Houston’s worst performance on the season (they destroyed the Knicks the next night at MSG). There is no doubt that the group that’s playing out there right now functions better than what was there before, even though I don’t share the opinion that Lowry’s play is problematic. However, the upcoming three-game road trip against San Antonio, New Orleans, and Orlando, combined with the home date with Portland, is apt to tell us more about the capability of the current unit than the last five games. If the Raptors are able to compete with this group over the next four games, then you seriously have to ponder, if you haven’t already, just where Bargnani and Lowry fit on the team.

That elusive core the Raptors have been searching for and which has gone through several iterations is now standing to be DeRozan, Davis, Valanciunas and Ross. Everything else is supplementary. If Colangelo decides that fostering these four players is best done through Jose Calderon, then there shouldn’t be any issue with that given how the team is performing. The other approach is to parlay Calderon along with Bargnani into something else of use, and instate Lowry as the unquestionable starter. Raptors fans, more or less, are debating between which of the two options to pick from. The easiest thing to do and one that won’t be put to question is to retain both point guards until the end of the season and see where the wind takes you.

The bench remains thin for the Raptors with Alan Anderson, Linas Kleiza, Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson headlining the substitutes. My long-standing belief that adding Bargnani to the reserves will be great for all parties is still held, even though the general feeling around town is that his time here is done, especially with trade rumors circling (smoke/fire). The good news for Colangelo is that he’s going to have a decent sample size of varying lineups to evaluate what works and what doesn’t. With Bargnani out indefinitely and Lowry already missing 12 games, he’s going to have enough empirical and statistical evidence to see what course this rebuild is going to take.

To recap, questions whose answers are currently pending:

  • Calderon or Lowry, who is the point guard that facilitates the rebuild? Long-time question this one, just replace Lowry with T.J Ford and Jarrett Jack, and you we’ve seen this before. Obviously, Colangelo has picked Calderon the last two occasions, will he do it a third time?
  • What to do with Bargnani? As evidenced by the poll on the site, we know what the fans think. It’s a question of whether Colangelo agrees, and more importantly, what’s available for Bargnani on the open market. It would be rather embarrassing to flip him for a second-rounder. Then again, if the Knicks can make Amare available for free, there shouldn’t be any shame for Colangelo to do the same with Bargnani.
  • What exactly is Landry Fields’ role? If he continues to shoot a horrific percentage, then you have to wonder just what his value to the team is, especially given we have a cheaper option in Mickael Pietrus. Is Fields more than a residual of the Nash saga and actually a viable option at the three long-term? It’s a serious question to be asked because it influences what the Raptors seek in a potential deal. My belief is that he’s a bench player at best, and possibly a fifth starter on a good team.
  • What is Ross’ long-term role? This isn’t an urgent question but needs some thinking. Do the Raptors see him as a starter, and if so, at what position? There’s some room for maneuvering between DeRozan and Ross at the two/three, and if we’re testing out either player at the small forward spot just to see what their future position might be, now might be the time to do it. According to 82games.com, DeRozan’s PER at SF is lower (14.8 vs. 12.4) but he’s also conceding a lower PER defensively (16.3 vs. 12.9). Something to think about.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from everyone at RR!

