For those wanting to know why the Raptors can’t make stops, look no further to Bargnani’s weak-side defence and the team’s inability to stop quick wing players who, when they’re not getting off their own shot, are able to draw and kick to open shooters.
Bargnani, without question, is the Raptors’ most dominant offensive player, a guy who heads into Wednesday’s tip here against the Jazz off a game-high 28-point night in Sacramento.
Whether it’s execution, scheming or simply making shots when looks are open, the Raptors are going to have to find a way to win a game in a late-game sequence.
In their season opener, the Raptors overcame a double-digit deficit to the visiting New York Knicks, but couldn’t produce late.
Against New York, Jarrett Jack was at the point and he kicked it out to Leandro Barbosa on the left baseline for an attempted three-pointer that hit the side of the backboard.
In Sacramento, the Raptors coughed up a double-digit lead, but they had a chance to send the game into overtime with possession of the basketball in a one-possession game.
This time, Jose Calderon was at the point, but the end result was similar to the New York outcome.
“We didn’t get it to where we had to,” said head coach Jay Triano.
How the team begins to address this obvious area of deficiency may not define the season, but it’ll at least keep the players from completely losing their minds and patience when and if the losses begin to mount.
In the absence of Bosh and in the presence of new faces, there’s almost a reluctance to take a shot when a good look is yielded by an opponent.
Linas Kleiza needed to step up in Sacramento, but he decided to drive to the hole in a three-point game when he appeared to have a decent look from beyond the arc.
Barbosa couldn’t make any of his four shots in the fourth quarter against the Kings.
Kleiza and Barbosa simply must do more when the game is on the line, but combined they made one of eight shots in the final quarter on Monday.
“Everybody talks about being competitive in this game and it is on (defensive) rebounds,” said Triano. “If you make the first hit, sometimes guys will quit and not go to the boards.
“It’s the same thing in transition. If you take the first two steps to get back then the other team will maybe stop running.”
The Raptors didn’t do nearly a good enough job in transition defence during a 111-108 loss to Sacramento on Monday night, allowing the likes of Tyreke Evans to bull past them and get to the rim almost uncontested as part of a 60-point second half for the Kings.
The blame, or responsibility, does not lie with one man or even a primary defender. As with all things in NBA defence, a collective effort is a must and Triano is still hoping the Raptors will catch on to the system sooner rather than later.
He wants to make sure the first two steps in transition from offence to defence are quick and lead to instant recognition of what’s needed for the rest of the play.
“That’s where you get back and then it becomes a team thing,” he said. “You don’t run with your man, you run back to support your teammates. I think a lot of times, people figure that they’ve done the right thing in transition because ‘I’m back before my guy gets there.’”
As the Raptors found out when repeatedly scorched by the Kings, who outscored Toronto 10-0 in second-half fast-break points, guys like Evans make you pay for not having anyone willing to stop the ball.
“This league has too many point guards that are too good that can break guys down, especially when they have a full head of speed,” said Triano. “You have to get back and show numbers to the offensive player and when you do that, it’s a matter of communicating and finding everybody.”
With Bargnani, offence is perhaps the last important part of his growth. And in other areas, he remains languid. On two separate possessions as the Raptors fell apart against Sacramento, Kings rookie big man DeMarcus Cousins simply out-muscled Bargnani to get extra possessions and extra baskets for his team. With a 111-108 final, those buckets mattered.
Through three games, Bargnani has just nine total rebounds, a laughable total for a starting centre playing 34 minutes per night, even if he is playing beside the glass-cleaning Reggie Evans.
If Bargnani is going to remain poor in that area, however, he needs to become elite offensively. There are signs that is happening.
After years of just talking about it, Bargnani is finally varying his offensive points of attack. It is a small sample size, sure, but he is attempting twice as many free throws than three-pointers so far. In his first four seasons, he attempted 325 more three-pointers than free throws in 304 games. This, then, is progress.
His work in the post remains spotty. Against Cleveland last week, he needed far too many dribbles with his back to the basket just to settle for a 16-foot jumper over swingman Jamario Moon. But when Bargnani is decisive, his running mini-hook shot has been effective. And he seems as likely to start his move from the elbow as the top of the arc.
