The Raptors again faltered down the stretch but the HQ looks at this game in its entirety, and how it impacts the club's future...
Yesterday's 95 to 90 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats was one of the more enjoyable Toronto Raptors viewing experiences of the season for me.
Sure, the game itself was hardly riveting, but it presented an opportunity I haven't had in a while; a chance to take in the game play-by-play and shot by shot.
Let me explain.
I actually missed this match on its first pass as I was preocuppied by NCAA ball, more specifically, the butt-kicking my Blue Devils were giving the Tar Heels. However that just meant that I caught the replay of the game on NBA TV Canada, and because there was no live blog or live tweeting going on, this was the first game in a while that I could totally immerse myself in.
As a result, I thought I'd switch things up a bit this morning.
Instead of the usual full game breakdown, I thought I'd throw out some observations on the team at present, specifically though as they pertain to next season and beyond.
Let's start with the point guard situation.
Jose Calderon had a pretty respectable 13 points and 7 assists last night in the loss. At face value that would seem fine but I think it's time to start being a little more critical of the Raptors lead point guard. He's had a rebound season for sure, but I'm going to argue he could be having an even bigger impact on things.
Simply put, he needs to start being a bigger scoring threat.
He's the team's best pure shooter and needs to take advantage of that ability to put more pressure on opposing defences. He took only eight shots yesterday and passed up numerous other opportunities to try and get teammates involved.
That's noble for certain, but it's not coincidence that a good chunk of the Dinos' wins this season have come when Jose lights up the scoreboard.
His back-up, Jerryd Bayless?
He was his usual hit-and-miss self. He made a few nice plays leading the Toronto attack, did a decent job on D, and when he gets a full head of steam going to the hoop, he's one of the hardest players in the league to stop because he's so crafty and explosive. But he still can't shoot consistently, and needs to make better decisions with the ball.
Last night Leo Rautins kept comparing his upside to that of DJ Augustin, who ripped Toronto's D to shreds.
The problem is, Bayless was never the shooter Augustin was in college to begin with, nor did he have the pure point skills. Bayless at Arizona simply dominated DI thanks to his superior quicks and explosiveness. But in the NBA that isn't enough, and he's got a ways to go in my books before he can be a legit back-up option even.
Ideally next year, the dream scenario for me would be to have Toronto land Kyrie Irving in the draft, and move Jose to the back-up spot. Bayless would be the third-stringer, getting some occasional minutes at the 2 as well when the Raps needed someone who could attack and get to the rim.
And that brings me to my second observation, Mr. Leandro Barbosa.
I've been pretty harsh on Barbosa for most of this season thanks to his extreme case of black-holitis. And at face value, his 6 of 18 afternoon yesterday would warrant another 30 lashes with a wet noodle.
But the reality is, on this team, he has to play like that at times.
Yesterday's match was a perfect example.
Toronto couldn't buy a basket down the stretch with guys like DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani struggling from the field with the game on the line. So Triano has no choice but to run plays for the streaky Barbosa, a talent who on a great team could come off the bench and look to hit a few big shots to take the pressure off of his team's top offensive options.
But in many a game, Barbosa IS this team's top offensive option, so as a result, he's chucking up 18 shots in 23 minutes of action.
It's the same story all over this club.
Watching yesterday you can see a team of bench players struggling to do one thing well enough as a group to get wins.
Last year the club couldn't defend a team full of DII players but they did have legitimate starters who could impact the game at the offensive level.
This year sometimes you get that from Andrea Bargnani, but hardly at an efficient clip, and the same is true for DeMar DeRozan. But it's not a consistent attack, and that's part of the reason this team has struggled even on offence this season.
Defensively of course this is a disaster.
For the season, Charlotte is shooting just under 45 per cent.
A lot of the defensive woes fall on Jay Triano and his schemes but for me it goes a lot deeper than that.
Toronto still doesn't employ good defenders.
I watched DeMar DeRozan get abused by Gerald Henderson for most of the night while Henderson kept DeRozan to 11 points on 4 of 13 shooting. Henderson was credited with four steals but many more times he slapped the ball out of the hands of Toronto's wings and simply played a complete two-way game. I marveled at this, not simply because I preferred Henderson over DD two years ago in the draft, or because his alma mater happens to be my favourite college team, but because it's been so long since we've seen a Toronto wing put on an effort like that. We crush Bargs for his defensive malaise but the holes in reality are all over this team; from Jose Calderon to Amir Johnson.
And I don't want to hear about James Johnson any more.
Yes, he put on the closest thing to a Henderson-esque match in his debut but since then?
He's a mini-stats stuffer but yet another bench-level talent at this point. Leo Rautins and crew like to fawn over his size and overall abilities but the kid can't shoot and can't dribble. Time after time yesterday I watched him secure a rebound, play the role of point forward, and then either make a terrible decision with it (he was one of three Raptors with three turnovers), or pound the ball into the floor until someone had to make a desperation heave.
I know what Colangelo sees he "could be."
He "could be" LeBron James light; a 6-8 forward who powers through the paint to the rim, and is a constant mismatch issue for opponents.
Taking this whole piece in I got to thinking that it'll be a shame if this draft doesn't get Toronto an All-Star talent.
Because there are some nice pieces here to surround a stud or two with.
Reggie Evans is simply a monster and I think Bryan Colangelo has plans to keep him around next season, hence his lack of movement at the deadline. It's hard not to think that Evans wouldn't be a major plus off the bench as an 8th or 9th man next year.
Ed Davis didn't have a great game statistically, (8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 of 6 from the line), but that's a very promising future piece, and while DeRozan can be a bit of a black hole, I'm hoping that with some additional talent around him, he could turn into a very nice Luol Deng-ish third option for the Raps.
So yes, yesterday's 95 to 90 debacle was loss number 48 on the season for TO.
But down the stretch here it's games like this I think that are really going to give us an idea of what moves the Raps need to make to get the ship back on course so to speak.
There's no easy solution, and this is going to no doubt take some time.
But hopefully by the time the 82nd game has been played, the improvements that need to be made on this club ring loud and clear.