  • Syed Qamar1

    Terrance Ross 2013 slam dunk competition winner he will put on a show like Vince’s in 2000, he’ll bring the eyes back Toronto although I don’t think he will ever be as good as Vince carter was I think by next year Terrance Ross will be starting at SF position because of his great 3 point shooting, people say DD and TR r identical. I don’t believe it at all they have different styles both on the offensive end and defensive end. I have no idea what is wrong with DD’s defence though he has the quickness and athletisism but keeps getting beat by opposing SGs . And as much as u ask who the starting pg should be and who should get traded its a coin flip at this point in the season, in my opinion Lowry stays and Calderon gets dealt and I say that because he has finally gotten attention nationally so his value will be at an all time high and bash BC all you want I know he will get something good for Calderon. Why do u think he’s been on the market so long? BC knows his value and has probably been approached on Calderon in the past but hasn’t executed a deal because he hasn’t gotten back what he believes he should for Calderon. Since Calderon is playing the way he is I think this might be the year he gets dealt. I just have a hard time believing Lowry would get traded. Regarding Landry fields I do think he was a pawn to the Nash trade, he’s over paid and is a player that should be on the trading block basically a amare type of deal give him up to who ever wants to take him…maybe get back a draft pick or an expiring contract. The raptors need cap space in the upcoming years why not start now and 2014 draft looks like its got a lot of star power, maybe get some draft picks in next years draft and let the rebuild begin. Hate me or not I think this team is 1 or 2 pieces away from contending with the current roster they have minus bargs and fields. It’s up to the GM if he wants to blow it up and start new . But I think they have either option. Trade for talent NOW or rebuild in 2014. Calderon is good too guys would take him as a starter in Toronto for the next couple of years but its not happening kiss Calderon good bye

  • Holycraptors.com

    Great stuff as usual, and nicely written.

    Momentum is basketball is a strange thing, during a game or over a season. When and how it’s going to swing is difficult to predict. This team has momentum for the first time in a while now, and it will make the young guys especially feel much more confident. They (the younger players) will play better as a result.

    This being the Raptors of course, it’s entirely possible that all the improvement we’ve seen recently will inexplicably disappear, and they’ll go 0-5 over the next week. But it’s nice to see some of those coin-flip losses from earlier in the year go in the other direction.

  • Konanas

    We are going nowhere if we stay trade Jose and Lowry continues to get injured like he is this year…

    • Konanas

      if we trade Jose*

  • mountio

    Ive been saying from day one that Ross and DD can absolutely play together. Im not quite sure why Casey sees the need to wait until he takes out DD to put in TR (although in Caseys defense, he is at least playing them both together in crunch time). 
    If you think about how DD’s game is evolving .. more post up, greater time in the lane .. hes a natural complement to TR, who has much better range and a better stroke (although DDs stroke does look a little better this year). 
    If our biggest issue is that certain 3s have a little height / weight advantage vs DD at the 3 spot .. then im a pretty happy raps fan .. cause its not that big of a deal .. 

  • j bean

    T Ross is one of the bright spots and is going to get a bump in minutes because of his well balanced play and steady improvement.
    Fields is still a question mark as we haven’t seen him play since his surgery. Maybe his shot was effected and he’ll return to his rookie form.
    The AB situation worries me because of the favoritism he has always received when it comes to playing time. I would give him a role like Bonner has with the Spurs or trade him for that type of great character guy.
    Calderon is doing the job a backup pg is supposed to do when the starter goes down. When Kyle is ready to go he’ll work his way back into his starting role unless Jose keeps playing over his head and the team is winning. Maybe Jose will have a streak to rival Andrea’s 13 games.

    • CJT

      I was watching Fields shoot at shootaround last Friday and his stroke still looks a bit odd in the way he brings the ball up and sets it, but it definitely looked better in terms of his hand position and release.  He shot the ball well in the warm up.  Not sure what a little defense will do though.

    • unknown guest

      “Maybe Jose will have a streak to rival Andrea’s 13 games.”

      Too funny.

  • grizzly73

    If and when Bargs goes can anyone see Demarcus Cousins as a Rap or is that just plain too risky?

    • hound

      bargs for Cousins straight up. Anything more is a reach, way too much risk

      • minks77

        People just don’t seem to understand how important chemistry is in basketball. You can have all the talent in the world but a poisoned locker room will undo any good every time. There is a reason the Kings are an unmitigated disaster every year despite a ROY who looked like a threat to triple double all the time and a close second who happens to be a big man clearly capable of 20/10 averages. Winning basketball teams are a mesh of talent and sacrifice. NBA history is littered with the remains of guys like dmc who refuse to sacrifice, to put “us” before “me”.

        Bringing DMC here would be worse than just amnestying AB.

        • unknown guest

          “Bringing DMC here would be worse than just amnestying AB.”

          +1 million interwebs

    • unknown guest

      Uh, why? Who’s going to control DC in TO?

