So that Pops Mensah-Bonsu bandwagon is starting to get pretty heavy, isn't it?
Sure, the Raptors were due for a good game especially after the huge effort they put into Friday's loss against Detroit, but I've been pretty surprised by the sudden attention to the rebounding. Of course, the aforementioned Pops has been the catalyst of change. Just seeing how much his presence alone is changing the Raptors' image has been impressive. It's as if the fans have been dying of thirst in the Mojave Desert and Pops's energy and athleticism is the cool, refreshing water from an oasis. Fans just needed a guy like him on this team.
Which got me thinking.
Would you rather have Pops than Graham? How about Delfino?
How different would the Raptors look if Kris Humphries had managed to stay healthy?
Already, the RaptorsTV crew has started to talk about the salary that Pops may command in the off season. As we've all written about recently, this off season will be an interesting one for the Raptors, especially now that Pops has started to cement himself as a fan favourite. He's the guy we've always wished Jamario Moon to be but never was. His maturity on the court as well as his decision making process off the court have brought together basketball IQ wrapped in athletic energy. However, while I'm glad for his play, I'm also cautiously optimistic. It's too soon to say if Mensah-Bonsu's energy will be consistent over the course of a year, but I think the Raptors should not simply base their contract negotiations on a good week.
After all, we've seen good months come and go with a variety of players.
Such as Andrea Bargnani, for example.
Our resident flu victim came back with a vengeance to continue his roll and keep the Raptors involved in the game offensively in the first half. With Bosh doing his disappearing act from around the perimeter, it was Bargnani's offense that kept the Raptors within striking distance. But once again, I've just been totally impressed by our big Italian's footwork on the defensive end. There were multiple times when he closed off lanes to make T.J. Ford's life difficult throughout the game. He managed to make himself wide to keep Ford from driving on him in the game. And while Calderon's defense has gotten a little better the past couple of games, he's just never going to be quick enough to completely lock down Ford. But Calderon at least did enough offensively to counter-balance Ford's output while slowing down TJ just enough to allow guys to collapse on him.
Secondary contributors for the game included Anthony Parker, who got the short end of the stick by the refs all afternoon, Joey Graham with some good rebounding on the offensive glass, and a couple great dunks by Shawn Marion. This dunk in particular saw Marion rise far above Danny Granger for a posterizing jam, a throw-down as Franchise described of "Jerome Lane-esque" proportions minus the broken backboard. It rejuvinated the crowd at the ACC, the Raptors themselves, and was the game's turning point.
All in all, a pretty solid performance that came together thanks to energy and attention on the glass and defensive end. Heck, the Raptors practically managed to sit their starters for an entire quarter, allowing them to set up for the second half of a back-to-back. So for the Raptors to win toinght against the Bobcats, we'll need to see:
1) Better inside play from Chris Bosh -
Yeah, Chris Bosh didn't drive enough against the Pacers. It's fine. He's allowed to take a break every once in a while and he did do a great job on the glass even though he wans't scoring. But what I hope that Bosh has learned is that his greatest assets are quickness and decisiveness. We've seen Bosh get caught up with slowly letting the play come to him. How many times did the Pacers come after Bosh with help and strip him? The first half was especially brutal as Bosh seemed to cough up the ball whenever he put it on the court. That just can't happen against the Bobcats who don't have a super strong interior presence, but do have a lot of good help defenders in the form of Raja Bell and Raymond Felton.
Also on the Bosh note, be sure to check out the great chat with CB4 on Hoops Addict.com. Props to Ryan and his crew who've been doing some great work again this season.
2) Don't be afraid to put Pops at the "3"
We've seen spurts of having Mensah-Bonsu at the 3-position, but I think the Raptors may need his presence to counter Gerald Wallace if Marion has trouble containing him. If we see a little JYD in Mensah-Bonsu, I think the Raptors should consider using him like JYD at times. I've heard the argument that the Raptors lose something on the offense, but Shawn Marion isn't exactly lighting up the town, and Joey Graham hasn't been quite as effective lately. If you can have Bosh, Bargnani, and Mensah-Bonsu go against Okafor, Wallace, and Boris Diaw, the Raptors should be in good shape rebounding the ball. After all, that's how they managed to turn around the game against Indiana.
3) Race to 100 -
The Bobcats merely score 93 points a game. The Raptors score 97 points per game. While Larry Brown has attempted to remake his team into a defensive minded one, the Raptors are starting to understand their gifts by crashing the paint of opponents. Once again, Pops, along with Joey Graham, can be the potential catalysts to make sure the Raptors score at a high output. Second chance opportunities and easy baskets will be the name of the game to put pressure on Charlotte to score just to keep up with the Raptors.
The Bobcats have lost three-straight but were on a serious roll before that. The real question is if Toronto can somehow sustain the weekend's efforts on the road. After all, based on the latest power rankings, Toronto is still the "baconaise" of the league...
As the Raptors get ready for Charlotte, I'm beginning to feel like these final 20 games will be very important in determining our roster for next year. The emergence of Mensah-Bonsu as an energetic presence may drastically change Colangelo's shopping list for the summer. For us fans, it gives us something to finally cheer about as we watch the development of a high energy, high impact player. We've always lusted over players like Jason Maxiell and Paul Millsap who dominate the Dinos on the inside with their athleticism.
Now we have one to call our own.
PS - There aren't any Raptors on this list, but plenty of Raptors' fans least favourite opponents on the NBA's Top 10 Most-Hated at Bust-a-Bucket.com...