To set it off for our weekend wrap, the Toronto Star takes a look at the Raps two Spaniards, Jose Calderon and Jorge Garbajosa. Seeems like the Raps are in good shape if their overall team chemistry is anything like these two, who are reportedly inseperable on and off the court. And most encouraging for Raptors' fans from the report - assistant coach Jim Todd's quote that Calderon's "jump shot is definitely better." An off-season of practice and a succesful World Championships will do that...
As for Garbajosa, he's turned mentor...to one Andrea Bargnani. Garbajosa has gathered a great deal of praise from the Raps coaching staff this camp for his high basketball IQ and experience and coach Sam Mitchell likes the pairing of "The Porn Player" and "Il Mago." (Oh yes...that nickname of Garbajosa's. While it's not exactly PG rated, after hearing the rationale for the name, Jorge apparently found it funny.) And while Jorge is happy to tutor Bargnani, Garbajosa doesn't think he'll need much help adjusting to the NBA. Bargnani's cool demeanor and attitude were some of the reasons Bryan Colangelo and co. drafted the young forward and even with the pressure of being the top pick of the draft, the Raptors' brass believes he'll be able to handle it.
Some of the Raptors are actually welcoming the pressure and putting their own expectations on themselves. Chris Bosh for instance has stated this camp that he wants to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and a steal this season. Lofty goals for sure but numbers that Bosh wasn't that far off from last season considering he averaged 22.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.1 blocks. With less of an offensive load expected to be shouldered by Bosh this season, perhaps it will allow him to focus more on his rebounding and the defensive side of things.
A player who's highly expected to help Bosh out on offense is former Slam Dunk Champion Fred Jones. It looks like the only training camp battle remaining to be decided is at the starting shooting-guard spot and Jones and Parker have been the front-runners. Unfortunately a jammed toe kept Jones out of the first two camp scrimmages but now, back in action, he's quickly relishing his new team's style of play. With his former club the Pacers, Jones felt he was unable to take advantage of his full skill set but in the Raptors "run-and-gun" offense he thinks he'll be walking on cloud nine, especially with a chance to start for the club.
So how about the man on the other side of the battle for the starting shooting-guard spot? Anthony Parker has been playing on the Raps' first-unit in training camp along with TJ Ford, Morris Peterson, Chris Bosh and Rasho Nesterovic and seems to have the lead on the job. The second unit has consisted of Jose Calderon, the aforementioned Jones, Joey Graham, Jorge Garbajosa and Andrea Bargnani. That has left Kris Humphries, Uros Slokar, Darrick Martin and PJ Tucker to fill in the cracks. (The Raptors two camp invites Lavell Blanchard and Cezary Trybanski aren't expected to make the team.)
In fact PJ Tucker, from his play at training camp, may end up filling more than "cracks." In my opinion Tucker's defence and intensity will probably get him some minutes from Mitchell when the club is struggling to get stops...especially if Joey Graham doesn't show any improvement over last season.
And as Raptors' fans know, getting stops this year will be key. No one seems to be concerned with the Raptors' offence, especially considering its success last year and the fast-break style to be led by TJ Ford this coming season. Perhaps that's why so much of this training camp has focussed on the defensive end. Sam Mitchell and his staff, in an attempt to increase defensive accountability will be posting individual player's defensive grades in the locker room for all to see. The goal therefore is to make each player aware of their own shortcomings defensively and strive to make adjustments and improvements.
And what about the man himself? Sam Mitchell's colleagues certainly hold him in high esteem and so do his players. Of course as we all know, regardless of how his players and assistants feel, it's the Raptors play on-court this season that will probably determine whether or not Mitchell receives a contract extension.