Pre-Season Game 1 Is Here: Time to Jump to Conclusions

A game, an actual game to talk about.

The chat starts at 1PM EST, which is incidentally when the game starts. Yes, an actual game of basketball featuring your Toronto Raptors. Last we saw them was in mid-April when they stumbled to a routine defeat in Miami, ending a season that can best be described by the word ‘ugh’. Today, the Raptors are home to the C**tics. Yes, that’s the only time this season I’ll use that reference, as I’ve been told to clean it up.

The big news coming into this preseason tie is that Jeff Green has been ruled out for the season because of an aorta aneurysm. This sucks for them and I normally wouldn’t care and might have even applauded, if only it didn’t mean that life for the Heat got just a little easier.

Anyway, this is a Raptors site so let’s talk Raptors. Here’s what I think the starting lineup should be: Magloire, Davis, Butler, DeRozan, and Bayless. Throw Butler in there to send James Johnson an early message that nothing here is guaranteed (even though he’s been decent in camp). Throw Magloire out there because he’s not Aaron Gray, and throw Davis out there because he’s had a great camp, and to send Bargnani a signal. Yesterday’s post covered Bayless so that’s that. Once you run down the team, you realize that the only player that picks himself in the lineup is DeMar DeRozan – technically, we got four spots up for grabs. I love me some competition, and I trust Casey to make those who are fighting for spots fight like dogs. And I don’t mean just regular dogs, I mean Michael Vick’s dogs who were subject to waterboarding and testicle electrocution right before the fight.

Casey said yesterday that the playing time in the two pre-season games isn’t going to be reflective of what’ll happen in the regular season, because he’ll be deploying “different looks at different positions”, so it’s your regular run-of-the-mill preseason type stuff. He was very specific in his interviewing that wins aren’t important at this stage, and that the focus is on “changing the culture”. It’s a very direct quote that is refreshing to hear because it paints the past powers that be guilty, and that includes the GM. You get the sense that this is the first time in Colangelo’s reign that a coach has complete autonomy on what happens on the floor, and I can bet you that it was part of the negotiation during Casey’s hire. Good, very good.

This game is nothing more than the first chance to test the defensive changes that Casey has made. Even though the turnover isn’t massive, the shorter training camp and pre-season doesn’t exactly suit the Raptors because the system has been changed dramatically. There’s tons written every year about how a team need time to gel, learn how to play with each other, find themselves, and all that good stuff. The Raptors won’t have issues in figuring out who takes how many shots, and whose role is what (see the Turkoglu season), what they will struggle with is understanding what Casey wants them to do on defense. There’s no doubt that he’s going to get the best effort out of them early, so the cracks that’ll be visible will mostly be related to doing something totally new: playing proper defense.

Some of the guys come with that training from other teams: Magloire, Butler, Carter, Amir Johnson a little in Detroit, but a lot of the key guys are all Toronto-coached at the NBA level. The Raptors are all what DeRozan, Davis, and Calderon know in the NBA, and they could be slower to adapt to the new concepts. Let’s just say I’m thankful that Triano left when he did, because a couple more years under him and the players would actually forget how to spell defense.

Leandro Barbosa sums up training camp for me, and I can’t wait to see the first cut at the results.

Everyting’s different from last year. Everthing changed. He’s been going very hard on us on the defense end.

We talked about who should start, let’s see who likely will while quickly reviewing the positions:

Point Guard: Calderon’s experience running a team is superior to Bayless, and for the sake of things running smoothly on offense for guys like DeRozan, he’s likely to get the nod. Casey’s pretty much stated this in bits here and there, so there’s little surprise. The Bayless development/evaluation factor does come into play, but it’s not going to be enough for Casey to risk a sputtering offense. Bayless will likely have to make his mark off the bench again. There’s also Anthony Carter who is as third string as it gets. Maybe he keeps the other two honest by challenging for the backup role, that’s about it.

Power Forward: Davis’ added bulk has been noticed and appreciated by his teammates and coaches, and I’m inclined to think he’s edging ahead of the De facto starter (for now), Andrea Bargnani. It would cause too much of a stir to replace Bargnani this early, so Casey will start him. Amir Johnson’s in the mix as well, and to be honest, I haven’t heard much about how he’s doing and can’t seem to find an interview with him either. He’s not starting, and I would put him behind Davis in any case.

Center: If Jamaal Magloire wasn’t so bloody old he’d probably be the regular starter, so given the lack of options and Solomon Alabi being Solomon Alabi, Aaron Gray should slip into the lineup. Unless Casey plays to the home crowd and gives Magloire a chance, you have to consider the PR angle here as well (Andy Rautins anyone?). The idea of having Davis or Bargnani play the C has already been deemed undesirable, the only gray area relates to Amir Johnson, who just might have to slide into the center position to see any kind of playing time.

Small Forward: This is the spot which I feel will be contested for quite fiercely. Rasual Butler has had a good showing, but James Johnson hasn’t done anything wrong to deserve to be shifted from his starting spot. So as much as I’d like to give Johnson a kick to make sure he doesn’t take anything for granted, this is his role unless someone shakes it from him. Butler’s turning 33 soon so he’s unlikely to be the guy, which leaves Gary Forbes. Forbes can be that guy, as he tries to do to Johnson what Johnson did to Weems. Kleiza’s injured for now, and when he does return he won’t threaten anyone except a vending machine that won’t discharge his Snickers.

Shooting Guard: Easy.

Enjoy the game! if you have time beforehand, check out Arsenal vs Man City at 11pm on Sportsnet World – great sports day which will be capped off with the NFL. I did a ESPN 5-on-5 thing.

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