It’s an awful lot easier to win basketball games when your shots are going in. It’s even easier still when the other team is just plain bad. Those two stars aligned for the Raptors last night against the suddenly and shockingly terrible Memphis Grizzlies. The Raptors demonstrated some key improvement in a number of area’s that had been wanting so far this season in the process.

What worked:

–       Consistent effort on the defensive side of the floor from all five players on the court. Particular praise on this point goes to Terrence Ross and Rudy Gay. Ross played his second consecutive game of active and engaged defence. With his length and athleticism, it should be very difficult for players to get clean shots against him, and last night it was. Gay played defence as if he was the only player on the court from last season’s Memphis Grizzlies team. Gay picked off 5 steals and turned most of those in to points, getting back to what could be a huge weapon for the Raps.

–       The Fastbreak. I predicted that the Raptors would make a jump from the bottom 10 last season to the top 10 this season in fastbreak points per game. At 24th in the league with 10.6 points per game so far, not so much. But last night they got back to utilizing the potential that this young, long and fast lineup has there. The Raptors made turnovers (though Tony Allen was kind enough to simply give them several, as is his want) through defensive effort, and turned them in to points, almost doubling their season average in fastbreak points. Ross, DeRozan and Gay have the potential to be fastbreak scoring beasts, and it would be a tremendous boon to an offence that struggles to find creativity and efficiency.

–       Kyle Lowry really seems to be settling in to his role with the team. He seems to have accepted that he will not be a ball dominant point guard on this team (even if a little more of that might be a good thing). His effort level and body language are much more positive than they were last year when Lowry was visibly displeased with this role. He’s quietly starting to lead the offence; directing play, calling out screens and pointing out open space for teammates to move in to when he doesn’t have the ball. Most strikingly so far, Lowry has figured out where the spacing of this offence will create open spot-up shots for him. Lowry is getting 2-3 wide-open looks from 3 around the mid-way point of the arc and he continues to knock down over 40% of them.

–       Rudy Gay, passer of the ball. Gay was by means Chris Paul with the ball. But what he did do, especially in the first half of the game, was demonstrate what looked like a concerted effort to try and find his teammates in the flow of the offence. Hopefully, the fact that more of those passes than not turned in to points will mean that this effort continues. Passing is still something that you can tell Gay has to make an effort to remember in order to do. While he may never see the floor like a point guard, if he can put up a consistent 4 or 5 assists like this, I think we’ll all be happy to take it.

What didn’t work:

–       The Memphis Grizzlies. Yuck. This is a slow and sloppy team. Marc Gasol looks exhausted, Z-Bo looks like Z-Bo, Tayshaun Prince is auditioning for the AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ and Tony Allen’s defence is not making up for how bad his offence is when the rest of the team is giving up buckets.

–       Passes in to the post. Jonas was all but completely forgotten about on the offensive side of the ball last night. While it’s easy to say that it’s because Marc Gasol, reigning defensive player of the year was guarding him, that wasn’t really the cause. Gasol did not have a good game, and he wasn’t making a habit of bullying Valanciunas out of position either. The passes simply weren’t going down there. This has become a trend now. Casey seems to make a clear game-plan of dedicating a couple of the teams first 2 or 3 possessions every game to going to Jonas on the block. In hindsight, this is probably an effort just to make sure that he gets them at all. Jonas has a lot of work to do on his post game still, particularly in establishing his position closer to the basket, but he is a capable scorer from there and there is a lot of good offence to be found inside-out if he can make the defence collapse. This is being ignored by the ball-stopping perimeter play. What’s even more of a problem here though is that Valanciunas was visibly frustrated by this last night. Considering how much of an effort this team is relying on Jonas to run the floor, play tough defence, set screens and fight for rebounds, you do not want your heavy minutes big man and future of the franchise to resent his role or teammates. Worse still, it’s created a scenario where he’s likely to shoot it whether it’s a good look or not whenever he finally does get a post look, not knowing when he’ll get another chance.

–       As primary ball-handlers, Rudy and DeMar running in to a double-team results in a “MUST SHOOT NOW!” mentality. They NEED to learn to consider that the double team you see means that one of your teammates is wide open right now, and it’s almost always Jonas or Amir rolling to the basket or presenting for a pass.

