The Toronto Raptors finished their preseason by trouncing the Portland Trailblazers 100-78 last night in Oregon. Numerous Raptors had good games including Charlie Villanueva (22 points, 7 rebounds), Jalen Rose (9 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds and a steal), Rafael Araujo (13 points, 2 boards, 6 for 7 shooting) and Chris Bosh, who finally broke out of his preseason slump dropping 17 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. Everyone saw game time action including Corey Williams and Toree Morris even though it was announced today that the two were being released. Even Eric Williams got some burn in his first game of the preseason coming back from injury.
One of the big reasons for the Raptors win was improved interior and defensive play as the Raptors had 11 steals to the Blazers 5. While the Raps were outrebounded slightly (39 to 35) the Raps had 27 team assists to the Blazers 19 and in general did a much better job with the ball. Joey Graham started for the Raptors and did a much better job on Darius Miles limiting him to only 14 points. Graham may in fact be a starter this season while Mo Peterson would come off the bench. Sam Mitchell believes this will help the balance in the second unit and give Peterson more scoring opportunities.
Prior to last night's game, Chris Bosh acknowledged that the preseason had been a bit of a struggle for him. The Raptors starting power forward was getting touches but just not getting his shots to go down. Last night's numbers therefore were a huge boost for the player expected to lead the team this season.
Franchise's Preseason Verdict:
The Raptors finish their preseason with a 3 and 5 record including the loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv. I expected them to go 4-4 and wins over instead of close losses to the Cavs, Jazz and especially Maccabi could have easily had them finish with a 5-3 record. It's the little things that the Raptors will have to work on this year to prevent heartbreaking losses due to rookie mistakes. All in all however I am fairly happy with the preseason play and would give the team a B-. I would have liked to have seen a more dominant Chris Bosh and the team a bit healthier but if someone had told you that Charlie V would be averaging close to 20 points a game, Calerdon would be looking comfortable in the backcourt, Joey Graham would be starting and playing significant minutes and Rafael Araujo would be averaging nearly double figures in scoring....I think you would take it and run.
Rob Babcock might now be forced to make some moves however in order to get Joey Graham more minutes. Even with Mo Pete coming off the bench, Eric Williams, Jalen Rose and Matt Bonner can all play the 3 spot. The rookies are going to need all the time and experience they can get. It's therefore disappointing that Jamal Magloire was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks yesterday as opposed to winding up here in Toronto. Magloire would have been a great teacher for not only Rafael Araujo but also Pape Sow, Charlie Villanueva and even the Raptors' backcourt players...not to mention would have been a HUGE addition to a Raptors' frontcourt lacking size, rebounding and toughness. It's almost been a foregone conclusion that Magloire would sign here when his contract with New Orleans was up but who's to say that if the Bucks don't make a strong post-season push in the next few years that he'll still leave to return to his hometown? And if New Orleans took Desmond Mason, a first round pick (which probably won't be too high now) and cash for Magloire, couldn't the Raptors have offered a similar deal in Mo Pete and a higher first round pick? No, we're not inside the Raptors' braintrust (yet ha ha) but you do have to ask yourself these questions. Especially since New Orleans actually SIGNED Peterson to a contract that Toronto matched two summers ago...
In any event, I personally feel better about this team's direction then I have in about 3 years. While watching Vince have a few highlight reel moments was nice, it bothered me that the team and previous management refused to admit that that team in its former makeup, was not a contender. I'm glad that Babcock has admitted this (albeit a bit too publicly perhaps) and is attempting to rebuild. I think he's got some solid pieces in place and now must continue with his plan by eventually removing some of the deadweight. This season will go a long way in determining who the deadweight is but if Calderon, Graham and Villanueva continue to progress at their current rate, this team is gonna turn some heads.
And top of my list of people who need their heads turned...or screwed on at all...ESPN. Yes the Raptors' will not be an elite team this season and may indeed finish with one of the bottom 5 records...but to read ESPN.com's"Special Preview Edition" on the Raptors, it would seem that we're suiting up the UPEI Panthers to compete against the rest of the league! There's nay a positive comment to be found in the entire "analysis" and while I for one am completely for criticism...do any of these "experts" actually know anything about the team? In fact that's the one clear conclusion that you CAN draw from the article...no one on the ESPN.com staff has take the time to throughly examine THIS YEAR'S squad. How else can you explain someone like Chris Broussard's comments of "terrible, just terrible." Is he talking about the team? Or is he talking about his own blog? How is that analysis? Or how about Scoop Jackson saying that Jalen "is going to wish he'da gone to Detroit?" Can someone please tell me when THAT trade was proposed? And even stats king John Hollinger misses the mark here saying that "as if the Canadian Winters aren't bleak enough." Um...John, the Raptors don't play in Winnipeg ALL SEASON...how much BLEAKER are Toronto's winters then New York or Detroit's? If you can't even adequately critique our city's weather, how am I supposed to take any actual BASKETBALL analysis seriously? But as mentioned, perhaps the biggest crime of this "analysis" is the evident lack of knowledge ESPN.com's reporters have on the new look Raptors. ESPN fails to mention how much of a surprise Charlie Villanueva has been in preseason or ANY of the other training camp developments. In fact the majority of the comments are based on last year's team and since Vince Carter's departure, it would seem our team is not worthy of any type of logical analysis.
What needs to be taken from this discussion is that the current squad has its work cut out for them. Not only are there going to be struggles on the court this season due to the squad's youth, but also off court in the eye of the local and US media. I personally hope "analytical articles" like this are used for one purpose...to be put up in the Raptors' locker room to be read out loud by Sam Mitchell before each and every game...let 2005-06, the "we've got a huge chip on our shoulder" season begin...