Vicious D takes a look at a game that really shows the contrasting styles of the Raptors, and what it may mean for the upcoming season.
Four games into the preseason, and there are still a lot of question marks about this Raptors team.
Fans might open their paper tomorrow on Thanksgiving morning and remark that the Raptors won their second preseason game. They'd see that they beat the Wizards 100-93 and did so while only shooting 39% from the floor.
They'd only see part of the story.
The fact is, the Raptors did a lot of good with half of their team, while have struggled with the other parts of their team. On the one hand, you have players such as Sonny Weems who left the game with a toe injury, who simply out hustled many of his peers to make spectacular plays. Guys like Amir Johnson went out on to the court with the intention of making a point that they will be valuable assets to the team if they need an energetic presence.
However, some of those questions just won't be easily answered until we finally see some time with our decided starting unit. Pacing-wise, Jose Calderon has always been more comfortable with running an offense from a half court set. We talked about it some yesterday, and it was a great point by Howland that the second unit seems to be further along with things than the starting unit.
There's multiple reasons for this of course. For one thing, the mantra of the second unit seems to be pretty simple: "Play hard. Be aggressive." From Reggie Evans straight down to Marcus Banks, the Raptors bench has played a lot of time together and has had a certain hunger in the way they play. Everyone seems to be out to prove something. Whether it's to themselves, their former teams, or their fans, the second unit is quickly becoming the most exciting part of Toronto's game.
In fact, it was in the second quarter that the Raptors went on their run and managed to get some momentum. Amir Johnson contributed with a couple stick backs that brought the crowd to their feet and Jarrett Jack pushed the ball with wreckless abandon the likes of which we haven't seen since Charles Oakley wore the pinstripes. The mantra seems to be to look up the court and to go for the long bomb, which allowed players such as Marco Belinelli to leak out ahead of the pack for some nice layups. In the final quarter, it was largely the second unit who tightened up the defense and brought the hammer down on the Wizards. With the final tally of 49-41 rebounds for the night, the Raptors received more than 50% of their rebounds from the bench. The bench also produced more than 50% of the steals and blocks for the game.
However, the game wasn't all good as the Raptors starters had a lot of difficulties containing their man. Antawn Jamison and Andray Blatche both took Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani to task. Whereas the Wizards duo seemed to score from all over the floor the Raptors starters struggled for the night, shooting a horrible 4-15 combined. What was more concerning was how difficult it was for both Bosh and Bargnani to get what they needed to from the paint. The hope is that once again, the Raptors will be able to spread out the floor with shooters like Turkoglu once he returns, but I'd prefer to see the Raptors empty out the bigs once in a while and allow DeRozan to slash to the paint. It's nice to see both bigs working on getting on the inside of teams, but it's obviously still a work in progress, especially since Bosh has been largely unavailable for pre-season play.
Nevertheless, this game was won by the hustle players of the Raptors. Granted, they played against many of the Wizards' secondaries, but it doesn't change the fact that we have a tempo changing unit that can do more than just fill minutes. For the first time in many years, Raptors fans can feel excited that their bench can come into the game and jump start the team. You'll hope that Marco Belinelli will be able to hit a few shots and cut off passing lanes. You'll want Amir Johnson to be a presence in the paint who can block shots and get on the glass. You'll cheer as Reggie Evans looks to knock down heads for the sake of getting one rebound. It's a unit that's rapidly shaping up to become the Raptors strongest suit.
Now let's hope the starting unit doesn't get left behind.