–       The Raptors freelancing on defence is an issue. Yes, it was a much better defensive game, but some players are deciding to leave their man to double team on occasion, and not because of a system that calls for it. Lowry was the problem-maker with this last season, but so far has been much more disciplined. The guilty parties last night were Hansbrough and, as a repeat offender, DeMar, who has been abandoning his cover for disadvantageous double teams that leave his man wide open for easy perimeter shots. I like the idea of being enthusiastic on defence, but this actually does a lot more harm than help.

OK, let’s have a brief and rational conversation about Rudy Gay. This is possible, I swear. The Rudy Gay hate/humour dominated NBA twitter Tuesday night. Last night, the overreaction holy war swung completely the other way. It’s getting increasingly difficult to have a conversation about Rudy that is at once fair, honest and conclusive. I think that these past two Jekyl-and-Hyde games only go to perpetuate those story lines. But yelling that he’s amazing and clutch, or terrible and needs to be run out of town is neither helpful nor accurate for either side. It’s REALLY important to understand that the relentlessness and weight of the criticism of Rudy Gay is because he can and should be a Superstar. Not because he’s terrible or garbage or whatever else you might read on twitter. He’s REALLY good, and capable of being great. He has all the tools. But he just so rarely puts them all together, which is frustrating. Especially when so much of what he needs to fix seems like simply choices he needs to make, rather than skills that he doesn’t have. So he’s graded on a completely different curve than everyone else. Maybe that’s unfair. But that’s how it goes. It’s not because of the contract for me; it’s because of the capabilities.

  • Dex613

    good read, I agree that the criticism rudy gets is fair considering he can be a superstar in this league he has all the tools.

  • truuth

    what a terribly written article, you don’t understand our team at all.

    • c_bcm

      Assuming this is sarcasm since this was among the most reasoned and measured articles written about thi team (on this site) in about 3 weeks.

  • thegloveinrapsuniform

    Raptors just cant win. Even in the eyes of Raptors beat writers, Raptors just cant win. There’s always a BUT. They played good BUT, they won because Memphis played awful. They passed the ball BUT it wasnt enough. They converted on steals BUT it was because Tony Allen practically handed them the ball. Its funny to me that when Raptors lose, its because they sucked. But when Raptors win, its because the other team sucked. Its never because they played hard, they played great as a team, or they put themselves in the best position to win and succeeded.

    My thoughts:
    Gay needs to do more. I dont see how he cant be averaging Lebron James numbers. Everybody aroud him can score the basketball. He has the athletic ability to grab rebounds. He has the size and speed to defend G-PF positions. He has the IQ to read the offense and defense. Casey needs to stop baby-ing him, tell him straight up what he needs to do and he should react positively.

    JV had no chance against Zebo and Gasol. And thats fine with me. If he cant score 20-25 pts over these guys in the next 2 years, then that would be a disappointment but right now, he’s waaay below their level.

    I still think tanking is the way to go.

    • ibleedpurple

      Good rebuttal. It seems we as a Raptors fan base have a difficult time enjoying nightly performances as we tend to focus on the overall picture, which remains hazy at best. The Raptors played possibly their most complete game of the season thus far and irrespective of how ‘bad’ Memphis appears they are one season removed from being western conference finalists with almost all the same guys. So this was a big, confidence boosting win for the Raptors. I can’t support tanking but I do agree that there is inherent negativity in how the Raptors writers usually conduct their analysis and it would be nice to read a post in which we were the cause of the other team playing badly and not just the beneficiary.


      Maybe because some people understand the difference between “a win is a win” and getting a win when the other team is/playing at its best?

      You’re welcome to sugarcoat everything and always look for the positives, some people prefer to dig a little deeper and analyze with a little less bias; it makes for a more honest opinion and discussion.

      • Dan

        Right, but you are the opposite. You will find the negative in everything Raptors-related, which is no more rational than the reverse.

        • FLUXLAND

          You see it as negative because of your positive filter, I’m only pointing out what’s ACTUALLY going on and to you that’s irrational? Interesting.

      • thegloveinrapsuniform

        not sure where youre coming from here but if you saw the game last night, it clearly showed there was effort, hustle, team play. like i said in the post above, this is one game. im not saying this WILL turnaround their season (although it could but who knows), its doesnt make them good enough to secure a playoffs spot, nor compete for the tltle, but it could be a step in the right direction.

        if youre insinuating that Memphis played bad, then clearly you didnt see the game. Gasol shot 6 of 14, Conley 12 0f 19, Allen 5 of 11 and Zebo 4 of 9. They missed shots because JV, Amir, Hansborough and Gay were forcing them to shoot from the perimeter. I dont see any 1 of 11 or 11 of 37, do you? Nobody in Memphis had a bad game last night, the raptors made them play bad.

