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Tip-In: Toronto Raptors Post Game: Things I've Learned

With no Jose to slow him down, Nash put on an MVP performance for the Suns in their win...

With no Jose to slow him down, Nash put on an MVP performance for the Suns in their win...

A lot of the time us Raptors fans have no idea what we’re talking about.

One minute we think Ed O’Bannon is the saviour for the franchise, the next, we’re soooooo glad that Might Mouse was the eventual selection in the team’s first-ever draft.

However there have also been times when the fans have been bang on in their assessment and probably could have done a better job shaping the future of this team.

There’s not a single fan out there who would have chosen Hoffa over Andre Iguodala.

Danny Granger was a pretty consensus choice for most instead of either CV or Joey Graham in the 2005 draft.

And, I’d be hard-pressed to find too many fans who thought that allowing Vince Carter to be moved to the Nets for spare parts and a grumpy Aloznzo Mourning was a good idea.

Adding to this list are probably to other topics from this year - the back-up point guard situation, and wanting to see Joey Graham in the starting line-up.

I may have been ranting since July about the PG affair but to this day, I can’t for the life of me understand why Bryan Colangelo decided that having two point-guards with no recent NBA experience at the position was a good idea; especially considering they were backing up a point guard who had yet to play the position as a starter for an entire season. When you pull the trigger on a deal for a veteran presence like JO, it’s pretty clear that you’re going all out – this is in no way a rebuilding attempt. So why then aren’t you looking to ensure that perhaps the most important position on the court isn’t safe-guarded as much as possible as well?

A perfect example of this is last year’s Boston Celtics who while were getting solid play from Rajon Rondo, went out and acquired grizzled vet Sam Cassell for the stretch drive. They just weren’t leaving anything to chance in case of inexperience, injuries, or what have you.

Toronto of course was in a slightly different situation due to finances but if you look back at the trade that sent TJ Ford and co to Indiana and returned O’Neal, it would have been easy to have had the Pacers throw in a more experienced 1 like Travis Diener, a true point-guard with experience in the league and long-range shot to boot.

The expression is of course "you can’t cry over spilt milk," but yesterday’s starting of shooting guard Anthony Parker at the 1 over BOTH of Colangelo’s back-up signings had me doing just that.

Maybe not the crying part, but again shaking my head at something that seemed illogical at the time, and this season has indeed come home to roost. Much like the curious overpayment of Maceo Baston (can you believe he’s making over $2 Million this season thanks to BC?) to the Solomon acquisition, it seems that every year Colangelo has reached on an import that simply hasn’t panned out. That’s fine when you’re looking at taking chances on a rebuilding program – but when you expect the club to compete with the elite of your conference, that’s another thing altogether.

Yesterday, as Roko Ukic made a few egregious fouls down the stretch that allowed Phoenix to retain their lead, you could see Jay Triano attempt to pull out his hair in frustration.

The funny part was that Triano then soon remembered that he:

a) had no hair to pull out and

b) was dealing with a point guard that was still learning on the job, something his predecessor Sam Mitchell had stressed time and time again to the media.

Anthony Parker was solid, especially on the offensive side yesterday running the show, but the fact that he was coach Triano’s choice to start at the 1 over either back-up point guard that had been brought over in the off-season, told you all you needed to know about how NBA-ready both Solomon and Roko are…even after half a season in the big leagues. And without much experience or leadership at the 1, the Raptors gave up 22 points to the Phoenix Suns in a 117 to 113 loss yesterday, these points coming off of 15 mostly unforced errors, something that’s plagued the team since Jose Calderon went down with a hamstring injury.

In addition, having Parker, usually the one who defends opposing 2’s and 3’s in the line-up along with Graham and Moon, two other players who traditionally have dealt with 2’s and 3’s, seemed to have Toronto’s defence out-of-sync at times yesterday, and Phoenix shot a ridiculously high percentage through most of the game. They finished at almost 55 per cent and with TO unable to get stops when it mattered most, or capitalize on their own chances near the end of the game, the result was another Sunday afternoon heartbreaker.

Steve Nash lead the charge for Phoenix with an incredible 18 assists, and dropped in the tear-drop dagger high off the glass to put his Suns up for good. But it wasn’t just him as the Suns possess perhaps the most offensively gifted club in the league and it’s scary to see guys like Barbosa and Barnes coming off the bench, both capable of putting up over 20 points a game as starters on other clubs. Even with a great scoring afternoon from the Dinos’ starting five, there just wasn’t enough firepower to fight fire with fire and the defense wasn’t making the difference at the other end.

Yes, another game that could have been a Toronto W got away from them, and even though the effort was the best since last Monday’s game in Boston, we saw something that’s been a regular occurrence in this disappointing season; a hard-fought game within reach for the Raps ending up in a loss.

However in some ways, this season, while a mess in the short-term, may indeed end up being the best possible thing for the franchise long-term.

With the slate of games being so busy around the mid-point, we here at the HQ haven’t had a chance to dole out our annual grades so instead, let’s look at a few key things we’ve learned so far this season, 42 games in:

1) Chris Bosh needs help. I think this was obvious from the get-go so not much to elaborate on here. Bosh has been at times an MVP-type for Toronto and at others, still shows that he has room to grow, especially regarding certain match-ups, like the dreaded Kevin Garnett assignment.

