OK, you can score, Raptors.
But where's the D?
Another productive beginning that went to naught because the Raptors could not even manage token defense. For the second straight game, we got to see a Raptors team get out played due to athleticism, which is starting to become a major factor into the upcoming year. After all, the Raptors should not have been only up a few points at the half considering they shot over 65 per cent. It should speak volumes about what the Raptors have to look at in the off season, and just what Bryan Colangelo needs to select in the upcoming June draft.
We can give minutes and analyze Quincy Douby and Patrick O'Bryant until opening tip off of the 2009-2010 season, but they're not going to fix the fundamental problems of this Raptors team.
Simply put, there just aren't enough people on this team that play defense using their feet.
With the exception of one Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors allowed the Hawks to bomb from the outside after allowing dribble penetration to suck the defense into the middle, time and time again.
When it comes down to it, the Hawks are the best athletic team in the league, so we can't be too harsh on the Raptors. Still, seeing Mike Bibby, Flip Murray, and Joe Johnson dismantle the Raptors one play after another is simply unacceptable. And let's remember that this is WITH Shawn Marion on your team.
In fact, I'd say that this game was just about a mirror of the Knicks game on Sunday.
So what were the new wrinkles for the Raptors in this 118-110 loss?
Well, true to his word, Jay Triano found some additional quality minutes for his end-of-bench players.
Patrick O'Bryant was the first one off the bench, Pops Mensah-Bonsu played a few, and Joey Graham got extended minutes. Backup point guard duties were split as Roko Ukic got the first half and Quincy Douby got the second half. All players played minutes that were in a "real game" atmosphere. Credit has to go to Jay Triano for finding everyone quality minutes within the regular game flow instead of tossing the game and allowing the players a bunch of garbage minutes all together. In order to develop and evaluate these players, Triano played them while the Raptors were keeping it a game.
However, I'd also say that while all the players put in an admirable effort, nobody in particular stood out.
Starting with the three front court players, Pops Mensah-Bonsu has shown that while he has a lot of energy, he still has to take more time to look at the situation develop. His defense is still suspect as he often seems a bit lost and doesn't move his feet quite enough. But if you need a rebound or energy play, there's not a better player on this team that I can think of. Joey Graham, on the other hand, seemed to be pushing himself yet again and has not found the same groove he had a couple months ago. As a backup, Graham will undoubtedly have his moments, but the Raptors have to keep their expectations in check. And finally, Patrick O'Bryant gave the Raptors some less-than-inspired minutes. For me, O'Bryant's play was the most disappointing as he had difficulty boxing out the Hawks, especially Zaza Pachulia. Defensively, O'Bryant was a liability for most of the night as players challenged him with ease. In fact, his defense and rebounding reminds me of a "year one" Andrea Bargnani, except he doesn't have the offense to fall back on. His free throw shooting also needs a lot of improvement.
In the back court, the Raptors have a little more to be optimistic about. Roko Ukic ran the floor in the first half and showed us that speed that will make him extremely dangerous in the future. I am already eagerly awaiting to see the fruits of his work over the summer as he builds his strength and figures out his jumper. The encouraging aspect is just how much Roko has already improved from the beginning of the year. Quincy Douby, on the other hand, managed to be a steadying, if unspectacular influence on the Raptors in the 2nd half. He got the ball to the right person and never looked panicked or out of control. He even felt comfortable enough to toss an alley-oop attempt to Patrick O'Bryant.
But in the end, without some defense, the Raptors were doomed to lose.
Against Indiana today, the Raptors should look towards providing some more minutes in a similar vein. Placing all the end of bench players in the game will lead to chaos rather than comraderie. To make sure that the team continues to work on its strengths, we'll have to see a similar rotation scheme in today's game.
Here are the 3 keys for tonight:
1) Guard the Paint, then Guard the 3 Point Line -
For two games in a row, the Raptors have allowed themselves to get bombed and have been beaten up in the paint. Dribble penetration seems to first soften the Raptors, before a team goes for the knock-out punch late in the game with some timely 3's. To stop this, the Raptors need to make better use of guys like Shawn Marion. Marion is one of the players on the team that should have the speed to keep up with the second-best player on the opposition. The Raptors have to be careful about rotations out of help defense and all of that comes down to having players that trust each other. The season is over, but the core squad needs to keep developing their trust level for next year so we don't see the same mistakes that we've seen this year.
2) Ukic vs Ford -
I'd personally like to see more Ukic, especially whenever T.J. Ford is on the floor. I believe that Ford would provide Ukic with ample experience of the type of point guard the Raptors want him to be (attitude and me-first shot selection aside) and I also think that Ukic could learn a lot from guarding Ford for a game. There are few point guards in the league that have TJ's speed coupled with the ability to get to the rim which should challenge Ukic for most of the game. We already know that Calderon can beat up the Pacer's point guards, so it's now time to see what our bench can do.
3) More Pops, less Patrick -
Out of these two players, the one that most of us believe the Raptors will target in regards to retention in the off season is Pops Mensah-Bonsu. However, despite his energy, he needs to develop better defensive awareness. Defensive ability is one of the hardest things to develop, so I believe that the Raptors should try to find as many minutes as possible for Pops in the game. I wouldn't even mind seeing him come into the game as a Small Forward. Like former Raptor Jerome Williams, Pops has the gift of nearly limitless spirit and energy. However, that enthusiasm has often found him overreacting on the defensive end. Only experience will help him overcome this deficiency. As for O'Bryant, I am not sure he warrants another long look.
With the majority of the remaining games that the Raptors are playing being games against "lesser" opponents, Toronto has to find ways to make the most of their time. Developing young talent and developing chemistry have to be the reasons to play out the final games of the season. Defense always requires the most concentration and teamwork. The Raps can only benefit in the future from attention to details now, but the concern is that Toronto has allowed their opponents to better their already astronomical scores, which is unacceptable. If the Raptors want to prove to their fans that this core can win next year, they should prove it this year while they still can. After all, many of us are still watching.
Especially Bryan Colangelo.