To break down last night's game versus the Jazz we're bringing you the coverage in two parts...
First up is Franchise's Critical Beatdown...an analysis of the positives and negatives and a general overview of the game. Howland then takes a look at 10 things that caught his attention from the play of Deron Williams to Greg Ostertag's snacking habits...
While most of the local media this morning will probably be painting a purely negative portrait of last night's game based on the Raptors' loss, I've decided to approach things from a different angle and look at both sides of the coin. Even with the loss there was a lot of interesting data to be taken from it...here are some of the highs and lows.
-Charlie Villanueva - Yes he could have been a bit more active on the boards but CV was one of the main reasons the Raptors were in this game. Villanueva displayed solid post moves, good positioning, shot blocking ability (welcome to the league CJ "I should still be in High School" Miles), and even hit a three. I watched Charlie a lot at UConn and my biggest concern with drafting him was his work ethic and defence. His coach Jim Calhoun would regularly take him out at the end games for defensive reasons and this concerned me considering DEFENCE was something the Raptors' sorely needed to get through the draft. However last night Charlie was one of the Raptors' better defenders, blocking and altering shots and did a decent job crashing the offensive boards. He will need to be a bigger presence rebounding at his own basket but this is something that will come with time. In any event I was pleasantly surprised with CV's play and he looked NBA-ready last night.
Tierre Brown - Brown was the Raptors' best player last night from end to end. He dished out assists, rebounded the ball, played solid defence and was the team's top scorer with 24 points. Brown scored on an assortment of moves from both in close and mid-range and showed great finishing ability as evidenced by his completion of 4 "And 1" plays. Brown's standout feature in my opinion however is his 1 on 1 ability. On several plays he simply broke his defender's ankles and got to the rim or got his shot off. This ability is something the Raptors' have lacked since Vince Carter left town and while I'm by no means comparing the two, it is essential to have players who can get a shot off when the team finds itself with 3 seconds left on the shot clock. My main concern with Brown though is "is he really a point guard." Brown looked much more the part of a scoring wing then passer regardless of his assist count and he did take a few ill-advised shots. Whether this is something coach Sam Mitchell wants from his third string guard will have to be determined through further play.
Chris Bosh - While Bosh and the other Raptor starters played little in last night's contest, Bosh did throw down a NASTY dunk that was perhaps the highlight of the night. He also looked stronger in the post and more confident in his ball handling abilities. On one play he basically drove the ball from the top of the key for the score. I'm excited to see more of his game once the regular season begins.
Jose Calderon - Calderon already looked to me last night like an NBA point guard. His speed is blinding and on several occasions when the Raptors had nothing going on offence he simply crossed over his opponent and got to the rim untouched. His court vision was excellent as well, in fact sometimes too good as his teammates weren't ready for his passes. The Raptors are going to have to learn quickly that with Calderon on the floor, they're going to have to keep their heads up at all times. The chemistry between Calderon and his teammates seems to be present already as well as Calderon was "chatty Cathy" all night calling out plays, offering encouragement and directing traffic. The one area which stood out in terms of improvement however is in Calderon's strength. He's going to have a tough time with some of the more physical point guards in the league. Utah's heralded rookie Deron Williams physically outmuscled Calderon on several occasions and gave him all that he could handle defensively when Calderon tried to bring the ball up the court.
Rebounding Issues - My biggest concern when looking at this game was our lack of rebounding. Yep, same story as last year. But if a team like Utah, who was WITHOUT Carlos Boozer and Matt Harpring and barely had Andrei Kirilenkko playing, can outrebound you by almost 20, what are you going to do against a San Antonio...or a Detroit...or even a Milwaukee? Sam Mitchell was livid about the team's lack of rebounding and knows that this isn't just a "lack of big men" issue. Each position has to simply do a better job rebounding the ball. Time and time again last night Utah was getting second and third opportunities to score and in fact if the Raptors had rebounded Utah's missed shots at the end of regulation and into overtime, they would have easily won.
The "Centres" - Besides Aaron Williams (who played a solid game and threw down an NBA Street style dunk off an alley from Robert Pack), the Raptors still really need help at this position. On the offensive end Loren Woods and Rafael Araujo had major problems finishing around the rim. On the defensive end they picked up too many cheap fouls, were out of position and simply missed "box-out" assignments resulting in easy Utah baskets. Yes this is the first preseason game...but neither of these players are rookies anymore. If we don't get SOMEONE to provide some solid play at this position it's definitely going to be a long season.
Other then these two main points, I'm not going to dwell on any other negatives. The Raptors did a fairly good job taking care of the ball and it's way too early to really comment on the team piece by piece or as a whole. Remember, many of the players you're seeing in preseason won't even be on the regular season roster and therefore it's tough to adequately critique a team that may be quite different in composition three weeks from now.
Howland's Top 10 from last night:
1. Deron Williams was not overhyped as the third overall pick in last summer's draft. The knock on Deron coming into the league was his shot and he drained nearly everything he took. His defence gave Calderon problems all night and it won't be long before he becomes Utah's starting point.
2. Is there a need to have an "in arena announcer?" Especially when she's a former Raptors' Dance Pack member who was probably a last cut this year and she can't read a cue card to save her life? And Herbie, for the love of Wang Zhi Zhi, is it REALLY NECESSARY to give every slightly foreign name, a crazy pronunciation when the player enters the game? If I have to hear "now entering the game for the Raptors, #such and such, JOSAE CALLLLLDERONAE all year, I'm gonna lose it!
3. Classic random ACC moment from last night...Utah's Greg Ostertag decided he didn't have enough to eat from the pre-game buffet and stopped at the scorer's table after halftime to take a bite of someone's random protein bar...nice works Tags, I'm sure Jerry Sloan loves that kind of stuff.
4. The Raptors intro last night was NOT Kid Rock but instead, the old school (as in 3 seasons ago) cartoon Raptors intro. While this was a major relief from Kid Rock, here's to hoping that they only play this for the preseason and break out a new, relevant intro for the home opener.
5. Attendance was pretty weak last night...advertised crowd of over 12,000 but it was probably closer to 8000...and somehow I STILL didn't win the 50/50 draw!
6. Bench sizes in preseason kill me. Utah had more white guys then an Irish Soccer team on theirs and the Raptors' was hardly slim and trim either. When you're getting matchups like James Lang against Toree Morris...yikes. The Utah bench though was huge and Milt Palacio looked so confused half of the game...any instructions from Jerry Sloan must have been like a game of telephone and I swear Milt was about to just say "forget it" and throw on his old Raps jersey to end the confusion.
7. One of the great sights last night, even with the loss, was how close the team looked. Players were standing up and cheering (especially for Aaron Williams and Chris Bosh's dunks) and very encouraging on and off the court. This kind of communication is essential for such a young squad and was great to see. Hopefully all the negative press the team has received will help bond them and make them hungry for upsets.
8. Bosh and Charlie V. While both weren't on the court much together, when they were, they both looked comfortable. On one play Villanueva dropped a no look pass as he was headed to the rim, right into Bosh's hands for an easy score. Plays like that could have the two starting together sooner then later.
9. Sam Mitchell's gonna have another long season from the looks of it. With such a young team he's just not gonna get many calls that go his way and as a result, he was already pacing furiously last night and in some moments, was so far onto the court that he might as well have just suited up for action.
10. And speaking of the court, last night was the first look at the Raptors new flooring. Not such a big fan of the colours but apparently, the team isn't either so they'll be changed again.