For some teams, the preseason is status quo.
You know what you’ve got in terms of your core group, so you’re really just giving your rookies and any few new additions a chance to show and prove. Perhaps coaches introduce a few new ideas or plays, but for most clubs, things stay fairly similar to previous preseasons.
So here’s a question; is it just me or does this Raptors’ team seem to have more question marks around it than any other version of the club in years?
Even last year with the main additions of Jason Kapono, and Carlos Delfino (Moon didn’t come on till after preseason) it felt like essentially the same group, and while you could argue that the chemistry wasn’t as good as the previous year, the team meshed from the get-go basically.
But this year may prove to be a longer adjustment period.
Watching last night’s loss to the Timberwolves (inexcusable really but we’ll get to that in a minute) just reinforced this for me even more. I’ve got about 10 questions now and I doubt that any of these will be resolved in last few preseason games.
So to recap this game, let’s go through a few key ones that all seem to string together.
1) Who was number 14 last night and what did he do with Joey Graham?
Seriously here. I’ve seen a lot of good and bad Joey but that was the BEST Joey I’ve ever seen. This isn’t even an exaggeration. He looked light on his feet, was extremely active, was aggressive on offense, and was perhaps Toronto’s best man-to-man defender on the evening. I mean, he forced offensive fouls on his man on two straight possessions!
Now that’s the good.
The realistic take is that he’s still not a great ball handler (got picked a few times) and his best defensive work was done on another player who’s in between a 3 and a 4 in the league, Craig Smith.
But we’ll take what we can get here and for once it was just nice to see Joey play well. In fact I commented to Howland last week that I was actually anxious to see Graham back from injury. As up and down as he can be, my argument was that Joey was really the only multi-dimensional player in the bench mix. We’ve touched on this before but Kapono, Adams, even Bargs, these guys are pretty much one way or another, O or D. Good Joey, can do a bit of everything.
So my real question then is, what does Mitchell do with Graham? Last night he looked to be way ahead of Adams on the depth chart, Adams failed to play a minute, and even ahead of Moon. Would Joey be a better fit at the 3 than Jamario to start games?
At the outset I’d say the answer was yes. However considering how bad the second unit looked again yesterday evening, maybe the team needs Joey to be a catalyst off the bench.
And that brings us to question two…
2) What is going on with the second unit?
Yep…the second unit right now for the most part looks like a D League group. Disorganized on offence, non-existent on defence…if not for the return of the starters in the third quarter this one would have been over before half.
However after my initial rage at the lackadaisical play, I started to think towards the regular season and realized that what we’re seeing now is an exception. Barring foul trouble, I can’t see a situation where at least one of Bosh or O’Neal is not on the court at all times with likely Bargnani, Kapono and a back-up point guard and wing. I also expect Jose to play a lot of minutes with the second unit so really, I’m not sure we should get too upset about things at this point.
For instance besides his rebounding, Moon looked absolutely useless last night. But you’ve gotta wonder if that’s his fault, or more of the fault of the point guard he’s playing with. Players like he and Kapono need to be surrounded by other types of complimentary players to be effective and right now there’s nothing "complimentary" about this bench group.
In fact, Joey was flying in the starting five but his play also made me wonder if you couldn’t put Hassan Adams at the 3 along with Jose and that starting core and he’d look ok.
As I remarked yesterday, we saw a similar situation last year when Jose was moved into the starting point guard spot and the bench struggled. This year the hope I’m guessing is that Sam doesn’t have to play Solomon or Roko for 25 minutes a game, so that the majority of the time it’s Jose and some combination of Bosh, O’Neal, Parker, Moon, Andrea, Graham and Hump.
However once again, there’s a follow-up question from this thought…
3) If Bosh is not on the floor, regardless of who else is, can this team score enough?
Let’s be blunt here; JO has hardly looked like a 20 point a night threat so far. His offense has been rusty and while he’s never been a lights out shooter in terms of field-goal percentage, he’s hitting less than 37 per cent so far this preseason. So while we may not see a second unit akin to last night’s if JO is out there instead of Hump, is this team still going to struggle offensively?
That’s why Bargnani is so important. His 22 points last night may have only come with four rebounds but he got to the line seven times and is increasingly looking to mix up his game on the attack. Right now I’d say it’s essential that Bargnani accompanies JO at all times as sort of an offense/defense pairing and hopefully Jose will be with them a good deal as well.
4) Where does that leave Jason Kapono?
So far this preseason, I think that the two players who look the best are Bosh and Kapono. I’m not sure if it’s the sleek hair-cut, but Kap-One just seems lighter on his feet. He’s looked much more comfortable handling the ball and is being much more aggressive offensively, looking to find seems in the defense and not simply settling for outside shots.
The problem is, his abilities are basically being wasted in the second unit. I thought Solomon did an ok job last night running the show, but he’s still got a ways to go in terms of helping his team-mates get easier looks. In fact right now it seems that outside of Jose, the player that maybe Kapono has the best chemistry with is Andrea. The two often looked for each other in last night’s loss and did a good job screening for each other. I really liked this idea as it forced Minnesota’s defenders to pick and choose which ones to guard up close as both can fill it up from deep.
Up next for the Raptors is a game in LA against the Clippers.
I doubt we’ll see all of these previous questions resolved but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Joey back in the starting line-up. At some point he needs to show some consistency and perhaps Toronto feels that if they can get it from him in the starting five, then that’s where he’ll be.
One thing’s for certain, the Dinos can’t keep starting out games with the such poor execution and defensive pressure. As much as I’ve criticized the Raptors’ second unit this morning, the starters didn’t really turn things on until the third quarter. This was especially true on the defensive side as like last year, we saw some of the most abysmal 3-point defence against the Wolves. On numerous occasions players like Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker were either doubling the wrong men or not playing up close on Minny’s gunners.
Part of this of course is attention to detail but part of it is also having a better understanding of where your team-mates are on the court with you.
Right now I’m not sure Toronto is close to having things like this figured out and from last night’s game, I wonder if it won’t be a while into the season before they do.