The Raptors went out on a Sunday and beat the Suns to show that against some of the smaller teams in the NBA, they may have an advantage. With the entire team getting it done together, Vicious D looks at how when things are clicking, the Raptors can be quite excellent.
So how about that.
In two pre-season games, the Raptors showed that they may have found a fairly good team that they may be able to beat pretty consistently. Our Dinos managed to push around the Suns after they got into a rhythm, and despite having trouble for most of the first half, the Raptors managed to take control in the third and never let go.
The brightest spots in the day, were that we finally got some good games from both Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani. While Jose's defense was still nothing the write home about, he managed to knock down some shots consistently in displaying a silky smooth touch and managed to lead the team in assists.
Bargnani as well finally got into a great shooting rhythm on the inside, which really helped him knock shots down all over the floor. In general though, I thought Bargnani could have scored a heck of a lot more in the first quarter, but despite having the hot hand, no one was feeding him the ball. And yes, while Bargnani has had some tough games, he can catch fire in such a big way that I would have forced the team to have him touch the ball at least once a play in the first quarter. On the other side, Bargnani also did do a serviceable job on the defensive end with a couple shot alterations, which is just about all you need from him at this point.
Now granted, the Suns don't exactly have the same powerhouse front court that the Celtics might have, but that goes to show that the Raptors will have a pretty good time against those teams with average front courts. Against the Suns, the Raptors bigs were playing large and aggressive and even managed to get on the offensive glass. With guys like Amir Johnson (thanks Raptors TV for the laughs by calling him "Impressive Johnson") around the basket for put backs and Reggie Evans finally getting the idea to dribble the ball out of traffic on offensive rebounds, the Raptors managed to take apart the Suns from rebounding first. Even our small forwards provided some assistance as both Linas Kleiza and Sonny Weems contributed to the Raptors being +19 in the rebounding category.
And with Jarrett Jack being his usually efficient self, and Linas Kleiza once again finding a way to score from just about everywhere on the court including some quick post moves, the Raptors just took the lead from the Suns in the third and never gave it back.
So as a fan, can I be completely satisfied with this win?
I think so, but there are a couple asterisks.
First of all, the fact that the Raptors had a tough time getting into a rhythm in the first half could be largely attributable to the horrible pick and roll defense the Raptors were displaying. On several plays, Bargnani was helping to cover a guy like Steve Nash after our own point guard was beaten, but no one rotated over to cover his man who usually was open for an uncontested dunk or layup. I don't really have a doubt in my mind that PJ Carlisemo's scheme does not include leaving guys to roll under the basket for an easy two.
Second of all, I'm starting to grow concerned about Sonny Weems and his ability to mature beyond that of a player who is constantly trying to prove that he "belongs" on the team.
I know that it may be hard to quantify, especially since Sonny seems to be shooting at a fairly good clip and gives the Raptors some much needed athleticism and firepower off the bench. However, I also believe that players who are confident about their position on a team have no qualms about giving up a shot to give a teammate a better shot and they will also take what the opposing offense gives them rather than trying to force the issue at every turn. While DeMar DeRozan displayed a little of this today, I worry most about Weems because of how often it's appearing that he's too concentrated on getting a certain point total next to his name rather than working on other issues and aspects of his game such as his defense and his rotations. And unlike DeRozan, Weems is now in his third year with an NBA team and I believe that we should expect a lot more confidence about his place in the NBA considering how much playing time the Raptors should allot him during the season.
Now I'm not saying that these are breaking points and that yesterday's effort was disappointing. Far from it. The team as a whole seemed to look quite in sync. However, there are points where the Raptors can improve themselves and I'd like to see these two aspects cleaned up.
Nevertheless, I'll be smiling about this win as it was one filled with some good energy and the Raptors are now proving quite dangerous against those teams with middle-of-the-road bigs, which may be a good sign of things to come. Here's hoping that the Raptors continue to build on the lessons they learned yesterday and continue to show signs that they are rounding into seasonal form.