At what point?
At what point can you, the Raptor fan start to get really excited about the upcoming season?
Now at 5-0 in the pre-season? Or is it true when they say â€œItâ€™s just the pre-season?"
After watching what may have been the most complete â€œteamâ€ game this franchise has played in quite some time, I think itâ€™s safe to crack a bit of a smile when thinking about the season ahead. Itâ€™s important not to set standards too high (no one wants to be disappointed) but there are some very obvious things, or maybe transformations is a better term, happening with this team right before our eyes.
Although last night's game was not against an NBA opponent (Maccabi) the Raps were coming off a back-to-back and after the first quarter it looked like it was going to be a fight to the end and a game perhaps not much different than back-to-backs from last year. Those thoughts quickly disappeared when Mitchell went to the pine and looked to what may turn out to be one of the best bench crews in the league this year to change the game. Calderon, Jones, Graham, Tucker, Bargnani, Garbajosa, and Humphries all came into last night's game and had an impact doing exactly what they were asked. That is not to say that Bosh and his starting crew did not play well during their minutes, but tonightâ€™s game was all about the foot soldiers.
In fact, I only want to focus on these guys and their spectacular play as a group because when was the last time Raptors fans could really be excited about the teamâ€™s second unit? I canâ€™t remember when.
Calderon: Impressive, impressive, impressive. Seriously does anyone not think he deserves at least one game with the starting unit? That being said he is the perfect general for this second group of players. He is also doing everything right and you can really tell that he and Garbajosa like to play with each other and know each otherâ€™s tendencies.
Jones: What a great game by Jones. He filled it up, managed to grab a handful of rebounds, but more importantly has shown an uncanny ability to get to the charity stripe where he is shooting a high percentage. When this guy comes on the floor I get excited. He really is fun to watch, has a quick trigger and is completely fearless. If he is a 12-16ppg scorer for this team off the bench, this is a luxury a number of other teams donâ€™t have.
Graham: Golden Graham probably put the biggest smile on my face last night. When Franchise and I talked about the game afterwards it was great to have nothing but positive things to say about him for once. Taking it to the hoop and doing so in a controlled manner, taking a charge, playing D with his feet, hitting the deck and all sorts of little things. Graham played with a swagger and he played really well. He is not going to lose his minutes without a fight, which is a great thing to see from such an unemotional player on the court.
Tucker: Well I guess his nickname is Nails. Seems fitting enough. What else can you want from a second round pick other than effort and desire. He has shown both to the Nth degree. Itâ€™s great to feel so positive about a guy who was, and probably still will be, at the end of the bench. Compare him to Loren Woods. Yeah, no comparison. Tucker, his play, and his position on the depth chart is a true reflection of how deep this team really is.
Bargnani: Funny enough it did not look like Bargnani was really into the game early and he did not get much burn. What was the end result? Looks like that extra bench time added a little motivation as Andrea came in with about nine minutes left in the fourth and left his first true impression on this writer. Bargs showed that he can, and over time will be able to do a number of things at the offensive end. His sweet catch and shoot abilities, his ability to chase down rebounds, put the ball on the floor and draw contact are all huge pluses. It will still take this guy some time but itâ€™s not a stretch to think that he could become a dominant offensive weapon. In fact Franchise pointed out one play with about four minutes left that really summed up why Bargnani was the number one pick. After grabbing a tough rebound on the defensive end and unable to find an outlet man, Il Mago calmly dribbled the ball across half, got setup in the post, didn't like his options so faked, swung around and hit a fade-away jumper over his man. It really exemplified Bargnani's overall skill-set and calmness and for a rookie, he certainly seems to be ahead of the curve already.
Garbajosa: Not his best game tonight but definitely not a liability out there. He looked a little sluggish, but he has shown enough so far in the pre-season to let this game slip.
Humphries: Still playing hard. Hammer hard. How surprising is it that I am almost surprised he didnâ€™t go for 10-10?! He looks like a completely different player than in Utah, and he will be getting minutes on this team in the right situation. Him or Aaron Williams? At this point I take the 21 year old kid over the vet any day of the week.
Itâ€™s actually a little unnerving when you think about how deep this team is looking and the question of who plays when and for how long is a conundrum. Out of this group of players, can you name one player who has played themself out of the rotation? Who do you look at and feel comfortable with in terms of cutting their minutes? I for one, albeit five games in, am not sure who gives this team the best chance to win. In fact, I am not sure Mitchell does at this point either. A pickle no doubt, but a great problem to be dealing with. As at this moment I actually think there is a chance that Mitchell plays a ten man rotation...even heading into the regular season. Sure some minutes will be cut back but each player seems to bring something different to the table and circumstance will help determine who plays when and provided the team wins then there will be little complaint. In some cases such an approach may not be the best bet but you just get a sense watching these guys on the floor together that each of them just wants what is best for the team.
Donâ€™t get me wrong - Bosh is going to get his, but there donâ€™t seem to be any â€œI in teamâ€ players this year.