  • NyAlesund

    We have Calderon and Lowry and we are discussing who deserves to be the starter. For me Josè is the starter. He is a pass first PG that makes everyone happy, whilst Lowry is shooter first PG, gambler, that doesn’t have a lot of trust in his teammates, and worst he is not better defender than JC.

    My question is: why on earth we have to trade Calderon for someone it looks like TJ Ford? Because Colangelo has invested a lot of him? OMG.

    Bargnani. We have understood  the story: trade him. I don’t agree with this, but the wave is too big and now nobody wants to see the number 7 no more. So trade him for crap players.

    Landry Fields? 19 mln? C’mon. He is a role player nothing more than this. Unfortunately Anderson is more efficient than him and costs two nuts.

    T-Ross
    Talented guy. Let him to grow gradually and we can see interesting things in the next two years. Good pick.

    • Jamshid

      “Bargnani. We have understood  the story: trade him. I don’t agree with this, but the wave is too big and now nobody wants to see the number 7 no more. So trade him for crap players.”

      I agree 100%. The wave is too bug now and AB’s presence in this team is too much distraction. I like AB and I think he is not utilized in this team and can be a great 3rd offensive option or great 6th men off the bench. But that will not happen in Toronto anymore.

      • Raps Loyalist

        Bargs, Amir and Fields for Amare and Shumpert

        (all of these players have three year contracts and the salary going both ways would be the same).

        • Jamshid

          I would do this in a second if I knew Shumpert will be as good as what he was last year. 

          • mountio

            I would do this quickly also .. but dont think NYK would. They want to move Amare, yes .. but not sure theyll give up on Shumpert. If they would, though .. Id press the button quick. 

            • Jamshid

              It is not they have people lined up for Amare !! I actually think this is the best they can get from anyone and I think Raptors might as well ask for another first rounder as well.

      • unknown guest

        ” I like AB and I think he is not utilized in this team and can be a great 3rd offensive option or great 6th men off the bench. But that will not happen in Toronto anymore.”

        Sure it can happen. BC just needs to be convinced of this.

        • Raps Loyalist

          Its time to give the PF spot to the Ed and Amir platoon.

          Time to move Bargs.  He could blossom somewhere but it won’t be T dot…if BC wants to keep him as a 6th man scorer then he’s gotta move Ed or Amir

    • KJ-B

      DeRozan, Davis, Valunciunas, Ross.  They’re no Durant, Green, Westbrook Harden but that’s the way to build through the draft–we kill BryCo constantly but those are 4 solid picks…agree with Arse that the core 4 has beed formed!  

      • Jamshid

        They will only be solid if DD improves his defence, Davis improves his post moves, Ross his shots and Big Val get bigger. Right now, all 4 show promises but it is too early to call them solid.

        • unknown guest

          Give it time. Sonics/Thunder sucked at first too before the players started to gel together.
          This season might even be the best the Thunder has ever played together with WBrooks finally passing the ball.

          • NyAlesund

             The Sonics/Thunder are not exactly the Toronto Raptors. DD is not a star, Davis is not a star, Durant and Westbrook are future Hall of Famers. I see certain differences.

            • unknown guest

              Granted, NBA is a star driven league as evidenced by the BS games shown on Christmas Day. Worse refs this side of the WWE, etc. However, toss in TRoss and JV, and you have the makings of a decent core that if nurtured properly, can become a future playoff team. 
              FYI, I’m still not sold on WBrooks as a HOF.

    • LiseFYI

      I don’t agree with trading Bargnani. I could have predicted the survey results because this site is full of Bargnani bashers and haters. I just don’t understand how so many people can believe that one player is the sole reason for the raptors poor play.

      To all of those bloggers that thought Ed Davis was going to seize this opportunity and show the world that he is that much better than Bargnani, well it just hasn’t happened has it. His numbers are actually down as a starter and thats against less than superior competition.

      Bargnani will flourish with Calderon because Calderon slows the game down. 

      Calderon always has to prove himself and I can’t understand why. He had to prove himself with TJ Ford, then Jarred Jack, then with Bayliss and now with Lowry. He always ends up rising to the top. Enough already.

