The Toronto Raptors kicked off the preseason last night against the Philadelphia 76ers in London Ontario. Howland takes a look at the positives and the negatives in the 107-98 loss.
Well let's call it a work in progress.
In the opening game of the preseason the new look Raptors really did look like a new team. Amidst the many positives to be taken from the game, which will be discussed below, they were mostly overshadowed by the numerous errors, turn-overs and mistakes that plagued the Raptors throughout.
Before we get to the negatives (and there was one in particular), let's kick-off the first recap of the season with the positives.
First off, props to the crowd in London. In a city where hockey rules the fans last night at the Labatt Centre looked to be in fine form. From what I saw and heard from the comforts of home it looked like an active and vocal crowd for a preseason match-up. If anyone was at the game last night we would love to hear what you thought about it.
Second, what's clearly obvious is that despite missing CB4 and the off-season's main acquisition in Hedo Turkoglu, this Raps team looks nothing like the teams of the past. This team is athletic from top to bottom and the depth is already apparent.
A lot of the raw athleticism was on display as a result of Coach Triano getting every player into the game from Calderon down to Banks. The minutes were spread equitably and each player had an opportunity to show what they could do. The results, for the most part, were solid. Players like Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson really stood out to me this evening. Both were extremely active on both ends and you had to love the aggressive style of play each of them brought to the floor. Weems was attacking the rim relentlessly and Amir did a great job on the glass, running the court and blocking shots.
While on the topic of athleticism DeMar DeRozan got his first action and was thrown straight into the deep-end. Starting at the SF position he was matched-up against Andre Iguodala. It wasn't a particularly noteworthy evening for the rook but he also didn't look out of place. As one would expect, he made some mistakes on the defensive end and on more than one occasion he left his man resulting in an open jumper. Offensively however, DeRozan managed to get his points in the flow of the game which is more than can be said for others including Marco Belinelli. On many occasions the Italian tossed up an ill-advised jumper. Hopefully his shot selection improves over the course of the preseason.
The newest Raptor who really stole the show last night was Reggie Evans. Right from the opening tip fans were witness to that gritty, physical style of play that has made Evans such a known commodity. Evans was aggressive on both ends of the court and early on took the game to Elton Brand. The result was a loud chant of "Reggie, Reggie!" coming from the stands. Evans found himself in foul trouble but that is something you can expect from him all season long due to his style of play. It's obvious, even at this early stage, that he is going to play a significant role on this team as he brings brings an energy and intensity that has been missing in the past.
Evans was not the only player in foul trouble last night as the refs were whistle happy, to say the least. The game itself was fairly choppy due to the frequent foul calls but also the tremendous number of turn-overs. Both teams look rather rusty and consequently the game didn't have much flow.
One player who looked particularly rusty was Jose Calderon. He had a bad game for his standards but there's little to take from this other than the fact that on nights where Jose struggles the team will really appreciate Jarret Jack. Jack played at both the PG and SG positions last night and looked under control and confident.. There's no question we should all feel much more confident this season when the second unit comes into the game as compared to last. Other than one questionable shot, Jack was solid.
Although Calderon struggled, Andrea Bargnani did not. In his 22 minutes of playing time Andrea had 22 points and they came from virtually everywhere. Bargnani's full offensive skill set was on display last night as he attacked the rim, used the pump fake to create space and shot the ball very well from the mid-range and beyond the arc. Of course the natural inclination right now is to check his rebounding numbers which were below par (3), but it was nice to see a confident Andrea who was not shying away from the paint.
All the positives aside however, the team's defense last night looked too much like last season's for my liking....as in fairly bad. In the first half, the Raps D was particularly pour. On many occasions players did not close out on shooters and too many rotations were late. One player that took full advantage of this was former Raptor Jason Kapono who had 12 points. It's a good thing that the regular season is three weeks away because if last night was any indication the team still has a lot of work to do on the defensive end of the court. Obviously in addition to the bad D there were way too many turn-overs but for now I am marking that up to the fact that these guys are still getting accustomed to one another and are just getting started.
Of course it is just one game and tonight's match-up may show us fans something different. It is totally possible that the defense looks much better. Obviously there is not much time for Triano and the staff to fix all that went wrong last night but it's simply too early to make any judgments at this point.
The only thing I can say with any certainty is that at first glance it looks like this team could be a lot of fun to watch.