After the Raptors’ loss to the Knicks last Sunday, I argued that in spite of a six-game winning streak, Toronto’s dismantling at the hands of New York showed just how much work Bryan Colangelo still had to do in the off-season, in particular at the defensive end.
The loss to the Hawks Tuesday night, a winnable affair, was further evidence of this and if you really needed more proof, then all you had to do was watch about five minutes of last night’s destruction at the hands of the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers are hardly the toast of the NBA in any particular area however they do run an efficient offensive system; one that exploits match-ups, gets out on the break, extends defenses with their ability to hit the 3, and gets second-chance opportunities in the paint for easy scores…
…all of which they did last night against Toronto leading to a game that was over by the end of the first quarter.
Yep…this one was pretty ugly.
However there’s a large caveat here.
Patrick O’Bryant started in place of Andrea Bargnani (more on this in a minute), and Quincy Douby, Roko Ukic, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, and Joey Graham all played 22 minutes or more as Toronto continued to take an extended look at the "talent" that had been spending a good chunk of time on the pine until recently.
Ask and you shall receive right?
I had wanted to see more from the aforementioned group and Jay Triano has done exactly that the past two games.
Mixed at best.
For starters, Patrick O’Bryant really hasn’t evolved much from the player he was at Bradley. He’s a decent face-up shooter, gets some blocks and put-backs due to his length and above-average athleticism for a big, but is still far too tentative, and raw to be anything more than a 10th man in this league. Numerous times last night another former college star at the 5, the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert, simply pushed PB out of the way and got whatever he wanted. In fact most of O’Bryant’s career-high seven boards came not out of hustle, but out of sheer luck when the ball dropped into his area code in the paint. He may be back next year due to his contractual status, but let’s just say I don’t expect to see him get many minutes outside of Summer League and Pre-Season.
In addition, how noticeable was the absence of Andrea Bargnani, especially on the defensive end?
Bargs may not be Dikembe Mutumbo, but he’s INFINITELY more of a defensive threat on the interior than O’Bryant and without Andrea last night, time and time again the Pacers got into the paint for easy scores.
The same was true on the offensive end, where minus Bargnani, it was even more of a jump-shot fest than usual, and with Toronto suddenly going cold late in the first quarter (the team shot a horrific 38 per cent on the evening), the Pacers blew the doors off this one early and often.
That being said, I have absolutely no problem with a loss at this stage of the game, especially if it’s coming partly because of increased minutes for fringe NBA’ers.
Quincy Douby has shown enough already in only limited minutes for me to say that even without taking salary numbers into consideration, I’d much rather have him back to fill out the bench then Marcus Banks (although maybe that’s not saying a lot.) And while the whole JYD Part II from Raptors’ Nation might be a bit pre-mature, there’s still no question that as an eighth man and energy guy next season, Pops Mensah-Bonsu is a big upgrade over anything else this team has. Last night Pops struggled offensively (he was 3 for 11) but next year I hardly expect him to be thrust into situations like last night’s where he’s expected to help carry the offensive load. Instead, I envision him as being that important boost on the glass and in terms of grit off the bench in various situations, something this Raptors’ team sorely lacked through most of the season.
The big question though for me is if Toronto can indeed retain him.
Yes, by signing him for the rest of the season Bryan Colangelo has the right to match any offer, but talking to Pops post-game on Sunday, it’s quite clear that he’s much more interested in minutes and fit then salary. In fact, he discussed the idea of being a sixth man for Toronto, a role he’s been filling recently for the team. While at present that works, if he resumes that role next year I’m pretty sure it’s a sad indication of how little the team will have upgraded in the off-season. So before anyone pencils him in for next year’s roster, let’s just see what other moves BC makes first.
One such move?
Perhaps an upgrade at the point guard position behind Jose Calderon.
I know many fans really like what they see in Roko, and I do too to a certain extent, but right now there’s still a huge drop-off production-wise when Jose goes to the bench and I’m not sure Ukic is even really going to break through until the season after next.
The problem is, with Banks already locked-up, can BC really bring in another point guard, even a more veteran presence, and take up a valuable roster spot, one that should probably be used to address more pressing concerns, like the 2-3 spot? It may be better to find a swingman ala Jamal Crawford, who can play some 1 in the crunch thus killing two birds with one stone. That would ensure too that Roko’s confidence doesn’t take too much of a beating, something that would probably be the case should another veteran 1 be brought in.
However I’m not sure you can argue that something doesn’t need to be done.
For all the rocks thrown at TJ Ford’s game, Ford obliterated Roko last night and anyone else who tried to guard him.
With the loss, Toronto continues to stick at the 30 game mark.
Should Toronto continue to find minutes for their "project" players, something I full expect Jay Triano to do, that mark is fine by me, in particular in regards to the draft, although games against Washington (two left on the schedule) could easily push that total to at least 32 when the curtain closes on the season.
There’s really not much left to play for, and the body language from even the Raptors’ veterans echoed that last night.
In fact I think that was another important point to take away from this loss.
Besides allowing for an examination of some of Toronto’s riff-raff, games like this also do a great job of putting a spotlight on those players, who even in the face of double-digit differences on the scoreboard, are still bringing it on each and every possession. It’s these types that the Raptors’ need more of next season, and unfortunately last night, there weren’t many to be found.
Jose Calderon, Chris Bosh and Shawn Marion were quite active at times, and Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Quincy Douby provided some lift, but really the only guy who stood out to me last night in terms of effort was Joey Graham.
Graham was only 3 of 9 from the field, but he got to the line 9 times leading Toronto in this regard. That was five more than any starter, and while it was perhaps the match-up against his brother that spurred him on, it was nice to see considering his questionable status as a Raptor for next season.
As mentioned, the Wizards are up next for Toronto in a game that pits essentially the two biggest under-performers in the league this season. However as opposed to giving their fans any false hope, Washington has been terrible from the get-go, and are currently trying to lock up first place in the Blake Griffin/Ricky Rubio race.
Toronto is still meandering around that ninth spot but if they continue to throw out the likes of O’Bryant, Douby, and hey, why not get Jawai up here too, then that certainly could change.
And with recent names like Evans, Derozan and Teague declaring for the draft, a higher pick should indeed be a focal point for this group.
Now if only the Knicks and Nets would win a game or two…