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3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Hornets

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Welcome back Mo Pete...

Welcome back Mo Pete...

Beyond watching the Toronto Raptors play one of their last two above .500 opponents this evening, the game will take on a special significance to me.

It’s the return of Morris Peterson and while it’s not quite KG returning to Minnesota, it’s the return of one of the few long-tenured Raptors who won’t get booed.

I don’t think…

As many of our readers know, Mo Pete has always been my favourite Raptor and while his last season with Toronto wasn’t exactly a tour de force, he still provided the club with many a memory.

He was the consummate professional (ahem, something you should take note of TJ) and I think this example from raptorsforum.com really does a great job illustrating his impact both on and off the court.

My favourite memory?

Tough call as there were too many "Mo Pete Gone Wild" shots to count, including one of the most ridiculous hail-mary’s of all time at Washington’s expense. But his defence and play against Vince Carter last year in the final two play-off games for the Raps probably takes the cake for me.

If you recall, Toronto got blown out in two consecutive games and looked to be sitting ducks in the series. Fans had been calling for changes to the starting line-up since almost day 1 and finally in Game 5 we saw Peterson slotted into the starting five.

He responded by averaging 13 points and nearly 7 rebounds playing 45 minutes in both games, all the while keeping Vince Carter frustrated offensively.

And of course after the fact, it made a bunch of us wonder what would have happened had Mitchell made the moves earlier in the series? Would we have been heading to Cleveland to cheer on the Raps against the Cavs?

Sort of like this year isn’t it?

Would Toronto have approached last year’s win mark with ease had we not been subjected to the forced Andrea starts?

Sure, water under the bridge to a certain extent but it sure doesn’t make me feel that great about Mitchell’s learning curve. I’ve never found Mitchell to be great at countering other coaches’ adjustments and let’s not even get started on rotation decisions.

Sometimes I feel that Mitchell is just too stubborn for his own good.

One of the key traits that I think make for good coaches is adaptability. How quickly can a coach react to an opponent’s advances and adjust accordingly? Could Mitchell integrate Shaq in the Phoenix offence in a mere five weeks like Mike D’Antoni has done?

I think not.

And if Peterson was still a Raptor, would he be relegated to bench time and spot up 3 pointers? Probably…but as we hear from Rohan of At the Hive and Ryan of Hornets 247.com in this week’s edition of "Blogging With the Enemy," even in a new environment Peterson’s being used in a similar manner…and unfortunately producing similar results:

1. RaptorsHQ: As a huge Mo Pete fan, I was sad to see him go but understood that he was no longer part of the club's future. However he seems to play about 20 minutes a night, starting both quarters for New Orleans and provides little in terms of scoring. Can you give us your take on the Mo Pete signing? Has he been worth the money or has he been viewed as a disappointment?

At The Hive: In a season full of superlatives, this is the one aspect that makes me sad. Peterson is one of my favorite players on the team, but the way the Hornets use him is not the way I envisioned it back in the off-season. I was thinking more along the lines of a slashing 2-guard, who could frequently cut to the hoop without the ball (what with all those crazy plays he made with you guys... I'm sure you must remember the headband blindfold lay-up?).

Instead, he's used identical to how we use Peja - get him open from 3 and let him fire. All in all, he is a good three point shooter (38%), and does help space the floor, but I'd much rather see Byron Scott involve him in the offense in different ways. In fairness to him, he's had a couple injuries that threw him off right as he began to find a rhythm once or twice. At this point, I can't say his contract was a bad signing at all. He's got our mid-level exception, which is by definition league average salary, and is on the books for another three years. So there's plenty of time for him to recover nicely; I mean, people were bashing Peja's deal left and right last year, but he's silenced them all this year.

As far as his minutes go - he'd be playing a lot more if it weren't for the emergence of rookie Julian Wright and trade acquisition Bonzi Wells. Both those guys are terrific defenders, and have been contributing well on offense as well. I wouldn't be surprised if Wright ended up being a starter next season, and Mo-Pete had a terrific year off the bench. He's definitely one of those guys you root for no matter where he is.

