Back in 2006-2007, the raging debate in Raptorland was whether Jose Calderon or T.J. Ford could lead the Raptors more effectively. You had T.J. Ford, the spunky, chip-on-the-shoulder point guard who we traded for as an experienced hand, and you had Jose Calderon, the efficient, team-oriented sharp shooter from Spain.
I've always been a part of the Jose Calderon camp.
Three years later, the debate changed towards whether the Raptors would ever see similar production out of Jose Calderon. The Raptor Nation had clearly turned against "the Spanish Fly" and he never seemed to be able to regain the same step he once had when the Raptors paired him up with fellow National Teammate, Jorge Garbajosa.
The debate was that Jose Calderon was simply washed up. Either injuries or ability was causing Jose Calderon to be the focal point for all the concerns on defense. On a nightly basis, he was getting pummeled by opposing guards.
Even I, a stalwart Calderon supporter, was losing my nerve.
This year, things have been much better for Calderon. He seems to have rediscovered his shooting touch from 3-point land, he's been more effective at slowing down the opposition, and there's no question that the team runs a lot smoother with him on the floor. He's even setting career records in steals per game, and is team leader in total steals.
However, I never thought Jose Calderon would come that close to a triple double.
After putting in a needed magical performance, Jose Calderon finished one rebound shy of a triple double (21 pts, 15 assists, 9 rebounds) and managed the team as best he could with a cast which isn't exactly the best that even the Raptors could display.
With injuries to both backup point guards, continued issues with Sonny Weems, Reggie Evans, and Peja Stojakovic, the Raptors simply didn't have the right personnel to put away even the Washington Wizards. The Wizards, bolstered by a clinic shooting performance from Nick Young, were simply the healthier and luckier team last night. And while the Raptors did have a good shooting night with low turnover numbers, their continued lack of effort on the defensive end allows even the dregs of the Eastern Conference to stay with them for the win.
There just wasn't going to be a way for the Raptors to pull away with the shoddy defensive effort they put up.
And thus, we have our repeating themes for the past few months.
It's not as though the Wizards are one of best defensive teams in the league. And yet, the Raptors found trouble at times to score. Players like DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, and Andrea Bargnani haven't exactly been playing consistent team ball and each could have been looked at as players who keep looking for their own shot and are often caught running down the shot clock. While Sundiata Gaines attempted to give the Raptors a little spark, there's no question that the Raptors' already young team would benefit more from the guidance and leadership of Leandro Barbosa.
Couple this with the Raptors horrible defense which is dead last in opponent's field goal percentage.
Defensively, the Raptors definitely did not look all that better than the Wizards. With the Raptors being slow to get back on defense, the Wizards managed to always stay in the game despite the Raptors having a slightly better shooting percentage. In rebounds, the Wizards simply outworked the Raptors and on several plays, the Wizards and specifically, JaVale McGee, put on a clinic. Whether it was a failure to keep the tempo in the Raptors' favour, or a lack of discipline which allowed scrubs like Yi Jianlian to get clear lanes to the basket, the Raptors simply look out of sorts.
Looking ahead, the next few games look to be extremely difficult. With games against New Orleans, San Antonio, Orlando, and Miami, it's extremely doubtful we'll see the Raptors play the part of "spoiler". All of the teams are contenders for their division titles and are looking to secure their places in the playoffs.
In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to see our boys get blown out in all four games.
With that in mind, it's now getting to be the point in the season where I'm starting to look beyond just the wins and loses column. Continued development of players like DeMar DeRozan will determine if this year was simply a wash or if the Raptors team will learn from their mistakes and find a place in the playoffs in the foreseeable future. While I'm not a fan of this year's draft, the Raptors have to continue to reinforce those statements they so boldly and famously made back in training camp. The Raptors may not win that many games in the rest of the season, but it's important for this team to work hard with an eye towards being a fighter.
Right now the Raptors have lost that fight.
Climbing back out of the malaise of the season schedule is going to take a lot of work. It's going to have to be built by first admitting that the Raptors don't have the bodies, heart, or minds right now to continue executing what the coaches want them to execute, especially on the defensive end. It's in these dark times that we can lose our youthful core to doing what comes easy and to simply go through the motions of caring about the game. It's here that I'm more worried about in this Raptors team and its continued development. Where can our young players turn to in order to find inspiration to work harder and get through this tough season?
It's why Jose Calderon's performance was so important last night. It's his performance that defines what a professional manner is all about.