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Sick, Wicked and Nasty or, Covering the Toronto Raptors This Poorly Takes Onions Baby, Onions...

When the Toronto Raptors unveiled their new team in the home-opener less than two weeks ago, we saw a team that looked to be one of the deepest in the league. It featured off-season acquisitions like Maceo Baston, Jamario Moon, Carlos Delfino and Jason Kapono and there were obvious questions about how minutes were going to be doled out, especially at the small forward position.

In talks with the media at the Raptors’ Media Day, GM Bryan Colangelo talked about his off-season strategy in which he decided to bring in more shooters to compensate for the lack of quality rebounders that were available. Like his former club the Phoenix Suns, his logic was that with two solid distributors like TJ Ford and Jose Calderon, and an inside presence like Chris Bosh, the Raptors could simply draw in defenders and devastate their opponents with the sharp-shooting skills of their perimeter.

It sounded great. Logically, with Ford and Calderon getting into the paint, and Bosh drawing double teams like he had all last season, their would be plenty of open looks and players like Andrea Bargnani, Anthony Parker and the aforementioned Kapono were more than capable of knocking them down.

The team started off the season with two wins and looked to be off to the races even with a close loss to the revamped Celtics. However the wheels soon started to come off. Three straight losses and a win that was way too close for comfort over the moribund 76ers had fans disconcerted and while not ready to push the panic button, looking for some answers at the least.

The strange thing is, answers were hard to come by, especially from the Raptors own media network of RaptorsTV and Each day I would tune in when I got home from work only to hear Sherman Hamilton and Paul Johnson talk about remedies such as better ball movement on offence.

Better ball movement on offence?

What exactly does that mean?

I mean is there a more vapid phrase in basketball?

Of course the Raptors needed better ball movement and better offensive execution. But that’s like saying Toronto also needed Kobe Bryant. Great, but how do you get him?

I wanted someone to get down to the heart of the matter. Why was the starting line-up having such a tough time getting open looks? I had my own theories and many of which we discussed on the site but I wanted to get the "experts" take.

Of course it never really came. Instead, I heard things like spacing, better motion…in the words of the great Elaine Benes, yada, yada, yada.

There was little or no explanation as to why Anthony Parker looked timid, Jason Kapono wasn’t hitting the open looks, Bosh wasn’t getting open at the elbow for jump shots and Andrea Bargnani was up and down. To top this off, as the offence struggled, our two floor generals were forced into being scorers, something that they’ve shown they can do (as TJ showed with his 32 points against the Celtics) but something that probably isn’t in the team’s best interest every night.

The idea behind Colangelo’s plan as I understood it was to have the point guards play the Steve Nash role ala Phoenix and push the ball into the paint drawing defenders and creating space for the formidable shooters on the perimeter. But as the losses started to mount last week, I was seeing flaws in this plan.

Phoenix has great shooters surrounding Nash, but the likes of Bell, Diaw, Marion and Barbosa aren’t just shooters, they’re also some of the better athletes in the game. All four can put the ball on the court and get to the rim, especially Marion with his leaping ability and Barbosa with his speed. No, these Suns are not merely one-dimensional players. The Raptors perimeter through the first six games I’d argue, was much more one-dimensional. Anthony Parker would be the exception but out of the original starting five, both Jason Kapono and Andrea Bargnani are much more perimeter shooters than they are slashers, rebounders or speedsters.

I felt that a change in the starting lineup was due but not only that, some solidifying of the team’s rotation. As I recently discussed, it must be pretty tough for a player to come in and deliver consistent results offensively when they play 22 minutes one game and two minutes the next.

Look at a team like the Spurs or even Celtics. Boston has an eight-man rotation; the starting five, and three others: James Posey, Eddie House and Brian Scalabrine. Posey comes in to hit a few clutch 3’s and play defence on anyone from the point guard to the power forward. House comes in to shoot as much as he can. And Scalabrine, well, he comes in to get a bit of exercise.

Now look at the Raptors. I’d argue that besides Chris Bosh, and the point guards, Carlos Delfino and Juan Dixon were the only players who knew their roles. Bosh had his struggles early on but was getting fairly consistent minutes at least and was obviously still trying to round himself into shape. Delfino knew he was coming into the game as the first or second sub to rebound, play D, hit the open shots and do a bit of everything. Dixon, he was coming in to score and be a pest on the defensive end. And lo and behold, besides perhaps TJ Ford, these were Toronto three most consistent players.
But everyone else? I bet a confidential survey would reveal that the rest of the team was really in the dark. And that includes Anthony Parker. I think one of the reasons he struggled the first few games is because he wasn’t sure how to attack offensively in the starting line-up. Last year he was the main gun from long-range with Mo Pete and Jorge Garbajosa sometimes filling in as well. This year he had both Andrea and Kapono there and he just didn’t look comfortable in the sets. He seemed to be deferring to his teammates too much and it wasn’t until Mitchell started to shake up the starting roster that we saw the old AP again. And I think from now on he’ll be fine as he looks to both feel more comfortable in the offense and more confident with his shot.

My question though was why none of this was bandied about besides by us fans? As we watched the team struggle through four games, five if you count Philly on Friday night, clanking jump shot after jump shot, it didn’t take an NBA expert to see that things weren’t working.

The Raptors were so reliant on the jump shot that without Bosh getting to the rim, the team’s offence ground to a halt at times. The team needed someone who could break opponents down off the dribble from a position besides the 1 so that extra pass could be made for an open shot.

Enter Jamario Moon.

Moon’s athleticism is a great addition alongside A.P. and you’ve gotta give Sam Mitchell a lot of credit for going with a 27 year old rookie from the minor leagues as a starter.