Hornets 24/7.com: The general consensus on most of the Fan boards is that he's a disappointment. I think all of them looked at that one fantastic year he had in Toronto and assumed he'd be bringing that to the table. Personally, I like what he brings to the table in hustle and defense, and he fits in extremely well with the starting five - spacing the floor and taking on the toughest perimeter assignment.

My only complaint is about his consistency. Either he's hitting everything, or he's hitting nothing. Still, having a guy that doesn't have to suck up possessions and is still willing to do his job is vital to that starting group, which has three capable scorers in Peja, West and Paul that all need their looks.

CP3 - Overshadowing David West or simply taking his game to another level?

CP3 - Overshadowing David West or simply taking his game to another level?

2. RaptorsHQ: I wanted to take a look at the numbers for David West and Chris Bosh side by side for a second:

-Bosh is averaging 22 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1 block while shooting 49 per cent from the field and 85 from the line. He's attempted 462 free throws a game.

-West is averaging 20 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1 block while shooting 47 per cent from the field and 84 from the line. He's attempted 299 free throws a game.

Besides their ability to get to the line, both are almost neck and neck in every category.

So here's my question - is West overshadowed by Paul's brilliance? Is he one of the most underrated players in the game and one capable of being an equal to Chris Bosh?

At The Hive: Hmm, I'd never seen their stats side by side before - that's pretty interesting. To answer your first question, West is overshadowed by Paul's brilliance, but in many ways, Paul's brilliance is what allows West to play his game well in the first place. But to say West is merely a product of CP's talent (one current go-to line in the MVP debate is "Paul is so good, he made a scrub like David West an All-Star") is to totally ignore West's style of play. West has a highly refined back to the basket game, finishes excellently in traffic, has amazing touch on 17 footers, and executes the drop step and fall-away well. Simply put, those are all skills that would translate well from team to team, regardless of what point guard is running the show. Does he get a few easy looks a night from playing with Paul? Sure. That's only to be expected. But West's offensive game is far less a creation of Paul's skills than is, say, Tyson Chandler's scoring average.

Is he vastly underrated? Of course, and CP being in the center of the MVP conversation only makes him more underrated for the reason I mentioned above. Is he or will he ever be CB4's equal? Now that's a whole 'nother story. Statistically, they might be the same this year, but I think Bosh is a far more athletic forward than West is; that gives him the potential to improve more on the glass, and especially defensively. That said, West has shown a tendency to keep adding new dimensions to his game - in his first couple years, he developed into an aggressive rebounder, then he developed a great touch from anywhere on the floor, and this year especially he's mastered taking it to the rim strong. So the question will be: who decides and puts in the effort to improve their games more? I think Bosh definitely has the higher ceiling to attain, but West could get near that.

Hornets24/7.com: West was an All-star this year, so I have a hard time saying he's underrated. Especially when I think of him as one of those borderline All-stars that may get one or two trips to the game during their career, but will never be a fixture. That said, announcers still get his name wrong all the time, and teams rarely double team him in the post, which is amusing because he can kill people one on one but still hasn't mastered the art of handling a double.

By any statistical measure (PER, Wins Produced, Win Shares, etc) there is a clear separation between Bosh and West. Bosh is just a more efficient player due to FG% and Free Throws. Could West beat Bosh's averages? Sure. Right now he's a second option on his team, and Bosh is the first option. If he got the ball more, he'd probably score more. Can he be more efficient? No, I doubt it. There's a pretty wide gap between the two, and both players are in their fifth years. It would be very unusual for either to make a big improvement going forward.

3. RaptorsHQ: Last question. What are the keys for the Hornets to steal one from Toronto at home?

At The Hive: First up will be rebounding. Before the Boston game (where we grabbed 95% of the available boards on D), New Orleans had been struggling on the glass - something unseen for the team most of the year. I know you alluded to Toronto's struggles on the glass, so this is something the Hornets have to make sure they own. Shots and jumpers not dropping won't be a valid excuse for us to lose this game; every time there's a miss, guys need to be looking for second chance opportunities. Second, and this is obvious, the three point line needs to be guarded at all costs, close outs on shooters need to be made. This was a huge issue in our Friday Boston game, where guys like Eddie House and Ray Allen (!) were getting totally uncontested looks.

