While last night's loss to the Portland Trailblazers may have seemed rather bland and uneventful, Franchise points out that in some ways, it may be one of the most significant losses of the season for Toronto.
Last night's 101 to 87 loss to the Portland Trailblazers could easily be forgotten.
It was a pretty lackluster affair from the tip, and in the end, the 12 fans who weren't watching Team Canada's Olympic hockey push against the Russians, saw a Raps team that simply didn't bring their A games on this night.
End of story?
Let's move on to discuss Friday's game against the Cavs, a biggie for sure that hopefully will feature the return of Chris Bosh?
Despite the game's general malaise, a condition that wasn't helped by some wildly inconsistent refereeing, or that both teams were missing key players, I found myself extremely enthralled by the contest right to the end.
Why you ask? Well, as I posted on Twitter right after things were done, like it or not, last night's version of the Toronto Raptors unfortunately seemed to bear an eerie semblance to what this club could look like next season should Chris Bosh depart.
To put it plainly, I was hoping for a game like this.
The previous two wins sans Bosh came against lottery clubs and while both put up a fight, I didn't feel that the results and stats post-game really gave a true indication of how important CB4 is to this team and franchise. On Monday I blogged about this, trying to point out issues that would arise minus Toronto's franchise player, but admittedly the ammo I was looking for statistically just wasn't as prevalent as I expected. I knew some of this though was due to such a small sample size (not to mention the quality of the opponents), and so last night's loss in some ways brought a smile to my face.
AHA! Here was the evidence I was looking for!
So where to start?
How about at the free-throw line where Toronto shot a measly 17 free-throws on the night? To put this in perspective, the Raptors this season on average shoot the second-most free-throws in the league, and therefore this is a big part of their offensive success. However this isn't a team thing. As mentioned in Monday's post, after Bosh's 466 free-throws, Hedo Turkoglu is the next best option and 179! Should Bosh be removed from the equation, who replaces that production?
Now last night this wasn't a key factor in the loss because Portland got to the line only 15 times themselves. But on an average night? That stat alone could be a killer as apart from DeMar DeRozan, there isn't a player on the current roster who I expect to make a significant jump in this area next year.
But let's move on.
Next up, offensive efficiency.
I don't want this to get too stats heavy so suffice to say that Toronto's offense was horrendous last night. Without Jarrett Jack's ability to get to the rim or Hedo Turkoglu's hot shooting (Turk was 8 of 9 from the field), Toronto might not have scored 70 points! Not only are we simply talking about removing Bosh's 20 odd points a game from the equation should he depart, but without a consistent scoring threat, we're also talking about a team last night that looked lost on O, took ill-advised shots, and forced plays, which resulted in 16 turnovers. And unlike the free-throw situation, these turnovers were huge last night. Portland scored 20-some points off of fast-breaks, many initiated by these turnovers. Considering that the Blazers play at one of the league's slowest paces, that point alone should be quite telling.
The other piece of the offense puzzle is that without Bosh, suddenly Jay Triano needs to roll out a lot more Reggie Evans and Amir Johnson. Look, I love these guys for their intangibles, but hopefully everyone can now see why both have been 8th or 9th man options on teams through most of their respective careers. In limited minutes both are very efficient because of some of the game-changing plays their skill sets help create. However given lengthy or prominent roles, offensively, it can get ugly. I mean, seeing Amir execute high-low feeds last night with Reggie was enough to make me cringe.
Woeful and Milt Palacio don't even come close to describing some of Evans' moves, and Bosh or no Bosh, let's hope Jay stops playing Evans and Johnson together unless they're platooned with a ton of offensive firepower. Last night there were about seven instances when both missed gimmes around the basket that Bosh would have made in his sleep.
So am I trying to paint a grim picture of the Raptors next year, one filled with air-balled Reggie Evans hook-shots and 14 free-throw attempt efforts by the Dinos?
To a certain extent yes, as the point of this is to illustrate just what this team will be missing if CB4 doesn't return. The team in my books is barely more than a mediocre group with Bosh and without, it's certainly back to the lottery unless DeMar DeRozan makes a huge leap next year, and/or Andrea Bargnani figures out how to consistently bring it each and every night.
And let's talk Bargs for a second.
Yes, I love Andrea's skill set and hope he keeps rounding into form, however I would feel quite comfortable betting that last night's performance is what fans would get from him on average next season should Bosh not return.
