Last night's obliteration at the hands of the Boston Celtics echoed a key point for the 2011-12 Toronto Raptors; this is a jump shooting team that can't shoot. The HQ discusses...
How good are the Toronto Raptors?
Or let me rephrase that.
How bad are the Toronto Raptors?
It's a question that I was left to ponder in the wake of last night's debacle, which saw the Boston Celtics absolutely crush the Toronto Raptors by a score of 100 to 64, leaving the Dinos with a record of 7 and 16 about a third of the way through this shortened season.
If you tuned in for last night's affair, first, you're a very brave person, but second, you probably left thinking that outside of maybe the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats, 44 point losers themselves yesterday evening to the Portland Trailblazers, there isn't a worse team in the league.
But the team's record so far this season of course would say otherwise.
At 7 and 16, Toronto sits behind the aforementioned Wizards and Bobcats in terms of losses, as well as the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Hornets and Detroit Pistons.
In addition, the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, New Jersey Nets and Golden State Warriors are hardly miles ahead in the standings.
The reality is that the Raps are sitting about where I thought they'd be sitting at this time, having predicted a 7 and 15 start after two months of play, and with games coming up against the Wizards (two games), and other cellar dwellars such as the Knicks, Bobcats and Pistons in February, the 11 and 24 mark that seemed plausible to me by March 1, seems to be easily within reach.
The one factor that could change that projected pace is of course the return of Andrea Bargnani.
It's been said already on numerous occasions but I'll say it again this morning; with Andrea, this isn't a very good team.
...well...you saw the last two games.
Forget effort and heart and all those basketball "intangibles" that people like to throw around, there's just not a lot of talent at head coach Dwane Casey's disposal.
In all seriousness, this is a team that's forcing Aaron Gray to be its go-to low-post option, using James Johnson as its small forward despite an inability to create off the bounce or score consistently beyond eight feet, going with a career 20 per cent 3-point shooter in DeMar DeRozan as its starting shooting guard...
And on and on.
There are certainly nights when one of these guys, or a bench player such as Leandro Barbosa or Jerryd Bayless get it going, but it's extremely rare for all to be effective at once, and this is especially true minus Andrea Bargnani.
Look at Amir Johnson for instance.
Can anyone argue that his effectiveness on offence hasn't been slashed to bits minus Bargs?
With Andrea, suddenly passing lanes are opening up for Amir's patented duck-ins, as well as pick-and-roll action with Jose Calderon. Suddenly clubs are drawn outside of the paint to Andrea, opening up offensive rebounding options for the spry Johnson, as well as giving him space for his 15-footers.
...well again, I'll point to the last few games.
Of course the absence of Andrea doesn't explain all of the team's individual and team woes. Last night the Raptors' defence looked suspiciously like that of years past, allowing the Celtics to shoot 52 per cent from the field, and 50 per cent from long-range.
Again, this is a club employing mainly reserve quality NBA players as starters, something echoed by various metrics, be it win score, PER, or simply the team's current 7 and 15 record.
Factor in a lack of familiarity and practice time, and mix in inexperience and a new coaching system and you've got all the elements for a pretty rough year. Last night these elements stood out like a sore thumb as the well-oiled machine that is the Boston Celtics ran crisp execution after execution, while Toronto stumbled and bumbled through 15 turnovers and numerous blown possessions.
And as the deficit on the scoreboard mounted, the Raptors' moxy dropped in the opposite direction.
Dwane Casey can shake up the starting line-up all he wants but there are just going to be nights like this, nights when the team's inexperience and lack of talent shines bright and bold, and there's not much us fans can do but grin and bear it, as the bricks pile up.
Because make no mistake about it, this is a brick-laying club minus Andrea Bargnani.
We're talking about a team that attempts 21 shots a game near the rim, the fifth lowest mark in a league where the average is 23.
From 3 to 9 feet, it's equally as bad, where the Raptors are a shade off taking the fourth least amount of such shots in the NBA, at under nine a contest.
No surprise then, Toronto takes 23.6 shots from 16 to 23 feet, a shade behind Philadelphia for third-most in the association.
The difference though is that the 76ers are hitting 41% of said shots.
Toronto is converting on a measly 34 per cent.
In many ways that stat sums up the current situation for the Toronto Raptors. They're a team of jump shooters who can't hit jump shots and as we all know, that's not exactly a recipe for success, whether you're playing in the NBA or at the local Y.
It's also one of the main reasons the team keeps getting behind so fast in first quarters; look at the starting group! DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson are hardly Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in the shooting department and Ed Davis, while effective on the glass, is hardly Chris Bosh from the elbow. Factor in Jose Calderon's current shooting issues (0 for 5 last night, 36 per cent over last eight games) and it's pretty ugly. Suddenly Aaron Gray is the team's best option in terms of high percentage shots and while he was pretty solid last night for TO, you just can't rely on him to put up 30 points for you.
Unfortunately I'm not sure trying guys like Leandro Barbosa and Jerryd Bayless will change things that much. Again, both are volume scorers and while they're more likely to attack the cup, neither are exactly facilitators on offense which again hurts the club.
Point being, I don't see a real solution here until Andrea gets back and helps open things up. Players like DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon definitely need to shoot more efficiently and do a better job running the offense (DeRozan had three needless turnovers last night as well as making numerous plays late in the clock that led to more by his teammates) but it's hard for a leopard to shed its spots as they say. This club just doesn't have a lot of efficient offensive options, so it may fall on Dwane Casey to start getting really creative with his play-calling until Andrea returns.
It's either that, or hope that this whole Wilson Chandler rumour comes to fruition...