Toronto came out flat last night against the Utah Jazz and as Franchise notes in his recap, he's seen this movie a few times too many already this season...
8 and 4.
Should that be the Toronto Raptors' record right now?
With last night's 104 to 91 loss to the Utah Jazz, Toronto fell to 5 and 7 this young season, however as a fan, it's hard not to look back at a number of games already and say "what if?"
For instance, shouldn't the loss to Memphis been avoidable?
What about the letdown against an under-manned Spurs team?
And maybe the Phoenix loss was one you'd place in the "anyone's game" column and therefore not a "shouldahadit," but last night's loss to the Jazz was one in my books that definitely should not have ended with the L.
For those who missed it, Toronto again took nearly an entire first half to get into game-mode, and then even though they managed to nearly pull even with Utah after being down by as many as 18, they ran out of gas in the fourth quarter.
However I don't think you can hang this one simply on "running out of gas," or "being tired on a back-to-back, and the final game of a Western conference road swing." Pure and simple, players aren't playing up to par on offense, and this team still is borderline atrocious defensively. Last night the Dinos had no answer for the small-ball back-court of Deron Williams and rookie Eric Maynor and while these two caused havoc for Toronto defensively, at the other end, the Raps didn't exactly do themselves any favours in terms of their own shot selection and strategy.
No need for panic, I was after all expecting a 5 and 13 start, but we're 12 games in, and it's time for some call-outs and early observations.
1) The Jarrett Jack signing isn't looking so hot.
Here are the facts. Jack is shooting 36 per cent from the field so far this season, 32 per cent from long-range, averaging less than 7 points, and most telling, went into last night's game with an almost even assist to turnover ratio.
I'm pretty sure that's not what fans or management expected when they invested their mid-level exception in him this past summer.
So, as one poster put it last night in our live game-chat, "is Jack the new Fred Jones?"
It's only 12 games in so again, I'm not ready to jump ship yet, but it's certainly a concern. Outside of his statistical follies, he just hasn't looked like the aggressive defender I expected, nor has he attacked the rim with even the same zeal as he did in pre-season.
And worst of all in my books? His ball-handling and decision making. I threw this out there during the game-blog last night and I will again; it scares me to say this but I felt more comfortable with Roko Ukic handling the ball last year than I do with Jack.
2) Bosh needs more help.
Bosh is putting up MVP-type numbers so far this season. Last night he dropped 32 points and 17 rebounds on the Jazz, but didn't get much help outside of Marco Belinelli in terms of offence.
While Hedo Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani at times have given him a boost on O, both of them, along with Jose Calderon have hardly been consistent. If this team is going to struggle as much as it has on D, then it needs a full spread of offense each and every night. This is particularly true if the team wants to keep trotting out DeMar DeRozan as a starter. I like that they're trying to ensure minutes for his development, but he's really not a factor the majority of the time on O. This is backed up by 82games.com which lists Toronto's best starting line-up in terms of percentage of time on the court ahead on the scoreboard (80%) as the Calderon-Belinelli-Turkoglu-Bosh-Bargs combination.
TSN.ca's Tim Chisholm noted this on Twitter last night and I completely agree; if this team wants to keep Bosh around, the players BC has brought in or held onto as starters need to start playing like ones each and every night.
3) The defense needs to improve.
I don't think anyone expected this club to be a lock-down type. However this is getting a bit ridiculous. Toronto now is allowing opponents on average to score almost 108 points per game this season, and is last in the league in terms of defensive efficiency. They're actually last by a good shot too, a full 3 points per game worse than both Memphis and Golden State.
Yes the Dinos rank atop the league in offensive efficiency, but considering their record, it speaks volumes as to how woeful their defense is.
4) Shot selection and offensive strategy need work.
Additionally, the team's offense is still far too reliant on hitting jump shots and 3-pointers. When things go cold, the club isn't attacking the rim, and of course defensively they aren't able to keep things close. This means that quarters like last night's fourth occur, something that's extremely frustrating to watch as a fan. No one goes to the basket yet the jump shots keep going up, and without a solid defensive scheme, the other team takes advantage and blows the game wide open.
It happened against Denver the previous night. It happened early against the Clippers, and Bulls, late against the Spurs, and for stretches against the Suns and Pistons. Last night the Dinos were 5 for 19 in the fourth and if you look back at the type of shots taken, you'll see that Toronto just kept jacking them up, attempting only four foul shots.
I understand that this team's strength is in shooting the J, but if they're not going down, TO desperately needs a plan B.
5) Where would this team be without Amir Johnson and Marco Belinelli?
I cringe to think of what would have happened had the Raps' front office not figured out that sign-and-trade option enabling them to grab Hedo AND the likes of Antoine Wright, Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli and Sonny Weems.
Remember, BC wanted to sign Hedo outright regardless!
Johnson and Belinelli in particular have been huge for this club so far with Belinelli playing a mini-Ben Gordon role and Johnson giving Toronto a much-needed boost of defense, rebounding and shot-blocking off the pine. Wright has also been a nice piece and even Sonny Weems has looked good in limited minutes. The bench is making up for some of the starters' flaws at the moment and as mentioned earlier, this needs to be corrected.
After this weekend's matches against Miami and Orlando at home, the schedule eases up a bit so we may get a more true indication of this team's abilities during that time. The club still is a long way from gelling, especially at the defensive end of the court, but there have been some positives to take from most games.
The team desperately needs to build on those over the next while to avoid falling too far behind in the standings so early in the season.