15 points on 6 of 16 shooting, 6 rebounds and a block. Oh, and a -25 on the evening.
The -25 of course is a bit of a "what does that really say" stat, but for me, really, it's not even the stats. Perhaps he gets closer to averaging 20 points and 7 rebounds, but I just have zero confidence in his ability to take over games with any degree of consistency.
If Bosh leaves, he HASto do that. He can't simply hang out at the three-point line or blend into the background while Hedo tries to carry the club. I know a lot of our readers believe his game is a product at times of not getting looks in the post or enough touches, but the evidence from the past three games would quickly show otherwise. Sure, sometimes he gets looked off, but last night was a perfect example of his game in a nutshell. Andrea had plenty of opportunity and stilldidn't look to take over. He took 16 shots remember, stayed out of foul trouble, and played only six seconds less than Hedo for team high in minutes. There's just no excuse for posting up Andre Miller and fading away on shots, I'm sorry! And why is an 82-year old Juwan Howard beating you down the court for lay-ups?
To me Andrea is Joey Graham 3.0. Yes, far more talented and possesses a lot more consistency on certain levels.
But is he any less frustrating? With his talent there's no reason he shouldn't be seizing the opportunity in Bosh's absence. Instead, his averages over the past three games are actually down from his season marks; 15 points, 6 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 4 free-throws, and 45% shooting in 36 minutes a game.
Outside of the block totals, I can get those numbers if I play Flip Murray 36 minutes a night!
We're nearing the end of year four now and if we still aren't seeing consistent play from the "big rook," how can we reasonably expect the switch to suddenly flick to "permanent on" should Bosh vacate the premises?
On the flip side of Andrea though, we have the Ottoman, Mr. Turkoglu.
Yes, my favourite punching bag has now put together 3 solid games and while I still don't think this comes close to justifying his egregious contract, these are the type of performances I expected when BC made him his coup de grace this past offseason. Last night he had 24 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists and over the past three games his averages have taken a nice jump from the rest of the season to date.
So is Bosh actually hindering Hedo's productivity and am I actually defending the Ottoman? I would have to say yes to both to a certain extent, and here's why.
ESPN.com's John Hollinger tracks a metric he calls usage for every player in the league. Usage is defined as "the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes." Chris Bosh has one of the league's highest "usage" statistics. Bosh clocked in second among power forwards at 25.8, just a shade under guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Danny Granger. This means that Bosh gets touches on offense almost every time Toronto looks to score.
Now that doesn't mean that more possesions equals more effectiveness of course. There are lots of players in the league who dominate the ball, and do-so to the detriment of their club. However based on the past three games, I think it's pretty safe to say that Turkoglu is more effective when he does play a bigger part in Toronto's offence each night. I'd back that up by looking at his 2008-09 usage rating with the Magic, which had him 12th in the small forward category with a rating of 21.6, and his 2007-08 usage rating that came in at 23.2, which was arguably his best season to date statistically.
I'd also point you to Raptors' Republic for Tom Liston's excellent breakdown of Hedo and his struggles this season if you haven't already seen it. From Tom's work, it also appears that Turk isn't being used to the best of his abilities in the current system, contributing to his issues. Without Bosh the past few games, suddenly the offense has to flow much more through Hedo and I think we're simply seeing the results of Turk's increased usage resulting in this sudden surge in productivity. In reality, I think we're simply seeing a regression to his "norm."
(Maybe Hedo was onto something truly profound then when he repeatedly answered Jack Armstrong with "ball?")
However despite his little renaissance here of late, I'm not thinking he'll suddenly morph into Kobe Bryant should Bosh be somewhere else next season. As I'm hoping last night's game showed, there's just not enough on this club without the franchise piece despite any incremental improvement from Hedo.
That's why I was shocked by the early results of Tuesday's poll which seemed to indicate that the majority of our readers felt the team wouldn't be that bad off if Bosh DID walk! Now, things eventually bottomed out around my expected response percentages (of the 454 respondents, 53% voted in favour of signing Bosh to a max deal whereas 33% said that he wasn't worth the money), but it still made me realize that a good chunk of Raptorsnation feels that CB4 isn't nearly as necessary as guys like Kobe Bryant or even Danny Granger perhaps.
To those I have only this say; take a good, long, hard look at last night's loss to the Blazers.
It might be the team you'll be cheering for for the next three or four years.