2) Andrea Bargnani has a future in this league. Less than a month ago most fans and media types were beginning to believe that Il Mago was the second coming of "El Busto." However his recent play has opened eyes and suddenly he looks like the player Bryan Colangelo and co. expected him to be. His development has made Jermaine O’Neal expendable and any day we could see JO shipped off to Miami in exchange for Shawn Marion. (Interestingly, Marion was held out of the Heat’s match yesterday against the Thunder. The club claimed it was due to a slight injury, but who knows, this deal may go down any minute now.)

3) Joey Graham also has a future in the league. Maybe one of the best decisions Bryan Colangelo ever made was to have Joey Graham play in this past summer’s Vegas Summer League. It seemed to renew Joey’s confidence and since the start of the season we’ve seen a more aggressive and fundamentally sound Graham. His play yesterday against Phoenix (22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) was his most inspired to date and suddenly he looks like a player Toronto must retain this off-season.

4) Anthony Parker can handle some point-guard duties and light it up when he’s not having to guard the opposing team’s best wing. I noticed earlier this season that some of Parker’s best offensive work comes when he’s not chasing the likes of Lebron James or RIP Hamilton around all night. Yesterday, trying to contain the much smaller Steve Nash, Parker had trouble keeping him out of the paint, but the physical burden was much less on AP than usual and he went off putting in a team-high 26 points to go with 7 rebounds and 5 assists. He, like Graham has a contract that expires at the end of the season and it would be a huge asset to retain AP come season’s end if the price is right.

5) Jamario Moon will never be that slashing 3 the team needs, and is best served in an energy role off the bench. End of story.

6) Roko Ukic needs some seasoning and experience, but he is a keeper as well. Another off-season and some summer league probably does him wonders, even if he's not quite ready next season to be the full-time back-up.

Therefore it’s probably not too early to look at who should be retained by Colangelo next season and who could be shown the door.

The short list on the "To Keep" side, in order of importance to the club includes:

-Chris Bosh
-Jose Calderon
-Andrea Bargnani
-Joey Graham
-Anthony Parker
-Roko Ukic

Andrea may end up higher on this list when all is said and done but right now, Jose still gives this club more overall value.

Who would have thought Alfred E. Bargnani would be this valued a month ago?

Who would have thought Alfred E. Bargnani would be this valued a month ago?

After that, I think the rest are expendable. Jamario Moon would be a nice option cheap off the bench if BC can do it, Jason Kapono is over-paid but another guy who might have increased value if the right pieces are put around him, and guys like Jake Voskuhl and Kris Humphries still have some limited worth if they accepted a similar role next year.

But realistically, the club should have Bosh, Bargs and Jose as starters, and maybe either Parker or Graham depending. But there needs to be a major push for a starting 2/3, and then some bench depth in the form of athleticism, toughness and rebounding. Yes, all tall orders but ideally, I think the club would have either Parker/Graham coming off the bench, whichever isn’t kept as a starter, a legit back-up point guard (I’m not sure Roko will be ready full-time next year), then a physical presence who can back up either Bosh or Bargs.

And no, that does not mean Kris Humphries…

…and probably not Nathan Jawai either.

So at present, this team’s goal regardless of trade talk, should be to keep improving, even if it’s incrementally.

That means getting some solid wins and this afternoon’s match against the Atlanta Hawks would be a good place to start.

Here are our 3 keys:

1) Perimeter Defence –

The Hawks are the 4th best 3-point shooting team in the league at present hitting over eight a game. They also penetrate well, and score in the paint and are therefore one of the NBA’s top clubs in terms of offensive efficiency. This afternoon the Raps need to do a much better job defensively than they have in the past two. This means getting after the likes of Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby, traditional Raptor killers, and prevent them from getting open looks or drives to the hoop. Who knows if Jermaine O’Neal will play so Andrea and Chris need to protect the rim as much as they can. We saw both have foul issues yesterday against Phoenix, something they’ll have to try and stay away from today.

Can AP contain Bibby and co this afternoon?

Can AP contain Bibby and co this afternoon?

2) Take care of the ball –

One of the biggest things that has hurt Toronto as of late is point guard play. Unnecessary turnovers have killed momentum, and have also meant that the Dinos have missed on some opportunities in the clutch. (Yesterday was a prime example of this.) It’s likely that Parker gets the start again today (who knows when Jose will be back) but I’m not sure he’ll be nearly as effective. While Nash is the superior player, Mike Bibby promises to be a more physically challenging match-up. If Parker struggles early, and neither Solomon nor Ukic can get it going, it could be a long afternoon.

3) Get out and run –

ATL for all their offensive efficiencies play at a fairly slow pace compared to other NBA clubs. Toronto also plays at a plodding pace but have made an effort to pick things up lately. This isn’t going to be an easy match for TO, especially since the Dinos are short-handed, so getting out in transition and getting some easy baskets is paramount. The Hawks are missing Al Horford so in addition to getting out on the break, I’m hoping to see some quick decisions inside by Bosh and Bargnani, especially in terms of attacking the rim and drawing fouls. If Toronto can put points on the board with the clock stopped, this could very well be the great equalizer against a Hawks team that’s flying high so far this season.