If last night's 106 to 97 loss to the New York Knicks was the last game of the 2011-12 NBA season, how would you assess the play of the Toronto Raptors?
With a record of 15 and 31, would you say they'd overachieved considering their current winning percentage is .326 versus last year's .268?
Or would you say that .326 is hardly a winning mark, or even a mediocre one for that matter, in respect to the rest of the league?
I pondered these questions last night in the aftermath of one of Toronto's poorer performances on the season, a game that was never really close, and which was blown open by a 27 point Knicks' fourth quarter. New York outplayed Toronto in virtually every manner, looking nothing like the club the Dinos faced only weeks ago. Newly appointed Knicks' coach Mike Woodson has his troops playing a much more cohesive team game at both ends of the court, and Toronto was ill-prepared for such an assault.
However it's the by-product of Woodson's impact on team play that really stood out to me last night, and got me thinking about my original question in terms of the Raptors and expectations. By buying into Woodson's teachings, the Knicks are maximizing the use of their talent, something i didn't feel they were doing in the past. You could see it last night plain as day as Toronto simply was out-manned at nearly every position on the floor.
Point guard - Jose Calderon was ok, but couldn't match Jeremy Lin's impact and Jerryd Bayless suffered a hip pointer, removing him from action prematurely.
Small forward - Carmelo Anthony was a team high +28 last night while posting 17 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Aside from a nice block on Melo at one point, you hardly knew James Johnson played.
Power forward - Toronto should have had an advantage here but Andrea Bargnani continues to look like his 2010-11 self since returning from injury. He did have 15 points, but on some pretty poor shooting, and pulled in only two rebounds. Contrast that to Amar'e Stoudemire who had a very efficient double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds, including various takes where he cut right through Bargs like butter.
Center - Tyson Chandler had only four rebounds but his teammates were so dominant in this respect (the Knicks outrebounded the Raptors 46 to 30) they didn't need much more. Plus Chandler was huge in anchoring the Knicks' D in the paint, and was a force offensively, dropping in 17 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Toronto got almost nothing from Amir Johnson and Aaron Gray...well he got tossed from the game.
The only position that maybe you could argue about was shooting guard where DeMar DeRozan had a quietly efficient night on offense, scoring 17 points on 7 of 13 shooting. However he was repeatedly torched on D and in a game where the Raps needed all the help they could get, it would have been nice to see him get to the free-throw line more than three times.
The point I'm trying to make here is that games like this really serve in emphasizing this team's lack of talent. On most nights, the team just doesn't have the skills to get W's, and that's of course backed up by their 15 and 31 record. Many of the shots Carmelo Anthony took last night were no different than the ones James Johnson took. The difference of course is that Melo makes them on a much more regular basis. The same for Tyson Chandler, a 3.0 version of say Amir Johnson, and even Jeremy Lin, whose play last night looked something Raptors' fans might see if say Jerryd Bayless and Jose Calderon were fused together to form one player. Lin attacked the rim like Mr. Bayless, and yet dished it out via the pick and roll like Jose. Minus top talent, it's simply hard to win games and that's why in my books, and hearkening back to the start of this post, the club's surpassed expectations to a small degree.
I had predicted a record of 15 and 37 by month's end and with games left in March against Chicago (twice), New York, Orlando, Denver and Miami, that could still come to fruition.
But is that good enough?
Or should I say, "is that bad enough?"
I mean if you're a Raptors' fan and you watched last night's match, I'm at a loss to understand why at this point in the season, you're not fully behind the "tanking" idea. The club is seven games out of a playoff spot with that murderous schedule of match-ups on the horizon so forget playoffs. And more importantly, this team desperately needs elite talent and as they say, "to be really good in the NBA, you gotta be really bad."
Toronto sits with the fifth-worst record in the league currently, a shade ahead of New Jersey win-percentage wise, but could still conceivably finish behind both New Orleans (11 wins) and Washington (10 wins). It sounds like New Orleans will have Eric Gordon back shortly, and perhaps with Nene now in tow, the Wiz go on a bit of a run too.
Because even with cap space and the addition of impressive prospect Jonas Valanciunas this offseason, Toronto has a ways to go. Another blue chip talent would go a long ways towards righting this team's trajectory, something fans have been hoping for for the better part of five years now.
And something that we've been writing about here at the HQ, for even longer than that.