After watching last night’s loss to the Lakers there are a few things one could conclude:
1) The Lakers are much more talented than this current version of the Toronto Raptors.
2) The Lakers are incredibly deep, to the point that at least four of their bench, Jordan Farmar, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza and Luke Walton, could start for various teams in the league.
3) Toronto did a good job of climbing back into the game and giving the Lakers a run, but in the end their inexperience showed.
To someone who reached those conclusions I would state that I agreed with all three, however I would add one other conclusion that I drew last night, based not solely on the loss to the Lake Show, but on preseason play so far:
At some point during the season Bryan Colangelo is going to have to trade for an established back-up point guard if the Raptors are serious about being a real threat in the East.
Now, there are other statements I’ve made over the first few games regarding the Raptors that I’ve "caveated" with "however it’s only preseason."
This is not one of them.
Last night again I watched the almost complete ineffectiveness of the Raptors’ back-ups and I think it’s time to call a spade a spade here.
Roko is not ready.
And Solomon, although only registering two minutes last night in PT, has not been much better.
Will either improve as the season goes on?
I think so. And I do think that Roko will in time be a solid player in the league. He’s got a knack for finding openings on the court and can get into the lane, a must-have skill in the NBA.
However right now his defence is soft, he’s not physically strong enough, his ball handling under pressure is spotty, and you can see after mistakes that his confidence just sinks, causing other errors. I know he’s a gym rat and wants to learn but as we saw from Jose Calderon in his first year in Toronto, learning the 1 in the NBA just takes time and there’s a reason it’s the hardest position to play on the court.
Solomon on the other hand has been the more confident of the two, but has hardly done a good job playing the role of distributor; it’s more like a better ball-handling version of Juan Dixon last year.
Therefore regardless of improvement, I’m not sure how long Toronto can afford to wait before making a move for some help. There is just a complete lack of cohesion and flow as soon as Jose leaves the floor and last night in the fourth quarter I’m afraid may have been a preview of things to come. Without a steadying hand at the 1, shooters like Kapono and Bargnani were getting the ball at inopportune times and in difficult spots on the floor. The result was needless turnovers which the Lakers ran back for dunks (including one disgusting alley-oop from Jordan Farmar to Trevor Ariza) or forced shots in effort to beat the 24 second clock. As a result, the normally efficient duo of Bargs and Kap-One shot a horrific seven for 22 on the evening.
Even worse was Jamario Moon who looks completely lost outside of the starting five. Moon was 0 for 8 on the night thanks to some of the biggest desperation heaves this side of Carlton Banks. However I can’t even blame Moon for a few of them. Getting the ball to Super Jamario with six on the clock and asking him to create a shot is simply ludicrous. As we’ve discussed before, players like he and Kapono need to play within the flow of the offense, not be the focal points when the clock is winding down.
So what’s Sam Mitchell to do?
Right now he can’t play Jose for 42 minutes a night so Solomon and Ukic are going to continue to get minutes. And as it’s still preseason, that’s fine, fans will just have to endure the turnovers, forced passes and poor shot selection.
However during the regular season it’s going to be a different story and Mitchell may find himself in a catch 22; play Jose 42 minutes a game and risk him breaking down over the course of the season. Play Jose less to keep him healthy and risk losing games with Roko and Will trying to learn on the job.
This is the one thing I never understood, and still don’t, about BC’s decision to sign Solomon. Why bring in not one, but two point guards who have yet to prove themselves to any degree in the NBA? I always understood that Roko was coming over and was expected to develop this year. However I expected him to be brought along slowly as the third point guard on the roster, playing behind an experienced backup.
That of course hasn’t been the case and instead, it’s probably been a bit like being thrown into Hell’s Kitchen to cook for Chef Ramsay for Mr. Ukic.
And really that’s a shame.
Because I think both Roko and Will could be useful on this roster in spurts, but as third options, not crucial back-ups.
Second unit and back-up point guard play aside though, there were some big positives from this game, none more than the increased cohesion between Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal. O’Neal especially looks more and more comfortable with each game and you could really feel his absence on the interior late in the game when Humphries and Bargnani were playing in his stead.
The other big positive was the play of a few of Toronto’s wings, namely Joey Graham, Anthony Parker and, gasp, Hassan Adams! Graham was hardly spectacular in the win but stayed focused throughout and was fairly efficient from the field. He also continues to look to get to the line tying Chris Bosh for the lead in free-throw-attempts last night with seven.
Parker was simply lights out from the field and looks to be in great shape to start the season. There’s no question in my mind that he should remain the team’s starting two-guard and I have to say that with each passing game, I’m liking the idea of having Joey as the starting 3 beside him. I realize that last statement seemed unthinkable even a week ago but Graham simply brings added features to the starting core that Moon can not. The problem is that with the second unit in disarray, having Moon remain with this group is hardly taking advantage of his talents either.
As for Adams, I joked in my recap of Toronto’s loss to Minnesota that even Hassan might look fantastic playing alongside Calderon, Bosh and O’Neal. Sure enough that was the case last night with Adams logging 22 minutes and spending a good deal of time with some key starters. This solid chunk of playing time finally gave Adams the opportunity to show off some of the intangibles that made him one of BC’s off-season acquisitions. He seemed to always be around the ball on defense, looked great getting out in transition, and even hit seven of his nine shots! Playing beside Calderon, Bosh and JO just seemed to make the game that much easier for the former Net and he was aggressive for the duration of the game at both ends of the court.
The Raptors have one last tune-up game in Edmonton against the Nuggets before the season gets underway the following week. Denver was actually undefeated before last night’s loss to the Timberwolves and has an interesting mix of youth and veteran firepower, something that should make for an entertaining game in Alberta.
However Iverson and Melo aside, it’s tomorrow night’s point guard match-up that really interests me. Denver may have the worst point guard duo in the league currently (Anthony Carter and Smush Parker), and therefore it may be the best gauge yet for how NBA-ready Toronto’s backups are.
Because from last night’s game I saw again that Toronto perhaps has more depth than fans think; it’s just a matter of getting the backup point guards to make the most of it.