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Tip-In: Raptors Post-Game Report - Perception vs. Reality

After losing yet another winnable game, Franchise takes a moment before looking ahead to tonight's match against Atlanta, to contemplate the idea of perceived value...

"I don't get a vibe that they're scratching and clawing and that they're close...they gotta get it turned around, and turned around real quick here."

These were the words uttered by the one and only Jack Armstrong, after the Toronto Raptors dropped a 106 to 102 decision to the Washington Wizards last night, their eighth loss in the past 10 games.

On a one-off basis, it wasn't a bad loss.

This was two teams fighting to the finish with the Raps coming up short.  Toronto simply couldn't maintain whatever small lead they had during the match, and despite big offensive games from Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Chris Bosh, another L was the result.

The problem is, this wasn't two good teams going at it; no, this wasn't the Lakers and Magic in May.

This was two teams that looked like strong lottery contenders, trading bad shot for bad shot, poor defensive set for poor defensive set, and turnover for turnover.

It wasn't pretty.

And while Toronto got pummeled by Charlotte, relented to Boston's bullying tactics, and allowed Phoenix to run wild, this was the first game where I really sat back and said to myself:

"wow - these guys suck!"

And getting back to Jack's statement which I used to set off this recap, I'm not sure how even the most optimistic fan can say they don't.  The stats were good warning signs (last in most of the defensive categories and a 7 and 12 record to start with) but the proof was in last night's aptly coloured brown pudding shall we say.

That's not to say that the potential isn't there for the Raptors to be a playoff team, I still believe it is.  However the way this club is currently playing is closer to the D League playoffs than anything else.  And now with a daunting foe tonight in Atlanta, then back-to-backs against a Wizards team they just lost to and a solid defensive club in the Bulls, both on the road, it's not inconceivable that we're talking a 7 and 15 record by the time next week rolls around.

So what does this team need to do to get back on track?

Some of the media post-game asked about making changes to the starting line-up, to which Jay replied, "did you see any problems with our starters tonight?...we were fine in the first and third quarters this evening..."

Some asked about tactical changes on the second day of back-to-backs.

I say throw it all out the window.

This isn't on Jay.

Perhaps a few tweaks on his end would have won an extra game or two but the reality here is that he can't make Andrea do a better job defensively.  And he can't ensure that Hedo takes good shots in the flow of the game.  Sure, he can try to harp on those points, but the players playing the game are the ones who have to execute on his demands.

And this is my major problem; the players just aren't doing this right now and I'm not sure if they can.

I've been extremely critical of most of the players on this roster for a while now and last night's game did little to sway my belief that Bryan Colangelo holds most of these guys in too high a regard.  Everyone knows my take on Andrea, and even on DeMar DeRozan, but the real Bulls-eye for me is Hedo Turkoglu.  BC is paying Turk approximately $55 Million over the next five years to be a clutch player down the stretch for Toronto in close games.  The ROI so far on that investment?  Not good, and last night was Exhibit A.  Sure Hedo filled the box score, but he failed to make a single key play when it counted most; from grabbing a rebound in traffic to scoring with the game clock winding down...

...unless of course you count his buzzer-beater which thankfully secured pizza for a season low 15,766 ACC faithful.

Let's stick with Hedo for a minute, because I believe he's at the root of this team's current problems.  It blew my mind from day one that the Raptors were so keen on signing him.  Statistically Turk had been in a regression, he's hardly a "spring chicken," and while he can create for others and is a multi-skilled individual, he's a sub-par defender (and that might be generous) and shooter, and not the aggressive "basket attacker" I always felt the Raps really needed to complement Jose.

I would have preferred the Raptors held onto Shawn Marion, and I even went so far as to say that Hedo was barely an upgrade over Carlos Delfino.

"But Franchise, what about his vaunted playoff run last year?  Has he really fallen so far from that?"

My answer would be no he hasn't.

I really believed that both fans and management were victims of the Magic's televised playoff run, one that helped shape this "greater than life" image of Turkoglu, and helped to reinforce this perception of him as a clutch player.  The reality was that statistically, his playoff numbers were worse than his regular season ones, and in terms of "clutch" ability, according to, he was actually a sub-par "clutch player," with both Chris Bosh and Anthony Parker having better numbers last year in this regard.

However seeing Hedo hit some game-winners and clutch shots on prime time seemed to sway the general public's opinon of Mr. Turk, and suddenly he was being hailed as a huge off-season coup.

What about Courtney Lee in New Jersey?

Wasn't his acquisition in the Vince Carter trade with Orlando viewed as a big source of relief for all 10 Nets' fans?  I bring this up in comparison to Hedo because after all, wasn't the playoffs his big break-out as well?  Didn't he seem destined to be at the very least, a very solid starter in this league?

Perhaps...however ask yourself how Lee's fared this year.

