Following last night's blowout loss to the Orlando Magic the Toronto Raptors now have just 16 games remaining on their schedule. While these games may not mean much in terms of altering their position in the standings, the HQ's Scott Campsall argues that they will be crucial for the Raptors from a talent evaluation perspective.
Last night the Toronto Raptors struggled to compete with a superior Orlando Magic team, losing by 16 points in a game that was never competitive after the first quarter. You could make the excuse that the Raptors were without a starter in DeMar DeRozan, and a key bench contributor in Jerryd Bayless, who played just 10 minutes before reagravating his hip injury, but the truth of the matter is that the Dinos just did not put forth a strong enough effort to come anywhere close to winning this ballgame-a point made glaringly evident when you look at the way the Raptors failed to rotate out on the Magic shooters on defense, and take care of the ball on offense.
Now, I could use the entirety of this space to delve into the specifics of the Raptors' successes and failures in this contest, but at this juncture in a season where the Raptors have been involved in far too many of these games it becomes tedious to both read and write about the same mistakes over and over which ultimately lead back to support the same truth about this team, which is that they simply lack the talent to compete with teams like the Magic on a nightly basis.
I know, hardly a groundbreaking revelation. Yet it is a fact that is getting harder and harder to ignore each time this basketball team takes the floor.
When you have a roster with a serious talent deficiency like the Raptors have, the games themselves may not be all that interesting to watch as they continually end in defeat for the Raptors. But what is interesting to observe in a season like this is the individual play of each of the players on the roster. Specifically, which players are playing their way into roles with this team next season, and which players are playing their way off of the team completely.
For the Raptors, this is something that is getting increasingly intriguing with each passing game.
When the season began Raptor fans knew that this could be an extremely rough season, which by all accounts it has been. From a talent perspective things were bleak as Bryan Colangelo had done little to improve a team that finished with the 3rd worst record in the NBA last season.
However, given the way that DeMar DeRozan had played in the second half of last season and the fact that Andrea Bargnani was going to move to power forward and finally be held accountable for his play under a new coach in Dwayne Casey, it seemed as though those were two players that could be counted on to provide some positives for this team going forward. In reality, things didn't quite pan out that way.
As we now sit about three quarters of the way through this season, DeRozan and Bargnani have been two of the biggest disappointments for the Dinos. Bargnani teased us with the now infamous 13-game stretch to begin the season where he looked like an All-Star, but has since played no better than a low level role player.
Likewise DeRozan has shown flashes of brilliance on the offensive end of the floor, but has been consistently bad on the defensive end and has disappeared for multiple games at a time.
Neither player has performed like the cornerstones of the franchise that they were supposed to be and you would have to guess that if Colangelo is realistic about these players, he will look long and hard at moving one, or both should the right opportunity present itself in the offseason.
On the flip side of this conversation are a couple of players that have surpassed expectations and played like they deserve a prolonged stint on this club.
The player that has arguably done the most to prove that he belongs with this team is James Johnson. Johnson struggled to begin the season, playing behind the recently waived Rasual Butler. However, as the season has progressed, he has grown increasingly more comfortable handling both the 3 and the 4 spot at times for the Dinos. Johnson has now solidified his spot in the starting lineup by playing great defense, rebounding and even adding a solid double figure scoring punch which he is getting off at a much more efficient rate.
While it is still questionable whether or not Johnson is the long term answer as a starter with the Raptors, it is clear that he can be a valuable asset to this team even if it means coming off of the bench and giving the team 20 minutes of good defense and rebounding each night.
Another player who has emerged more recently, and perhaps for many, rather surprisingly is Gary Forbes. Since the departure of Leandro Barbosa at the trade deadline, Forbes has been receiving increased minutes and has given his team increased production.
In the seven games since the deadline, Forbes has scored in double figures four times including a 21 point outburst last night against the Magic, a 20 point game against the Grizzlies and 19 point performance against the Knicks on Friday. Forbes' play in more regular floor time has been good enough that you may see him challenge DeRozan for minutes when he returns from injury.
There is no question that both Johnson and Forbes are players that are deserving of spots on this roster going forward, and with 16 games remaining there is enough time for other players to step up and stake their claim to a spot with the team beyond this season.
Although the Dinos may not be winning many of these games, the remaining 16 contests will be crucial for players like Amir Johnson, Ed Davis and even Jerryd Bayless to prove to Dwayne Casey, Bryan Colangelo and the rest of the Raptor braintrust that they are worth keeping around.
And for Raptor fans, this gives you something something to watch and root for, even if the team as a whole doesn't.