Head North, Young West (and other Assorted Hornets)

Three games into the 6 game road trip, we’re 2-1, and I’m fine with that. What won’t be as fine is finishing the second half of the trip with another 2-1, as we take on Toronto, Orlando, and Miami. Orlando will be the toughest of the three, but New O has to be looking to win that game, now that we’re an unsightly 1-4 against the East’s top 3. Everyone was talking about Boston beating every NBA team this year, but we’re actually not far behind. We’ve defeated every Western Conference team, and the only teams we’re yet to beat are Washington, Detroit, and Toronto. Since the season series with the Pistons and Wizards are over, Toronto’s the only team we still have the chance to beat.

Also, I’d like to take a moment to point out brag about my success in predicting our March schedule. As I said we’d be, we’re 10-4, and will be 11-4 if we can take care of business against Canada. All I’m saying is a lesser blogger couldn’t have done it! With most people talking about Detroit, Boston, Toronto, and even Philadelphia lately, Toronto seems to have fallen by the wayside in terms of national attention. I talked to the Toronto blog Raptors HQ to see what’s been cooking north of the border, and what the Dinosaurs might throw at us.

At the Hive: Chris Bosh returned to the lineup recently, and just like that, you guys went out and defeated Detroit. He’s one of my favorite players to watch (both on Youtube and on the court), but it seems like he hasn’t been able to improve his game a whole lot since he exploded onto the scene in ’05. (22.5 and 9 that year, 22.6 and 11 the next, but only 22.2 and 9 this year). What aspects of his game can he still work on?

Raptors HQ: Right now there are a few things that CB4 needs to focus on a bit more, and as your  stats pointed out, rebounding is probably numero uno on the list.  He’s a good rebounder, but for such a poor rebounding team like the Raps, they need him to be a great one.  He should be averaging about 11 to 12 a game but this year we’ve seen a dip in that area.  Part of it is probably due to the team trying Andrea at the 5 (Rasho is the master of the tip-out, a lot of the time tips that Bosh would corral) and perhaps some loss of explosiveness with all of the injuries this year.  But in any event, that’s certainly a part of his game that I’d like to see him improve in.

Other than that, he’s pretty well rounded in terms of scoring, passing, ability to knock down the outside shot, and now even the ability to hit the 3.  So the other thing we’d like to see him improve on is more of a personal characteristic; his will to take over games.  He’s got the talent and athletic ability to do it, but often he defers to his team-mates instead of attacking the opposition.  He’s the quiet leader type, so it’s hard to fault him for what is perhaps an inherent personality trait, but at times Bosh’s aggression in games at both ends of the court is the deciding factor in Raptor wins.

At the Hive: Many people mention Toronto as being the only sleeper in a weak Eastern Conference. Do you agree with that assessment, and do you think they might have what it takes to unseat a Detroit or a Boston?

Raptors HQ:  At one point in the season, I certainly would have agreed with that statement.  Toronto doesn’t match up well with Boston, and Detroit usually pushes them around, but this is sort of an NCAA team…if they are shooting out the lights, they can beat anyone.  The problem is, there has been a lot of turmoil surrounding the club recently in regards to the point guard situation, and even the center position.

While the recent win over Detroit was a big first step, I need to see this team string together some solid wins before I can even say they are a better sleeper option than a team like the red-hot 76ers or healing Wizards.

At the Hive: Andrea Bargnani- he hasn’t lived up to the first overall pick billing, now in his second year in the league. In fact, this season, he’s shooting below 40% from the floor. What kind of player did Toronto expect when they drafted him, do you think he can still reach that level, and if so, what needs to change about his game?

Raptors HQ: Whoah – this one’s a mouthful.  We could go on about Bargs for a while as he’s one of the most hotly contested subjects on our site.

Andrea definitely hasn’t lived up to his top pick billing, I don’t even think Bryan Colangelo can deny that.  However you see glimpses from him, especially towards the end of last season, that really evoked images of a Nowitzki-like scoring threat, which is what they expected when they drafted him.  Now I say scoring threat however because he still has miles to go in terms of rebounding and defense.  And as you pointed out, he’s not even doing the one thing well that he was assumed to be a natural at – shooting the ball.

I still think Andrea can become a Nowitzki-like scorer, but I question if he’ll ever be as good a rebounder (and not that Nowitzki is Dwight Howard on the glass) and for that reason and others, I wonder if he isn’t being used in the best manner as a forced center.  Toronto switched things up last game and re-inserted Rasho at the 5 so we’ll see how Bargs closes out the season.

In any event, he needs a good summer of work on his low-post game, some added strength and bulk, and what looks like a solid injection of confidence.