      Just saying.

      • Sinatras

        so why not do the same old same old (with AB) and expect a different result? Time AB moved on and the Raps start a new era!!!! Also offer JC an extension now and if he doesn’t sign—-TRADE him!! Do not let him go for nothing especially while he is currently so valuable.

      • unknown guest

        “Bargnani will flourish with Calderon” !?!?!?!?

        The two can’t co-exit on the court together defensively. Calderon with 4 other players of average defense and above = good(ish), Calderon with AB together = bad on defense.

        And how does a slow down offense helps his game? I need to understand this, as when he plays with Calderon it’s dump to AB, AB shoot quick jumper or herky/jerky drive to basket. Again, how does a slow down offense help his game?

        ” I just don’t understand how so many people can believe that one player is the sole reason for the raptors poor play.”

        Did you by any chance read anything about the players only meeting and how 2 players got called out by the other players on the team? Not fans, not blogger but players? Any idea who those 2 players are? 
        Also, any idea which player has been designated as the franchise player by the GM of this team, yet has failed to come into the season in elite-level shape (on more than one occasion)? How long do you think it takes Kobe, LeBron, Durant time to be in game shape to start the season?

    • Sinatras

      Try and sign JC to a 3_4yr extension at 5-6mil with a 4th or 5th yr team option. If he is not interested in signing now /TRADE HIM>do not let him walk for nothing!!! If he signs TRADE KL. Chicago needs a PG right now!Trade JC or KL and AB and Landry Fields to Chicago for a 1st round pick (2013 or 2014) plus Taj Gibson and M Teage. Any thoughts???

  • Jamshid

    “Calderon or Lowry, who is the point guard that facilitates the rebuild?”
    Neither !!! We need a good young PG to move forward. A guy like Bledsoe is the answer. BC has to use his assets in Lowry, Jose, AB and Amir and try to come up with a Good PG. 
    Can he make it happen? No, if he is going to spend 6 million on guys like Fileds !!!

  • chrisbem1

    Lowry comes off the bench when he comes back.  Easy enough just to say we’re easing him back in while he gets in game shape.  Happens all the time, and gives DC a chance to see how he runs the team.  If it goes well, it doesn’t need to be for a long time.

    Fields was hurt to start the season, so we haven’t really got a chance to see what he’s capable of yet.  Two years ago without Melo and Amare, he was fantastic, and the Knicks were running an offence with lots of ball movement.  Fields should do well in the current style of play the Raps are running-lots of ball movement, and good D.  We still overpaid for him, but I think he’ll do well in this system.

    Ross should continue to see his minutes/role increase as he gets better.  I like the way DC has started the season with him.  Asking a lot from a rookie right out of the gate is difficult, and giving him time to learn, find his shot and get comfortable on the court through the first 1/3 of the season is paying off now.

    As for AB, I think the time has come to trade him.  Not for nothing, as he has great value coming off the bench as a 6th man, but what is available for him? I’d hope BC at least looks around.

    Trading AB and Calderon together would be tough as it’s $20 million in salary.  Both for Amare?  No.

    • Jamshid

      “Fields was hurt to start the season, so we haven’t really got a chance to see what he’s capable of yet. ”
      Some of us have seen him in the past 2 years in NYC. His game is what he is which is a rotation guy. Simple as that.
      ” If it goes well, it doesn’t need to be for a long time.”
      And if does not go well !!! Then what !! Do you really think a guy like Lowry who was promised starting role and has the alpha male personality will be happy coming off the bench.

      • p00ka

        lol, “if does not go well”, why the fk do you care what he thinks about not being the starter?

        • Jamshid

          Obviously you are not familiar with Lowry’s past and what happened in Houston. 

          • p00ka

            Huh?

            Based on your response, the only obvious thing here is that our education system is failing you.

            • Jamshid

              Did I hurt your feeling p00ka so you felt the need to get personal ?? 😉 It is ok pal, keep on insulting everyone who disagrees with you.