The Toronto Raptors played their first road game of the year against the Sacramento Kings last night. DeRozan used this night to display a new NikeiD Kobe V that featured a mainly vibrant red makeup. The all-red upper contrast nicely with white hints such as the swoosh border, midsole and Kobe logo on the tongue. How does this compare to the other Kobe iD colorways you’ve seen? Have you designed a pair on NikeiD yet? View these kicks plus more, worn by Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, Demarcus Cousins and others, below.
As Reggie Evans pointed out somewhat defensively afterward, anyone who looks at the free-agent-to-be’s "track history" (sure, it’s track record, but you get the idea) isn’t surprised by this.
Forty-nine rebounds in three games for the nine-year veteran — starting with 15 apiece against New York and Cleveland and 19 more against the Kings. While it’s true, as Evans said, that his career-high level playing time (31 minutes per game so far) is a factor, his three-game pace for rebounds-per-48-minutes is 24.8 while his career average is 16.9.
The fact that he’s getting that sort of time is certainly surprising, though, as Toronto signed 23-year-old forward Amir Johnson to a five-year, $34 million deal last summer and Raptors coach Jay Triano has proceeded to play him a combined 44 minutes in three games while Evans is starting. Still, the notion of Evans as a glass-eater is not a new one.
He has always played at a frenetic pace (yes, dirty too) and absolutely smashed the boards, earning floor time in Seattle, Denver and Philadelphia despite the total lack of offensive skills because his style can be contagious and because it creates second-chance opportunities. Just ask Triano.
"Reggie’s special," Triano said. "He plays hard and he knows that’s his way to stay in the game and get us second chances, and he did. And that’s what he does. He rebounds the basketball and tries to earn second chance points for us."
While Evans will always be a quandary for coaches who can’t stomach playing a one-trick pony player (as if one-way scoring types aren’t the same thing, only opposite), I can honestly say I’ve never seen him do what he does as well as he did last night. And that includes the 2005 Kings-Sonics, first-round playoff series I covered in which his instigating ways were a big part of the Seattle win in five games.
“He’s very good,” said the Jazz’s Andrei Kirilenko. “ … With his size and the ability he has — being able to shoot the ball and drive the ball and dribble it — it makes him a big force.”
Kirilenko suggested that Bargnani was a combination of Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki and Phoenix’ Channing Frye, but “even taller.”
Asked about Bargnani, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, “He really spreads the floor for them, and how do you guard him? With a small guy? With a big guy? You put a big guy on him, he’s out there. And if you go small, he can post you up inside.”
One of the mantras of Raptor fans is that if you surround him with players that will hide his deficiencies, he can be great. So now, he’s playing beside Reggie Evans, who is currently leading the league in rebounding at 16.3 a game. This is a man who dominates the boards. Evans, in fact, is basically the anti-Bargnani. He rebounds with a vengeance, hustles like no one else and can’t hit a shot to save his life. In fact, as much as Bargnani is a liability on the boards and the defensive end, Evans is a liability on offense. So much so, in fact, that he’s shooting just 40% from the line and an even worse 27% from the field. These are historically bad numbers.
With Evans playing 30 mpg and starting next to Bargnani, the Raptors have outrebounded their opponent in two of their first three games, this season. So obviously the tactic works, right?
Well, not quite.
My thoughts for the first week of the season:
- Wow. Reggie Evans is actually getting playing time! What we saw in preseason wasn’t just experimentation
- Evans is killing it on the boards – 25 reb/48 – and it’s boosting up his WP48. He’s 9th in the league in total wins right now!
- And yet…his scoring is total garbage. Good thing he isn’t shooting at all
- Bargnani hasn’t been terrible so far; bad, but not terrible
- Sure, he’s scored 33 1/3 points per 48 on 1.08 PPS…but your starting centre is grabbing only 4.3 Reb per 48 (eeeewww)
- Overall, Calderon hasn’t played well yet either
- After being a very players during the preseason, both Kleiza and Jack haven’t played as well. Blame Jack’s performance on injuries, Kleiza’s on…poor rebounding and bad TO numbers