In a game that showed just how far away the Raptors are, Toronto was spanked by the Bulls 111 to 91. Franchise discusses, and looks towards tonight's match versus the Cavs.
34 games into the 2010-11 NBA Season, I think it's safe to say we've learned a few things about the Toronto Raptors.
1) There's not a lot of talent on this club. Full stop. An 11 and 23 record is a testament to that.
2) The club's not nearly as good offensively as it was last year. Yes, losing Chris Bosh hurts, but Toronto's 3 point shooting has been pretty lukewarm as well, and the club doesn't do nearly as good a job this year at retaining possession of the ball which has led to some ugly execution.
3) The team is still horrific defensively. Another full stop. They're a fraction out of the very basement of the league in Hollinger's Defensive Efficiency and nearly every other defensive metric.
Why am I bringing up these points?
Well as much as we could dissect last night's game from various angles and look at various individual intricacies, what really stood out to me in the Toronto Raptors 111 to 91 loss to the Chicago Bulls, is how far this team still has to go before it can even be a mediocre basketball club. The Bulls put on a clinic all over the court, and showed what a more talented, more prepared, more complete basketball club looks like, one that has championship aspirations in the near future.
Well they remind me a bit of the old Cavs' teams I used to cheer for back in the late 90's, the ones post Mark Price, Craig Ehlo and Brad Daugherty glory days. They were your classic bad NBA team, winning 22, 32, 30 and 29 games a season at one point, but yet in most seasons, not wretched enough to grab a franchise changing player.
Chris Mihm, Trajan Langdon, Matt Harpring, Tractor Traylor, Ricky Davis, Desagana Diop and Dajuan Wagner all came onto the scene at one point via the draft or acquisition early in their careers and none really did much to alter the poor Cavs' fate.
It wasn't until a certain 17 win season in 2002-03 of course that changed things forever.
This is generally the way of the NBA.
You need a good few horrid seasons and solid drafts before you can start to turn the corner as a franchise, and you need a little luck along the way, especially if you're not a top free agent destination. Toronto's opponent last night benefited from such luck when they beat the lottery odds and were able to grab Derrick Rose first overall in 2008. Rose had an immediate impact, pulling the Bulls into the playoffs in his rookie season, giving the eventual NBA Champ Boston Celtics all they could handle in what was a classic seven-game series.
The problem is, players of Rose's ilk of course are few and far between, and again, it takes a pretty bad season as well as some luck in the draft to grab one of them.
Which brings me back to the Dinos.
Toronto is only on pace to win about 27 games, but that still is probably far too many W's considering the injection of upper tier talent this club needs via the draft.
Last night's game made this abundantly clear (although yes, it was pretty clear before) as the Bulls outplayed the Raptors in every facet possible from the second quarter on.
And really, in some ways I have no problem with the Raps being pounded by 20 or more points. Not from a "tanking" standpoint either, but from a "this team simply isn't as good as their opponent" perspective.
There's one caveat though.
Even in a loss, I want to see the team advancing in some fashion.
Maybe it's more playing time for the youngsters, maybe it's the coach trying out new defensive schemes, maybe it's individual development from a piece of the future like Amir Johnson or Ed Davis.
Or maybe it's team play itself as an undermanned but scrappy club comes together to give a near perfect effort at one end of the court; the same sort of effort that occurred after Christmas against the Dallas Mavericks.
But last night was none of these things and in fact from my perspective, was an atrocity.
After the first quarter the game was dominated by selfish individual play, and a complete lack of caring from the Raptors at the defensive end.
Andrea Bargnani did his best Lamond Murray impression (if we're sticking to my late 90's Cavs' analogy) dropping in 23 points, but allowed just as many (he was a horrendous -21 last night) and he had but one assist, looking to score first at every opportunity.
It was extremely frustrating to watch, and I actually kept a running tab throughout the match of Andrea's "black-holishness."
For instance, with seven minutes left in the second quarter we saw a classic Bargnani possession. He set a screen for Bayless near the top of the arc and Bayless got him the rock on the "roll." However the Bulls hedged on the play, and Bargs has no shot after he receives it. So he gives it back to Bayless, wanders a little further along the 3-point line, and immediately asks for it back. Bayless tries to go to DeRozan but DeRozan is covered, so back it goes to Andrea with lots of time still on the clock. Andrea puts his head down, drives into the center a bit, but has nowhere to go.
