Last night's win over the New York Knicks again gave fans a glimmer of what might be on the horizon for the Toronto Raptors. But the HQ argues that the club simply can't wait any longer for this "glimmer" to become a consistent ray of light...
It's nights like those that make you think don't they.
You see DeMar DeRozan exploding to the hoop, drawing the foul, or converting on a dunk in transition.
You watch Andrea demand the ball in the post against Amar'e Stoudemire, turn, and swish a smooth 12-footer over the Knicks' big-man.
And you witness James Johnson rebounding in traffic, finding cutting teammates on the break, blocking shots, and even driving to the hoop to dunk over helpless pylons like Steve Novak.
For a night it's like Obi-Wan-Kenobi waves his hand in front of your face and says:
"These are not the Toronto Raptors that you are looking for."
And last night, in their 96 to 79 demolition of the New York Knicks, indeed, these were not your usual Toronto Raptors.
Not the ones that before the match, had won 15 out of a possible 47 games.
In fact I couldn't help but watch the match and think "man, Bryan Colangelo must be going batty right now." I mean, what inspires DeRozan to suddenly morph into Kobe-light, scoring 30 points on 11 for 17 shooting while getting to the line nine times? In the two previous matches he did average 20 points combined, but it was hardly an efficient 20, and he disappeared at key moments in both - both winnable games I might add.
And maybe Andrea's finally getting his game back after a long lay-off due to injury, but tonight it wasn't just about hitting shots that he previously had been missing. No, tonight you could see him demand the ball as mentioned, above, could see him barking out instructions to teammates, and looking much more aggressive at both ends of the court.
So will the real Toronto Raptors please stand up?
The Dinos take on the Chicago Bulls tonight and any Raptors' fan who's at least watched a chunk of the season, knows it would be foolish to bet the Knick-conquering version of the team shows up. They've been consistently inconsistent in nearly every way this year, both from a team standpoint right on down to the individual players that comprise Canada's only NBA squad.
Gary Forbes scores 19 points in 19 minutes against New York last night? Well tonight he might end up playing half that time, failing to register a blip on the match's box score.
The whole thing is of course frustrating as hell to us fans, but getting back to Bryan Colangelo, doubly vexing for him, considering that these up and down results make his job incredibly difficult. How can he properly evaluate a team of players that very rarely gets the same result from game-to-game?
Even the club's two most consistent members last season, Amir Johnson and Jose Calderon, have struggled with inconsistent play. Jose was playing some of the best basketball of his career early in the season but since returning from injury he's been up and down too. Last night he dished out 10 assists, but missed all 10 field goals finishing with but two points. Amir? Who knows what's going on there but suffice to say that this is not the same Amir Johnson that we saw last season. He's averaging over 2 points less per game, turning the ball over more, blocking a shade less shots, and getting to the line less often than the previous campaign. His overall rebounding numbers are virtually the same, but his offensive rebounding metrics have dipped a bit as well, echoing what many are seeing during games - less "bounce" in his step this year.
And we won't even touch on guys like Linas Kleiza and Ed Davis, also members of the "Yo-yo Performance Team."
How then does management make decisions about this team's personnel going forward in the wake of so many inconsistent results? Especially considering the ceaseless myriad of injuries that have plagued the Raptors this year? (DeMar DeRozan went down last night, but he tweeted post-game that it was simply a tweaked ankle, and that he was ok.)
It's a great question, but I think there's really only one answer at this point - you have to remove the inconsistencies.
If I'm Bryan Colangelo then, I'm giving these players the remainder of the season essentially to show me that they belong on my roster next year, regardless of their contract or past performance. The team is likely getting two, top five draft picks for the 2012-13 season (counting Jonas Valanciunas) and has money to spend on further reinforcements. The time for sitting on the fence in regards to many of the current team members is coming to a close as this franchise simply can't afford to go through another season of shoulder shrugging regarding its core. With the exception of Ed Davis (whose rookie season was shortened by injury) we're not talking about a team of rookies here. Andrea Bargnani is in his SIXTH season! The average NBA career is less than FIVE!
So I say bring on the rest of this "tryout" season. Colangelo and his braintrust need to weed out the keepers from the castaways and in my books, up and down play still puts you in the latter category. The league's best teams are its most consistent ones in terms of producing winning results, and while coaching, system and culture play a part in this, the biggest piece is having consistent players. This is the big piece that's lacking for me right now (Casey's hiring took care of the coaching and system elements) and in many ways, Toronto simply hasn't had much in terms of "player consistency" since Bosh took his tattoos and video games to Miami.
Until this occurs, sure, there will be games like last night's where the Raptors trounce their opponent and look like a club on the rise.
But most of the time unfortunately, fans will be watching the version of the team that showed up for 32 other games this season, all that ended up in the L column.