As we at the HQ have discussed with each other privately, coaching is something that most of us believe is a little overrated. Who is head coach matters very little, except in some extreme cases, and more importantly the coach needs to fit the style of the team the GM is building. As a cheap facilitator of Colangelo's plan, a Canadian, and a long time supporter of the organization, having Jay Triano back for another year doesn't really bother me.
However, assistant coaches can really shape your team.
It's not that I think that Alex English, Gord Herbert, and Mike Evans have done a terrible job creating this team, but I don't know if they're necessarily people that can bring out the best in this roster to play the style that Colangelo seems to be advocating. Toss in the fact that Alex English has stated publicly in previous interviews that he'd like to give head coaching a shot and I think the more interesting makeover will be who Triano chooses as his assistant.
I mean, is it really all that surprising we've seen Marc Ivaroni mentioned as an assistant next year?
Not to me.
This team, for all it's lack of athleticism, still has the marks of being pretty close to the Colangelo-era Suns. With some bigs that can run, a point guard that is gifted with a little speed but a lot of team work, and a man known as the Matrix, the Raptors are scoring efficiently and effectively, giving them a 5 game win streak.
Imagine a couple more changes to the lineup and a summer of completely adapting a new style could offer the Raptors?
So it's pretty interesting to now see the Raptors face up against the New York Knicks, and a man that Colangelo hired to run his Suns into a run and gun style. Mike D'antoni took about half a season to get the Knicks to learn to work the way he wanted them to. Changing styles is not an easy task, and having the right personnel is part of the problem. The other side of the equation is training and conditioning, something that has to be established in the off season. If the Raptors hope to change their team style in earnest, they'll need at least one summer of a cohesive strategy to come out of the gate running next year.
However, I don't want a version of the Knicks. I simply want the Raptors to get even better at what they've been doing for the last two weeks, and hopefully we'll see this continuation tomorrow afternoon.
Here are our 3 keys:
1) Protect the Paint -
After having a night off due to foul trouble, Andrea Bargnani will have his hands full assisting all the guards against the dribble penetration of the Knicks. The Raptors simply don't have quite enough athleticism and lateral quickness to fight off the speed of the Knicks. Granted, having a healthy Jose Calderon may make the difference in slowing down Nate Robinson ever so slightly, but Bargnani will have to use his speed to move around the paint to cut off the players that get close to the hoop. If they can do so, the Raptors will make the Knicks into an outside shooting team and at 44.5% and fourth worst in the league, the Raptors should take their chances.
2) Limit the Knicks' Possessions -
So with such a low shooting percentage, how do the Knicks average fourth best in points scored? Simply put, it comes down to possessions. The Raptors will have to make the Knicks work for every opportunity to get their mitts on the basketball by out-rebounding and causing turnovers. The Knicks allow over eight steals per game so the Raptors will need to take advantage by getting into passing lanes and using some quick hands. And by rebounding the ball effectively, the Raptors will make sure that the Knicks have limited opportunities to score. That means keeping pogo sticks like David Lee and Nate Robinson off the glass, not an easy task, but one that this team now with Marion and Mensah-Bonsu, is more prepared to execute on.
3) Energy and Scoring -
Following up on the last point, if the Raptors have trouble containing David Lee yet again, I in fact would not be so adverse to seeing gratuitous amounts of Pops. The Knicks need Lee's rebounding energy in order to get out on the break and run, and if Pops can disrupt that energy, the Raptors will be one step closer. Of course, the final key against the Knicks is to score. As bad as the Raptors' defense has been most of this season, it's been nowhere near as bad as the Knicks. Allowing opponents to score over 108 points per game at 48.3 shooting, the Knicks are amongst the worst in the league. So at the end of the day, the Raptors have to go for high percentage and lots of offense; their key M.O. the past few games.
To be honest, this game could be over early as long as our new-look Raptors put the pedal to the metal and jump all over the Knicks as they've done to previous opponents in the past five games. I don't think for a moment that the Raptors believe that this mini streak means that they've found retribution for this season, but at the same time, for us fans, it's at least a little entertaining to finally see the fight that we've wanted to see all season. Winning feels much better than losing, no matter the time or place and against what opponents. I mean, I'd much rather see the Raptors win games that we all expect them to win, rather than see them lose.
At the very least, hopefully we can make some of our players look more appealing to some teams in the summer.
One can only hope.