However instead of looking to reset the offence, he upfakes, and luckily his defender goes for it, and Andrea's off to the free throw line.
I thought this play epitomizes what's wrong with this team in many ways.
Yep, the end result meant 2 points for the Dinos, and 2 more points in the box score for Andrea, but it came at the expense of all ball movement.
A near carbon copy of this occurred with 3:56 left in the third Q as Carlos Boozer cut Andrea off in the corner near the 3 point line, only to fall for the Bargs up-fake (which he's nearly perfected in a Paul Pierce type way as one of our readers pointed out on Twitter.) Again, the play meant 2 points for Toronto, but Andrea didn't even consider his teammates.
I can't stand to watch this type of play, and while it may sound like I'm singling out Bargs, the reality is Linas Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa were just as guilty, and Jay Triano helped facilitate this mess by keeping bizarre combinations of "me-first" types out on the floor.
In stark contrast, the Bulls' offence was predicated on penetration and inside and out play, and yes, the team has oodles more talent as we mentioned, but nowhere to be seen was that type of "team-first" play that Raptors' fans saw versus Dallas and even Houston to a lesser extent.
Toronto needs to get back to that tonight against the Cavs, and Jay Triano needs to grab the reins if players aren't willing to comply to this mantra. Let's kick that off as our first key...
1) Team Play. No more of this "ok, now it's time for Andrea to score...now he's off, DeRozan's turn." It was absolutely ridiculous last night. In the second half, with Bargs off the court, suddenly every play was run for Demar and after about 5 touches in the first half, suddenly DeRozan got looks and finished the game with what would seem to be good totals. But if you watched the game, you know that very little of it came in the flow of any sort of offense, and the whole "playing Bargs and DeMar together effectively" fell on deaf ears aside from one nice little drop pass Andrea made to DD for an open J. Tonight the club needs to get back to sharing the ball and playing the game the right way, the same as they did in the first quarter of last night's affair.
2) Point Guard Play. Of course I'd be remiss to mention the first point if I didn't point out that Toronto had only a Jerryd Bayless at 50% (maybe?) running the show last night. Jose Calderon didn't go, and that definitely played a part in Toronto's offensive selfishness. However it's not that simple. Calderon didn't play against Dallas and the team managed to share the ball quite nicely. No word on if Jose is back tonight as of yet but if it's a banged up Jerryd again leading the way, the Raps need to help him out by making good decisions with the ball. Bayless was running on pure heart last night and while it wasn't his prettiest game ever, he did the best he could. Leandro Barbosa may have finished with five assists on the night, but he was hardly looking to involve teammates so I'm wondering if Jay Triano shouldn't try a bit of Julian Wright at the 1? Wright's proven to be a solid passer and frankly, it's better than seeing him sit on the pine essentially until garbage time, even though the players in front of him aren't doing their jobs.
3) Defensive Play. At some point Toronto needs to advance defensively. I don't mean they suddenly need to hold opponents under 90 points on a nightly basis, but some advancements would be nice. This season has brought precious few, and last night was a joke. Open look after open look, open drive to the cup after open drive, and border line D League guys like Omer Asik again allowed to post career-highs.
Oh, and then there was the Taj Gibson show. Taj has been pretty quiet all year, believe me, I have him on one of my fantasy teams, but of course exploded against the Raps resulting in tweets like this from the Bulls media:
Taj hadn't hit double figures in either scoring or rebounding since Dec. 11 vs. Minnesota. He's there in both points and rebounds at half.
Taj Gibson has a +24 in one half, off the bench. That's freaking hard to do.
Gibson simply outworked every Raptors' big man he went up against, and was instrumental in putting the game out of reach early.
Tonight the Raps will be facing a similar grinder type in Anderson Varejao, and they need to be ready to get dirty. This means no easy put-backs or second opportunities created off of offensive rebounds. The Cavs might be one of the worst offensive clubs in the league (although it sounds like they'll have Daniel Gibson back tonight), but the way Toronto is playing defense right now, it won't even matter. Cleveland will simply run their offense, however limited in scope it may be, and Toronto will be powerless to stop it.
Again, I don't care if tonight's game results in a loss, but if it means losing in a similar fashion as last night, I fear this team is going to be stuck in "1999 Cavs mode" for quite some time.