Remember this is the guy the Toronto Star’s Doug Smith stated was never "going to play anything more than in emergency situations" back in October, only to last weekend compare his dunks to Michael Jordan.

So with Moon and Rasho as starters, and after Saturday’s crushing of the Bulls, is everything fixed?

I’m not sure.

While I’ve been a huge fan of Moon’s since I saw him at the pre-draft free-agent camp, I’m not ready to drink the Shawn Marion kool-aid just yet. I’m sure he’ll struggle at times as any rookie would and some nights he’ll look much more like Pape Sow than the Matrix.

In fact I think it’s not only too early to tell, but there are also still some other issues that need to be ironed out. Only you wouldn’t know that from watching Raptors TV.

Post-game of the Bulls win, enter the Swirsk.

During the regular "now we go back to Chuck and Leo for their thoughts on the game" segment, Swirsky berated fans, bloggers, media and message board enthusiasts alike for jumping off the Raptors bandwagon so quickly. In fact he basically took this "see, I told you it will all work out" attitude and lamented about the current state of "I need to see results now" attitude of the world today.

I appreciate the Swirk’s enthusiasm for the game, his knowledge of sports in general, and his smiley little face but this rant of his made me want to pick up Dan Gadzuric in my fantasy pool for his free-throw percentage. it wrong that this guy is making me miss Norma?? it wrong that this guy is making me miss Norma??

And let’s talk Bargnani. Once again on Saturday night Chuck started in on the fact that Il Mago’s move to the bench wasn’t a demotion.

My question then is what exactly was it?

Yes, no one is saying that Bargnani is Hoffa part II. But to say that it wasn’t a demotion is turning a blind eye to the facts. Andrea just wasn’t performing up to expectations in the starting line-up and the team was suffering partly as a result.

And it wasn’t just Andrea’s situation that’s been glossed over. Let’s take a look at Jorge Garbajosa.

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a report concerning Garbajosa and quoted "a Jurassic observer" who stated that Garbo was "…just not the same guy..."

Unless the "observer" was one of the coaching staff, I’m not sure how you’d know. He’s barely played and has looked healthy when he has played. In reports out of the Spanish press today, Garbajosa once again stated "for the last time, I’m 100 per cent healthy."

But something is obviously going on. How does your starting small forward go from being your glue guy one year to barely playing the next? And if he wasn’t in fact healthy, I don’t think we’d see Mitchell playing him at all. Instead, he’s playing in garbage minutes, the time usually relegated to those who are either in the doghouse, or just aren’t outperforming their teammates to play ahead of them.

I’m not sure if B.C. or Mitchell are the type to hold a grudge but you do have to wonder if Garbo’s lack of playing time is the result of his decision to ignore the Raptors’ brass, and play over the summer for Spain. After all, if someone were to tell me that Jason Kapono was coming out of the starting 3 spot in favour of another Raptor, I would certainly have guessed Garbajosa, not Jamario Moon.

This "grude theory" has apparently been confirmed by Garbajosa’s Spanish teammate Pau Gasol, who was recently quoted as saying that Jorge’s lack of playing time is due to "the Raptors having a bit of a grudge."

And add in an article from the Sun here and there and you’ve got all kinds of conspiracy talk.

No, there really is nothing like the media surrounding the Raptors at times.

I don’t think that Sam and co. are holding a grudge on Garbs. I just think he’s a bit rusty and other players have been outperforming him. Does that mean he’ll be riding the pine all season? I think not and his opportunity will knock. With this team though, it’s really going to be a fight for some players for every minute.

Which brings us to Joey Graham and Maceo Baston.

While Joey’s been hurt, it looks like he’s been passed on the depth chart by about four other players: Jason Kapono, Juan Dixon, Carlos Delfino and now Jamario Moon. The Raptors recently extended his contract so they haven’t lost faith in Joey yet, and it wouldn’t shock me to see Joey and Jamario trading off in the starting role at times for Mitchell depending on match-ups.

I’m open to this idea so long as I never have to see Jason Kapono back in as a starter. As I watched Mo Pete hit an "and 1" clutch 3 to tie the game for his new club the Hornets this evening, I took at look at the two players’ stats so far.

Kapono is averaging 8.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.4 assists per 24 minutes of action, hitting on nine of his 18 three-pointers.

Peterson? He’s averaging 7.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists per 24 minutes of action, hitting on eight of his 25 three-pointers.

Not a big difference is there?

I’m not saying we should have kept Mo, but for a player who was brought in as a serious upgrade, that stats aren’t revealing this to be the case so far.

And really Kapono is what he is, one of the league’s best spot-up shooters who should be coming off the bench for this team to help spread things out for the second unit. I mean, is there any difference between him and Kyle Korver? Korver so far hasn’t shot as good a percentage as Kapono but is averaging a very similar 10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in nearly 28 minutes off the bench as a spark for Philly. In my opinion Kap-one is best utilized in a similar role and my hope is that his off-season status and salary don’t determine his use with the club.

And Maceo, well, I’m still not sure why he decided to take a job with the Raptors. Godfather Maurizio must have done some smooth talking because unless the injury bug hits hard, he’s looking to be headed for even less playing time than he had last year in Indy.

Speaking of Indy, the Pacers are one of Toronto’s three games this week with their next match coming against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. I’m expecting Moon to get the start again in this one although between Ronnie Brewer and AK47, I’m not sure who he’ll be guarding. The Jazz look to be one of the league’s top five squads so far this season, so it will be a tough match-up for Toronto.

Win or lose, I’m going to be curious to see what rotations Sam Mitchell deploys and whether or not we see some increased stability in the club’s substitutions.

It's something I'm sure that will be a topic amongst the fans here on the site...because I'm certainly not holding my breath for any sort of analysis from the folks at Raptors TV.