In fact, has anyone even heard anything about Lee?  Sure he plays in the netherlands of New Jersey and has been injured, but for a player viewed as a key piece for the Nets to get back in the Carter deal, shouldn't we be hearing more about him?

My answer to this query would be, "no, not if he's not playing well."

And that would be the correct answer Alex.

I looked at Lee's PER to date and granted, it's a small sample size due to injury, but currently Lee is 199th in the league at 12.25.  The league average is about 15.  And our buddy Hedo is barely above that!  His PER sits at 13.81.  Contrast that with Shawn Marion who sits at 16.24.

Granted PER isn't the silver bullet in terms of proving that one player is necessarily better, or playing at a higher level than another, but it's not something you can completely discount as a performance measurement tool.  The stats don't lie, both Lee and Hedo have underachieved relative to the perception of fans and management regarding what each player was bringing to the table. 

(Sidebar - Lee isn't even the go-to wing on the my chagrin it's Chris Douglas-Roberts, a player I openly begged Bryan Colangelo to take a flyer on when he inexplicably fell into the second round of the draft the year before last.  Nope, apparently the Raps were fine with Nathan Jawai later on.)

And Hedo is certainly not alone in this respect.

Outside of Chris Bosh, Amir Johnson and maybe Marco Belinelli or Sonny Weems, it's hard to argue that every other player on this Raptors' roster hasn't underperformed.

And what scares me is this is at least the second (arguably the third) season under Colangelo's management where this has been the case.  BC's perception of player value has simply not become reality most of the time and the results can be seen on the court night in and night out.  Post-game Jay looked a tad too much like Sam Mitchell, standing at the podium, realizing that he had no answers for the media because he's stuck with these players; players who've been built up by management as the solution when he knows deep down that they're part of the problem.  I'd love to put Triano on a truth serum because I'm sure he'd vote to move half of these guys, even for lessor talented ones willing to do the dirty work.

Last night's match was one decided by "dirty work," a key rebound here, a made 3 there, a stop here...and Toronto was unable to get the job done.  In fact I thought it spoke volumes that Earl Boykins and Brendan Haywood were key players for the Wizards in the win; the two perhaps least talented yet grittiest options for Washington.  Toronto just didn't have enough of that.

So can we as fans chalk tonight's match up as an automatic L?  I've already said this team isn't as good as most people thought and now tonight they have to play an Atlanta team on the road on the second night of a back-to-back that is better than everyone thought!  Can we pencil in a 7 and 13 record?

Unfortunately I think so.

Until this Raptors' club starts showing some consistency, even in terms of the amount of fight brought to each game, it's hard to see many W's in the future.  However if a miracle were to happen tonight and Toronto were to steal a match, here would be my three keys to getting it done:

1)  Get Aggressive in the paint.

The Hawks are one of the best rebounding, shot-blocking and interior teams in the league.  Al Horford clogs the lane while Josh Smith roams from just outside, looking to reject any shot that enters his zone.  Add in the ruggedness of Zaza Pachulia, and smooth veteran savvy of Joe Smith, and Atlanta has a nice interior mix.  However they haven't been consistent in this regard.  Earlier this week, Ben Wallace essentially out-rebounded the entire Atlanta team himself en route to a Pistons win.  Not only does Toronto need a big game as usual from CB4, but guys like Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson need to dig in as well and fight the Hawks tooth and nail in this regard.

2)  Force the Hawks to the rim.

Atlanta is a very balanced team.  They're not far behind the Raptors in terms of offensive metrics, and are one of the better defensive teams as well.  There's simply not one glaring area to look at and ask the Raps to exploit.  However this isn't a team that gets to the free-throw line very often.  The Hawks rank 22nd in the league in this department, doing most of their scoring damage from afar; either off of 3-pointers or mid-range jump shots.  Players like Marvin Williams and Jamal Crawford excel in this capacity so tonight, instead of Toronto's usual defensive MO, I'm hoping Jay Triano instructs his troops to stick close on the perimeter, giving up the drive if necessary but ensuring that Toronto's bigs know this and are ready to help funnel attackers in this fashion.  To win this game guys like Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby just can't be allowed to drain open 3 after open 3.  I'm not suggesting a parade to the foul line either but to have a shot at a win tonight, Toronto needs to force the Hawks to put the ball on the deck.

3)  Get production from the bench.

Last night again was a struggle for Marco Belinelli and Antoine Wright.  While Jarrett Jack did a good job offensively, and Amir Johnson was his usual pogo-stick self, it's the former two that need to start stepping up if TO wants to hang around in games despite its porous defence.  Against a Hawks team that is ninth in the league in scoring, and a fraction behind Toronto in terms of offensive efficiency rating, this is especially true.  The Raps are going to need all hands on deck in this one - from starting five to perhaps even guys like Sonny Weems and Rasho Nesterovic.


We'll be live-blogging the affair as usual however we may be directing folks to SB Nation's Atlanta Hawks blog, Peachtree Hoops, to start this one as it sounds like some of us will be late to the party this evening.