That'll be magnified against a three point shooting squad of Toronto's caliber.

Lastly, and this doesn't have to happen for us to win, I'm calling a big game for Chris Paul in this one. Paul has had "rough" games of 21 and 10, and 22 and 10 recently (hey, they really are rough compared to the 15 and 20, 31 and 14, 37 and 13, 27 and 17, and 26 and 17 he's put up in the last ten game stretch (how spoiled are Hornets fans??)) and he has to be looking to bounce back from the Boston defeat. Of course I could be totally wrong, and Jamario Moon could stuff him like a
turkeyagain.

Hornets24/7.com: They need to hit their threes. The Hornets are a consistent defensive team, and their interior scoring is mostly generated by Paul and West, both of whom put up consistent numbers.

When you look at the games the Hornets have lost this year - of the 22
losses the Hornets have suffered, only three have occurred when the Hornets shot better than the league average from 3-point range. Two of those other three were still below the team average from deep. The three-ball is important to them.

They have had a little trouble rebounding recently. I can't tell if it’s a real concern, or just two or three games where things didn't bounce the right way. We'll see.

Thanks to both Rohan and Ryan for the in-depth thoughts on today’s game. Especially interesting were the thoughts on David West vs. Chris Bosh – our first key…

Franchise is looking forward to the Bosh-West match-up tonight...

Franchise is looking forward to the Bosh-West match-up tonight...

1) West vs. Bosh. I purposely asked both Hornets bloggers their thoughts on West and CB4 because I do think that West is one of the most under-rated players in the NBA. He’s added elements to his game each season, and could be the key for the Hornets tomorrow. Paul is at the "Kobe and Lebron" level where you know he’s going to get his. But if Toronto can’t control West down low this means open shots for Peja, Pargo and Peterson and easy put-backs out of double-teams for Chandler. I have a strong feeling that whoever has the better game between Bosh and West will have the final say in who wins the game.

2) Rebounding. Toronto has done a much better job in this department since Rasho has been re-inserted into the starting line-up. However Tyson Chandler and David West could present a problem down low as previously mentioned and guys like Bonzi Wells and even CP3 can get in on the action too. Toronto is going to have its hands full with West and Paul as is so preventing second chance opportunities for the Hornets will be paramount.

3) Perimeter Defense. This applies in two ways; one in terms of keeping Chris Paul’s penetration at bay and two, staying out on New Orleans’ shooters. The Hornets are quite similar to Toronto in fact in terms of great point guard play, the ability to shoot from long range and a low-post threat at the 4 and therefore without much of a slashing game, it’s Chris Paul that needs to be Toronto’s focus on D. TJ Ford has the quickness to stay with CP3 and hopefully he can keep Paul from getting into the paint to create easy looks on the perimeter. Jose will have a tougher time in this regard but as long as the Raptors understand New Orleans’ game plan and have watched enough game tape, they should be able to back him up. Easier said than done with Paul though right? Which is why besides keeping the former Wake Forest star under control, Toronto also needs to be wary of who provides help when Paul gets into the paint. The last thing Raptor fans want to see is Jamario Moon coming over to double Paul time and time again, only to result in Mo Pete having a season high day in scoring.

As a final note, I worry about the TJ Ford-Chris Paul match-up. There is a danger that Ford gets caught up in a mano-a-mano game with Paul, something I can easily see happening tonight. Paul has become the up and coming point guard that everyone talks about and you have to wonder if Ford doesn’t take this a bit personally, feeling that at one point he was that guy but was derailed by injuries.

The bottom line is that I’d rather see the Raptors make a statement with a win, than with Ford out-scoring Paul in a Toronto loss.

FRANCHISE