Vicious D chimes in with his first look at the Raptors in this young pre-season. And while it's too early to judge a lot of things, the last two games have proven to be fairly difficult to watch even if you're a staunch Raptors supporter.
Well that wasn't a whole lot of pretty was it?
If you're a Raptors fan and managed to somehow find the game yesterday, you witnessed a Chicago Bulls team expose your Raptors with a fairly sound 109-90 drubbing. And if you didn't and managed to go onto NBA.com after the game to look at some highlights, you saw a game that seemed to be dominated with Bulls highlights.
Let's try and get the good out of the way first.
Leandro Barbosa showed that he can become a catalyst on some nights when the Raptors absolutely need some sort of scoring presence. Leading the Raptors scorers, Barbosa has shown that he so far has few effects from the early ankle worries to start his Raptors' career. And while the Raptors struggle to find him the proper shoes, he continues to be an offensive threat that the Raptors will need.
The Raptors also continued to press their competition by getting 17 turnovers out of the Bulls, including 11 steals.
And Andrea Bargnani got on track somewhat.
With his most productive game of the preseason, the big Italian managed to score in double figures and even grabbed a few rebounds. Heck, with three blocked shots, we could say that the Italian has shown a little life.
But that's about where the prettiness stops.
Coming off the bench after Jay Triano and the Raptors fan population shows their impatience, Bargnani scored six of his points from beyond the arc and was therefore, only 1-6 from within the arc. Being replaced by the likes of David Andersen should have been enough to embarrass Bargnani into action, but at the same time, the kind of action we need has to lead to more baskets from within the arc. And take what you will from Barg's stats because he looked about as comfortable as mormon in a bikini. Nevertheless, I guess you have to start somewhere and going back to his "comfort zone" to get established is something.
Looking at the rest of the team as a whole, you just have to start shaking your head. With exactly half the free throw attempts of the Bulls, I keep wondering where the personal fouls production against opponents is going to come from. Quoting from Butch Carter and his famous philosophy, fouls are how you make sure you are playing against the other team's B-team. It's an easy way to get into a rhythm, conserve your own energy, and get the opponent's key players off the floor. Without those free throws the Raptors will be in it tough for most of the year, and it's a pretty big concern for this fan. It's just not going to be acceptable if the Raptors are half as good as other teams at getting to the line while only making less than 70% of their shots.
The other staggering statistic is how Joakim Noah nearly managed to out rebound the entire Raptors front court. Noah, who had 14 rebounds, was barely out rebounded by David Anderson (3), Amir Johnson (3), Reggie Evans (5), Andrea Bargnani (3), and Joey Dorsey's (1) combined 15 rebounds. No matter how you make choose to analyze this stat, there's just nothing positive to look at. Not necessarily surprising, but it's perhaps an indictment of the Raptors as a whole and an indication of how important Linas Kleiza's work in rebounding is sorely needed.
But the thing about pre-season is exposing these flaws early so that Jay Triano can work on them before the season starts. While I am throwing last night's game in a fairly negative light, I also think that these games should be indicators of just how much we should be tempering our expectations. And while I think the Phoenix game sure was fun to watch, games like the Boston game and yesterday's Bulls game offer a lot more insight into the kind of work that Triano and his staff need to put in with this team.
And yes, I'm trying my hardest to not just toss the entire book at this team right now because for the next month or two, this team is going to be very much a "work in progress".
With the next game being tomorrow, it'll be a pretty quick turnaround time for Jay and his staff to try and get things set against Philly. Sure, we're not talking about one of the big ticket teams of the year, but when it comes down to making sure these Raptors have a magical season, Philly is going to be one of those teams I'll be using to measure our boys against.
They simply have to be better than teams like the 76ers if they hope to overachieve.
With four regular season games coming up against Philly and the 76ers still struggling to come to terms with melding Elton Brand into their team, this simply has to be one of the teams that the Raptors have to be better than this year. As the Raptors develop into a more athletic team playing aggressive D, they should theoretically be able to match up very well against a Philadelphia team that has lost the inside presence of Samuel Dalembert. Andre Iguodala is prone to making a lot of turnovers and Leandro Barbosa is quick enough to defend Louis Williams should he start to torch the Raptors' point guards. I believe the Raptors should have plenty of opportunities to run out and recover.
But for me, this Raptors team is going to win based on a couple factors that are a concern for me this year. One is going to be the free throw shooting aspect of this club. Granted, we all knew that supplementing Bosh's nearly 10 trips to the line a game was going to be near impossible, the free throw percentage of the team has been of great concern to me. They simply have to make every free point count.
The other is going to be turnovers and specifically how many they can generate at a given time. With the Raptors relying a lot more on their aggressive D this year and their shooting percentage projected to dip, there's only a couple ways where the Raptors can generate more possessions over the course of a game. We saw what a lack of aggression led to in the Bulls game and with rebounding going to be an ongoing concern, I'm going to look to one of the Raptors' few projected strengths to even out their deficiencies.
However, what I want to see the Raptors do more than anything against Philly is just compete hard.
I don't believe that if Jay Triano chooses to start guys like Andersen and Wright that the Raptors will have a ton of possibilities to win in the pre-season, but I think what we all want to see is Triano solidify the identity that he wants for this team. Even in the Boston loss, the Raptors were fairly aggressive and kept the game pretty close when Boston's starters were in the game. It's little indications like this that are encouraging to me and here's hoping that tonight's Philly game will go towards cementing that.
At the very least, that effort will make the game entertaining.