              • p00ka

                LMFAO, my feelings hurt? You’re own sense of self should be hurt at your lack of understanding of the English language, and what you think is obvious,,, or not.

                • Jamshid

                  Don’t Cry pal, it is xmass after all … Don’t be shy, keep on insulting everyone who has different opinion than you. That is all you are good for after all :)

          • lloyd

            We are all familiar with it, and he just may not be a starting calibre PG, there is a reason rockets moved him and they are a good basketball team.

          • lloyd

            Personaly I hope Lowry looks hard at himself, because the team has played better without him.   He has the skils and talent to be a positive contributor, but that also means he needs to make the players around him better.  I don’t know if I like him being the best player on the floor.  A Good point guard makes the players he is playing with better.  When Jose plays, he can get you  a tripple double, but he hurts you by passing not by scoring.

  • KJ-B

    Great article Arse–really a great entree before Christmas Day 5 course dinner!

    I think with the increased efficiency of made 3’s and assists what’s really happening is TRUST.  Players are trusting each other to make plays and are putting one another in position to make winning plays and best do what they do best…

    As per Numero Siete can’t whip that horse any further, either he wants it or he does not…

    Now per Lowry, here is my rant: I compared him to Mike James very early on in the season but then I had to apologize to Mike James, Mike James was actually better in his season here! 

    THEN the injuries–honestly KYLE LOWRY if you’re reading this DO NOT EAT THAT TURKEY FOR CHRISTMAS…Dude be looking more like a running back than a starting PG–what’s the problem with that–I much prefer the Wide Receiver/Former QB at PG look: Westbrook the former, Iverson the latter.  RUSSELL WESTBROOK HAS NOT MISSED A BASKETBALL GAME/START SINCE HIGH SCHOOL PEOPLE!!!!! Maybe those quick twitch muscles are the hot sauce!

    I feel like I can trace every Lowry injury to him being in nowhere near the best shape.  There was the soreness in his legs in training camp (uhmm, I interpreted that as having too much extra lbs)…there was the foot injury, well his feet should be tired logging around 15 extra lbs the way he moves, which is well for his “size”…then the biceps–if he was lighter, he’d be more explosive and even faster!

    If Lowry commits to his body the way he commits to taking shots to identify him as “the man” he’d be a top 5 PG…but will he put down Krispy Kreme???  Just look at how fast Kevin Love went from “good” to “great” in this league when he changed his diet, hired a personal chef, picked up volleyball and his reputed “knuckle pushups”…He should try being outta shape in Miami lol……..

  • pran

    controversy in the locker room is the last thing we need. I think the raptors get the most out of lowry by trading away jose and showing confidence in lowry, sorta like demar’s extension seemed to boost his play.  

    If bargnani isn’t traded, I would be very dissapointed if his minutes aren’t limited to 10-12 minutes a game. Enough is enough.

  • Dagon

    Landry fields is not a bench player and definetly not a “fifth starter”. He may not be in the league soon at all. 

  • ghost

    DC and BC have to keep the same line-up as long as they are playing well and winning. Neither is in a position to take chances, especially with BC in the final year of  his contract. AB and KL with both have to come off the bench, which could work really well. They need to see how the team is playing after AB and KL come back before making any decisions. My guess, is that it could go either way for JC or KL, but it won’t happen until the trade deadline. AB is history unless he’s rocks the sixth man role which is unlikely.

  • guest

    You can put a narrative around the ‘rise’ in 3pt%, but if Anderson hits 2/7 instead of 5/7 against Cleveland there would be no story.

    Does hitting 3 more shots over the course of 240 minutes really lead to more confidence?

    You can’t conclude anything based on such a minimal raise in percentage with such a small sample size unless you desparately long for a narrative. But if you really want, a good one would have been: “We played the 6-23 Cavaliers during that streak and hit 12/24 threepointers”. 

    • lloyd

       If a more optimistic sperm had made it to the egg before you, chances are your post would be more positive.  It’s all just luck it seems.

      • guest

        There is a difference between it all being luck and drawing conclusions based on very little of a very little sample size. Nothing pessimistic it in my post.