In a Sunday afternoon affair at the ACC, the Raps continued their winning pre-season ways, coming back from a half-time deficit to beat the Nets 119-110. All in all it was a true team effort with 7 players scoring in double figures helping to compensate for the absence of CB4 from the line-up.
It's great to see this team gain a little momentum even if it is pre-season. Confidence will need to be high early this season as the schedule makers did the Raptors no favours sending them on a tough west coast road trip early on. If the Raps keep up their winning ways in the pre-season they should feel good right from the get go and winning is the best thing for a new team trying to gel. Unfortunately when the season starts this 3-0 pre-season start will mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, but of course pre-season is about learning, not necessarily winning. Each game we learn a little more. A little more about the "new guys" and a little more about what still needs to be improved.
Here's what I have learned thus far:
There's a new set of Banger Brothers
Remember when Lonnie Baxter and Robert Archibald were tagged by the Swirsk as the Banger Brothers? Well there's a new set of Banger Brother's in town and these guys actually have skill. Their names? Kris Humphries and PJ Tucker. Both invite contact and both have looked way better than most people would have expected. Humphries has been very impressive thus far this pre-season getting on the glass, throwing some weight around and playing some D (that block yesterday was ill). Many people did not expect much from someone who came in return for Hoffa, but they are in for a pleasant surprise. We here at the HQ have been suggesting since his arrival that he may become a Sam Mitchell favorite. That continues to look like a good possibility.
Tucker easily had his best game yesterday doing some great work in the paint even when being matched-up with defenders that were much taller. Tucker used his strength to get good position and create enough space to finish with ease. Although it is still tough to tell where Tucker will fit with this team rotation-wise, it is nice to see a scound rounder show such confidence and ability.
On a whole the Raps have two tough SOB's on the tail end of the bench.
It is not clear whether Ford should be starting
TJ Ford had his best pre-season game thus far with a double double. Ford spread the ball around and got some guys some open looks while handing out 11 assists. Compared to his first couple of games, this was a relief. That being said Ford has a lot of work to do. There is no taking away from the fact that this guy will likely always be the fastest guy on the court (a blessing for a run and gun PG), but he is having a tough time taking full advantage of this ability. Why? His inability to finish and hit the outside shot on a regular basis. As a PG who relies on speed, Ford needs to be able to knock down shots because if he can't the defender can take a step back making it harder to blow by and create. On top of that Ford needs to be sure he finishes when he gets to the hoop. 1-4 on layups? Not good.
Calderon on the other hand is doing everything right. He is getting to the hoop, is pushing the ball and simply has a better feel for the players around him. Calderon's shooting has been above average and he's truly playing the role of floor general. In his 25 minutes Calderon filled the stat sheet with 9 points, 6 boards, 5 assists and 3 steals. Whether Calderon starts or not, he is going to get a lot of minutes this year.
I don't want to get down on Ford early and it is a long season, but he needs to improve and quickly at that.
In the past two games the Raptors have faced to two top ranked PG's in this years draft in Rajon Rondo and Marcus Williams. Both have looked fantastic. It's hard not to think back to the draft, William's slide in particular, and wonder if there was a deal to be had whereby the Raps could have grabbed the either the UCONN product or the Wildcat. Although they both play the same position they are very different players. Rondo is more of an athletic freak, while Williams is more "sneaky", but either would have looked great in a Raps uni. Instead? Two Atlantic Division rivals have great young PG's. Raps fans know all too well how hard it is to fill that position and for years to come we will be forced to watch these two guys grow on other squads.
This team is REALLY deep
Even though the Nets sat their big three for most of the game yesterday and Nenad was MIA, there is no denying the fact that this Raptors team is the deepest...perhaps ever. The team's second unit is very strong, and Jack Armstrong was quick to point this out during the broadcast. One of the things he mentioned was that he really thinks this unit will be responsible for a number of Raptors wins this season. I couldn't agree more. I would put Calderon, Fred Jones, Graham, Garbajosa and Bargnani against any other second unit in the L and feel good about the Raps chances.
The Raptors depth is what makes this such an interesting pre-season. No-one expects Mitchell to play 12 guys a night so it will be very interesting to see who can start breaking away and take their game to the next level. In fact, guys are going to have to raise their play even more to ensure consistent PT. Once can only imagine how competitive the practices are these days. Over the next two weeks it will be interesting to see whose competitive fire burns brightest and during that time we will learn even more about this years squad.