If you were around during the offseason, chances are you’ve read this fight’s first chapter. If not, feel free to rewind the opening round.
If you’re currently skimming through this piece while waiting for your Uber-Hop to arrive, not to worry, I’m sure you’re familiar with the opposing viewpoints regarding Delon Wright and Bobby Portis. Besides, just like any soap opera, you’ll be able to jump right into the action.
But before Round 2 gets underway, let’s mix in a little housekeeping as we wait for the bell to ring…
Now, unless you rock a Golden State jersey on the regular, you’d be hard-pressed to find a consensus among any city’s fan base when dealing with their club’s current state of affairs. It’s more of a blessing than a curse, though, as a difference of opinion helps keep things fresh.
It’s also a two-way street, especially when a team’s inconsistencies only help breed those mixed reviews. We as outside observers may ultimately be at a particular team’s mercy, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always strive to hold players, coaches and management accountable for their actions.
And like clockwork (despite a 5-3 record), the Raptors’ month of December has so far provided a snapshot of this ongoing saga.
I recently suggested a call to action was in order. A call to follow up a victory over one the league’s finest by finally becoming the bully during a two-game stretch facing off against inferior opponents. Not to mention the need to avoid their bad habit of playing to the level of their competition. There were a few speed bumps along the way, but in the end, the Raps seemingly accomplished the feat.
Invitations to their graduation were just about delivered. That is until their effort against Indiana reared its ugly head. The outcome is forgivable and a fatigue explanation does hold weight, but that weight drops dramatically when you let a team go on a 39-4 run. I’ll admit that I highly underestimated the Pacers coming into the year, but giving up a 39-4 run after opening things up with a 26-5 lead? That’s inexcusable.
Thirteen first-half turnovers and bench full of ineptitude certainly were factors, but Monday night was an example of the Raps just beating themselves.
To be clear, the invitations are still in place, waiting to be sent out. The killer instinct just needs more time to develop. It also acts as a reminder to us all that we should never stray too far off course when it comes the direction of this squad.
The season is 32 percent completed. It’s now safe to assume that we have a firm grasp of what this club has to offer, even with the major injuries, and taking into consideration the roster’s potential growth as the year progresses. But the way this team is currently constructed, along with what the future may hold, can be traced back to the decision made to draft Wright over Portis. One that has caused a divide among fans and pundits alike.
Round 2: FIGHT!!
It was initially assumed that Wright would play meaningful minutes off the hop, but that’s only taken place when he’s worn a Raptors 905 uniform. A combination of the need for further development and the emergence of Cory Joseph will most likely kibosh Wright’s chances at seeing that storyline change all that much until next season. Though with the Raps currently walking wounded, and the trio of Lowry, DeRozan and Joseph logging heavy minutes to compensate, the time could be ripe for a few cameo appearances.
If you’re late to the discussion, the knock on Wright has nothing to do with his game (well, perhaps his jumper), and everything to do with the notion that it would’ve been much more beneficial for Toronto to draft a Power Forward, a position that was crying for help at the time. With many specifically shouting for the services of the player selected just two picks after Wright, Bobby Portis.
On an individual talent level, it’s reassuring to see Wright immediately have an impact in the D-League. Struggling off the bat would have furthered the Portis outcry. But through just six games, and picking up right where he left off in the Pac-12, Wright leads the 905ers in Points Per Game (17.8), Assists (6.3), and Steals (1.7), while averaging 5.7 boards and shooting at a .569 clip.
There is no frontrunner in this fight as of yet. With the idea that the Raps will make a major Power Forward splash in Free Agency remaining a possibility, and with draft picks in their pocket, the backcourt addition of Wright could eventually wind up being viewed as a savvy preemptive strike. But when dealing with matters of the present, the frontcourt of today needs to do more to not only temper the crowd of naysayers, but to avoid regretting a missed opportunity.
Scola, for the most part, has been this team’s unsung hero. Though at times, just like Biyombo, has been exposed when the Raps attempt to go small at both ends of the floor. Zarar wrote an interesting piece that went up yesterday recommending Patterson as Scola’s starting lineup replacement in order for the Raps to truly reach their ceiling. This move makes sense considering PP is capable of so much more. Scola has built an inside-outside presence in his own right, but if the move meant getting Patman at an optimum floor-stretching level, count me in.
It falls on Casey to make the switch, but it ultimately falls on Patterson to step up. It also reminds me of who comes to mind when thinking of a Patterson comparison.
Portis projects to be a steady rebounding presence, something Patterson has never achieved. And that’s where another comparison comes to mind. Much like Terrence Ross, there seems to be a disconnect when attempting to expand his game. We’ve seen Patterson crash the boards when needed, and fight like hell for a second chance put-back. But again, much like Ross, he seems content with just fitting into what the scheme asks of him instead of going above and beyond the call of duty.
That’s also what makes his current struggles so frustrating, as the fear of missing out on a player like Portis could have totally been put to rest by now if PP would realize his natural skill set. He’s even equipped with the athleticism to check the opposing stretch-four on defense.
Patterson’s woes would be even more magnified if the Portis storyline hadn’t lost its initial steam. Being buried on the Bulls’ bench has transformed the 22nd overall pick into an early season afterthought. But let’s not be fooled by Fred Hoiberg’s inability to incorporate his touted rookie. Portis has plenty of NBA enthusiasts waiting with anticipation.
He still has to prove he’ll be worth the wait, but from a distance, there isn’t any glaring negatives to his game. And when you combine the natural fit he would have been for the Raps’ rotation, the questions of his non-selection are sure to heat up once again.
Post moves: check. Feistiness on the glass: check. The ability to stretch the floor: check. Enormous upside: CHECK.
The ultimate fear is that another Ross over Drummond scenario plays out. Not so much for the difference in talent as Wright checks the upside box in his own right, but because of where that difference would have been utilized.
Round 2 Scorecard
In case you missed it, Portis took Round 1. His powerful preseason combined with Wright’s lack of opportunity in the same timeframe tipped the scales by default. As we now stand, Wright has since caught up with the Bulls not opting to give Portis any D-League playing time.
I believe in Ujiri’s long-term vision the same way I did two months ago, so I still back the pick. But as time passes, unanswered questions will only loom larger.
The fight has just begun:
To be continued…