        • FLUXLAND

          I guess we only disagree on how well Memphis played in comparison to what we’ve seen from them. What do you suggest their crowd was booing last night, if (per you assessment) Memphis didn’t play bad?

          (The stat sheet means nothing to me as an indication of how a team played.)

          • thegloveinrapsuniform

            the crowd was booing because the grizzlies couldnt get over the hump, everytime they inch closer, the raps pull away. why? because the raps were simply the better team that night. memphis did not play bad, the raptors just defended BETTER, hustled HARDER and made plays.

            theres a big difference when players have a “bad game” versus a team that “played bad”, players have a bad game when they shoot 1 for 10 from the field, or when the team normally averages 40 rebounds a game and but only had 10 for this game. There was no indication that Memphis numbers dipped.

            I’m not a stats guy, but i still look at stats. It paints a big picture of what happened in a game. Of course its not the only basis, but its a big part. If you saw the HOUS-TOR game, youd facepalm yourself everytime Rudy missed a shot. But if you looked at his stats after the game and saw him shoot 11 of 37, then youd want to punch him in the face. Thats the difference right there.

      • Judas Gasol

        And some of us are just annoying trolls

    • youradherre

    • matt

      maybe for once if this team goes on a nice winning streak, or if they play well consistently, then maybe we’ll start believing that they’re a good team? Winning a game here and there won’t cut it

      • thegloveinrapsuniform

        i wasnt saying that this game showed that theyre playoffs bound, or a team that is going to compete for the title. what im saying is they played hard, they made plays work, hustled and defended well. And they should be credited for that and not make it seem like the other team “sucked”.

        but i agree with your last sentence, hence my last sentence being “I still think tanking is the way to go.”

  • Jerk

    “… Tony Allen was kind enough to simply give them several, as is his WONT” Not want.

    I’m sure he didn’t want to do what he is wont to do.

  • guest

    Overall, I’m optimistic about the future of the Raps. Even though we’re not exactly where we want to be at least we’re in the process of recreating ourselves. There is activity, there is growth…much better than where we were a year or two ago.

  • Paul

    Memphis is terrible right now. The problem is a total lack of perimeter scoring. When Mike Miller is your number one wing option, you have issues. This lack of a perimeter scoring threat allowed the Raptors to double down on the bigs, with great defensive effect. Of course, the Raptors have a tendency to overuse the double team, and we will get torched for threes in the next game if we think this is a winning strategy.
    Demar and Rudy had good shooting games. This is not sufficient to dissuade me from the notion that this team is too iso-heavy to make any noise.

    Still, despite the negatives, this team is somehow top 10 in offensive efficiency. It reminds me a lot of the 2001 76ers. Basically, Rudy and Demar are our Iverson. They take as many ill-advised jumpers as they can hoist up. Then we have three excellent offensive rebounders in Amir, Jonas and Tyler. The Sixers had Mutombo, Tyrone Hill and Gieger.

    • Tanks-a-lot

      Today’s Iverson is Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving

      • Paul

        Kyrie is a much better shooter from all over the floor. He is more disciplined offensively than Iverson though perhaps not quite as creative. Derrick Rose is a better comparison IMO.

        • Tanks-a-lot

          I’m going by the stat comparison from a few articles back that shows all the top shot takers and makers this season.

  • Tanks-a-lot

    “Gay was by means Chris Paul with the ball”
    Gay was not by any means Chris Paul with the ball

  • robertparrish00

    Best part of the game was seeing their fans leave with 5 minutes left in the game. That doesn’t happen often enough.

  • Scottbaird

    If you guys want an editor, email me, because sometimes I feel like you could use one. This is one of those times.

  • AB4EYE

    Hansbrough isn’t freelancing on defense its what he’s instructed to do. He has a non-stop motor so he can come out and double guys and blow up screens at the top and still get back on his man as long as others don’t completely break down like what happen in Charlotte with Biyombo on this play.

    Kyle just standing around there doing absolutely nothing on defense left McRoberts open and JV went to cover him and BB was wide open and Tyler couldn’t quite make it back in time. This is what he did with the Pacers and part of why got got such good synergy defensive numbers last year. If Kyle helps out Tyler more there not letting them get the pass off or goes over to McRoberts allowing JV to stay down low that play ends in a bad shot with the shot clock running out.

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