How much can one change in one practice?
Just what did the Raptors talk about in their multiple player meetings over the past few days?
What chance do the Toronto Raptors have against the Jazz tonight?
After feverishly working to get our late night article about the Raptors' coaching change finished, my thoughts quickly turned to the first game greeting Jay Triano's Toronto Raptors. And then the second... And then the third...
This is some way to debut as a coach and we all have a lot of questions right now that will take time to answer.
One question brought up by one of my friends was particularly interesting. With all the different coaches within the Raptors organization, just why was Jay Triano hand picked? Was it a patriotic move and a move designed to eventually get Steve Nash on board?
Actually, I believe this promotion really fits Bryan Colangelo's modus operandi. Colangelo has always been a person that has talked about keeping the best basketball minds within his organization. He also values those that have stuck with an organization through good times and bad as evidenced with his time in Phoenix. Therefore most importantly perhaps, he rewards those that have shown their loyalty. Jay Triano, is if nothing else, has been with the Raptors organization the longest in a coaching capacity. More importantly, Triano is a person who has coached both at an international level as well as serving as an assistant at the NBA level, and I believe he completely fits the vision that both Bryan Colangelo and Maurizio Gherardini have for their team.
And while I don't agree that Steve Nash's arrival is immanent or needed, I DO believe that Jose Calderon has the potential to become Nash-esque due to his style of play. A strong dribbler, with good court vision who is always looking for his teammates, Calderon exhibits many attributes and deficiencies that Steve Nash displayed early in his career. By positioning Triano as the coach, perhaps Colangelo is hoping that Triano will be able to work his development magic twice in a life time and take Calderon into an elite level. At the very least, Triano will be able to make Calderon's transition into an effective run-and-gun point guard that much easier since he's done it once before.
In any case, Triano will have to be on the ball because he not only faces one of the best teams in the West, he also faces one of the best active coaches in the NBA. Against Jerry Sloan's Jazz, he'll have to maximize his weapons and try to institute his new policies gradually. This means evaluating today's game is going to be tougher than most. For one thing, we just don't know how fast Triano will try to implement his announced faster paced offensive schemes. Does he mean he's looking towards implementing some of them immediately? Does it mean that minutes for every player will change right now? I, for one, like hearing the fact that Triano aims to get his players moving and substituting in and out much more frequently than before. If it works, it'll mean that the Raptors will be able to get most hustle from everyone, but if it doesn't work well in this game, the Raptors won't be able to establish a steady rhythm due to an ever changing presence on the floor.
However, those players that have been around for at least the last two years with the team will be familiar with the goal of pushing the ball aggressively up the floor and making more frequent substitutions. It was the mantra during the 2006-2007 season after all.
Heck, even if they do get it working today, do the Raptors really want to start running against Western Conference teams? I mean, these teams have been running their entire careers, while the Raptors are only now trying to change strategies. The Raptors apparently had a solid two-hour practice session to work on their "tweaked" offensive schemes but until Triano can get back home and start to break old habits, I think we'll be left with a disjointed team. We'll probably have a mish-mash of Sam's traditional "horns up" offense, mixed with some new policies taken from ye olde Basketball Canada playbook.
Until then, what I'm interested in looking at for tonight's game is:
1) Point Guard Play -
Deron Williams was in my fantasy basketball pool last year, and frankly, I like him even better than Chris Paul as a passing point guard. Yeah, Chris Paul can shoot the lights out, but I think Deron is much better at managing the floor. Jose will need to try and make Deron take a lot of outside shots and limit his drives, something that he has been unable to do for most of this season. However, Deron Williams is a guy that shoots around 40%, so if the Raptors manage to get him to be the primary threat and rebound, they will have an opportunity to take the game. The onus on Jose will also be to call more of his own plays since it looks as though the Raptors will probably allow their point guard to control more of the flow of the game under Jay Triano.
However, what I'm more interested in looking at is Roko Ukic's play. In a system that demands a high tempo with the ball being pushed up the floor, Ukic is the man you want to be doing the running and the guy to be doing the pushing. Triano, if anything, has always been a coach that connects with his point guard, and in Calderon and Ukic, he has two players whom he can rely on to make smart plays thanks to their court vision. It'll be up to them to really manage the Raptors' new philosophy, so hopefully we'll see some new things from both our starting and backup point guards.
2) Man Up on D -
Accountability on defense has got to become the philosophy. The sloppiness and laziness of not at least attempting to keep in front of their man has been something the Raptors have been extremely guilty of so far this year. Relying on both Bosh and O'Neal to bail out the wings on blow bys has become a huge burden on our front court. At the very least, our wings should be able to at least slow the progress of opponents. Luckily for the Raptors, the Jazz do not have a multitude of extremely athletic players at the swing spots, but instead rely on crisp ball movement and smart plays to get the matchups they want.
3) Exploit Injuries -
It's a big "IF", but the Jazz are battling some serious injuries right now. Currently, Andrei Kirilenko is due back in the lineup for Friday's match up, and Matt Harpring may also be playing tonight. However, the Jazz are still missing Carlos Boozer, which means that the Raptors have to make sure they put a body on Paul Millsap and try and hammer the front court of the Jazz. If Kirilenko does return, the hope should be that Andrea Bargnani tests the big Russian's mobility early and often as Kirilenko's ankle may not be fully recovered. If the Jazz are missing players, the Raptors need to target those positions and exploit the thin parts of the Jazz's lineup.
As bad as the Raptors have played so far, the Jazz have not fared much better. Dropping three of the last five home games, the Jazz have shown some vulnerability at home. If injuries keep the Jazz from playing 100%, it'll be up to the Raptors to take advantage of the Jazz as so many have taken advantage of them over the years.
What I really think we should focus on is to see if Triano has figured out a game plan that will exploit the weaknesses of the Jazz. Sam Mitchell has been more or less content to keep things the same and simple throughout most of his coaching career. If Triano adjust things slightly to attack the Jazz where it hurts, it'll be a huge step forward for this Raptors team and be a good step towards establishing himself as a qualified coach in the eyes of players and staff alike. Yesterday most of the Dinos expressed little sadness about the departure of Mitchell and threw out the usual "this is the business of sports" type statements to the media. They also didn’t seem to take much blame for getting their coach canned so it will be interesting to see how they come out over the next few games.
I'm not looking for a complete turn around here, and realistically, Jay's going to need about a month to get his Raptors playing his way. But all that development begins with the first game, and here's hoping we'll get some answers to our pressing questions sooner rather than later.