At the Hive: Here’s something that somewhat puzzles me: granted, you guys are the top 3P% team in the league, but why doesn’t the best three point shooter in the game- Jason Kapono- get more looks? I mean, Bargnani’s taken 100 more attempts than Kapono, while shooting more than 10 percent worse, and Delfino’s taken 150 more, while also shooting about 10 percent worse…

Raptors HQ:  Another question we get asked a lot and one that involves three main factors; duplication of skillsets on the Raptors, lack of point guard play and injuries.  Here’s the breakdown on each:

a)  Toronto has a unique problem of having three very similar players in Kapono, Parker and Delfino at the wings.  All three can be dead-eye shooters from 3, yet of them, Kapono has become the odd man out.  Parker provides better defence while Delfino is better at creating his own shot, rebounding and playing hard-nosed D.

That means that Kapono has been relegated to spot minutes in various situations.  When he was with Miami, Kapono’s defensive woes were hidden by solid perimeter defenders like Wade and Posey, not to mention Kapono had Mourning and Shaq at the rim waiting for anyone who got past him.  The Raps don’t have that same luxury and therefore Parker and Delfino, both superior defenders, get most of the minutes at the 2-3.

Factor in the shot-blocking of Jamario Moon, and now the signing of defensive stopper Linton Johnson, and there suddenly isn’t a lot of minutes for the NBA’s best long-range threat.

b)  In terms of the point guard play, early in the season, Kapono was much more involved offensively, and was getting more open 3-point looks due to the great ball movement initiated by back-up point guard Jose Calderon.

With TJ Ford going down, Jose was thrust into the starters’ role thus leaving guys like Juan Dixon and Darrick Martin to man the point on the second unit with Kap.  Neither filled in for Jose with any success and as a result, Jason was essentially rendered useless.  This is a guy who thrives off of ball movement so with none present, he simply became stagnant as he’s not someone who can create his own shot at this level.

c)  Finally, the injury situation, in particular, Chris Bosh’s absence. The Raptors are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league even with CB4.  Without him…it’s ugly some nights.

A lot of Toronto’s 3-point shooting is created off of offensive rebounds for kick-outs (as the other team is scrambling defensively) or getting out in transition and finding the trailer (a lot of the time Kapono or Bargnani.)  In addition, Bosh is the only player on Toronto who can draw double teams down low and it was this inside-outside offensive execution that gave Kapono so many easy looks.  However without Bosh, it was a struggle at times for Toronto in general as teams were staying home defensively on the Raptors’ shooters.

I think as the team gets healthy again (Bosh is back now) and TJ and Jose get reindoctrinated to their roles, we’ll see Kapono’s productivity go up.

However even with the three reasons above, a lot of us Raptor fans feel that Sam Mitchell isn’t doing enough X and O work to free up what is almost an unstoppable jump-shooter when he’s left wide open.

At the Hive: Last but not least, Toronto’s assembled a very nice, relatively young core group of guys. TJ Ford just turned 25 this week, Bosh turned 24 on the same day, Jamario Moon is 27, and the vastly underrated Jose Calderon is 26. Let’s say you were the Raptors’ GM. What players would you target as complements for that core in order to take advantage of the 5-6 year window ahead?

Raptors HQ:  There are three major areas that Toronto needs to address to successfully compete in that 5-6 year time period you mentioned.  The first is some rebounding help, the second, a slashing scorer at the 3 who can create his own shot, and finally, the team needs a good dose of toughness.  Ideally, the Raptors would target someone like Andre Iguodala, a slashing 3 who can get to the rim, play solid perimeter defence, rebound the ball and provide the grit the club needs.  However with the way Philly is playing, it’s unlikely that Iggy is going anywhere.  Richard Jefferson would be another perfect choice, and depending on New Jersey’s decision on rebuilding, might be more available than Iguodala.  Luol Deng, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest…these are all names we’ve thrown around at the HQ and looked at prior to the trade deadline:


But realistically considering the Raptors’ roster and salary cap situation, we might have to look at addressing these needs seperately with lesser players, or via the draft.  On our HQ prospect watch right now are Chris Douglas-Roberts, Tyler Smith and Bill Walker.  All would give Toronto that athletic slashing 3 they need and perhaps nabbing a Joey Dorsey for the rebounding and toughness in the second round would pay dividends.


One Response

  1. Nice Q&A. I like Toronto a lot, and it’s obvious they’re better than their record with Bosh back. It’ll be interesting to see where then end up. Although, not so interesting that I’ll be cheering for them Sunday. Bees need this one bad, and I think they’ll come out angry after their loss to the C’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: