The Toronto Raptors of the last two games are not the same team that lost 6 straight on the road and 13 of 14 dating back to Nov. 20th. This team is fighting, communicating with one another and getting results from unlikely sources. On Sunday afternoon it was Jose Calderon, Ed Davis and Alan Anderson that stepped up, but the recent stretch has seen a change in the overall focus of the team. The Raps have been concentrating on the defensive end of the ball, they’re sharing the ball well and are making smart basketball decisions. They also seem to be helping one another more and communicating on both ends.
So where did this change come from? The players did have a lengthy team meeting where they got a number of things off of their chest. Perhaps that was the moment that caused this team to morph into what you now see on the court.
Perhaps it was addition by subtraction. Both Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry have been absent on this home stand due to injuries. Both players were rumoured to be the focus of the vitriol during the team meeting and both players were admittedly not making good basketball decisions on their recent road trip. Lowry was called out for calling his own number too much and Bargnani was called out for not delivering on the defensive end. Bargnani has been the focus of so much negative press lately that his absence alone may have been a welcome blessing for both himself and the team. Without the two stars, the Raptors look like a much improved team.
Or maybe it was the big meeting Casey, Colangelo and MLSE had this past week that was the impetus for change. Maybe the players are playing with a bit of urgency because they know their job isn’t safe nor that of their coach or GM.
One of the most subtle changes to the lineup during this time was the return of Alan Anderson. He has played increasing minutes since his return and is doing the little things to get his teammates involved. He makes the extra pass, fights for the ball, plays sound defense and encourages his teammates.
Anderson has been around a long time, bouncing in and out of the D-league, Europe and obscurity. He came to the Raptors last season on a 10 day contract just hoping to do enough to earn another 10 days. He did better than that, impressing Dwane Casey and Bryan Colangelo enough to offer him a brand new contract.
His work ethic, especially on the defensive end, is why he is a valuable asset to have hanging around a young team. Anderson knows what is important for a team to focus on, knows how to play within a role and works hard every second he is on the floor. Having him on the court is like having a coach out there with the team.
Anderson, originally a point guard, is capable of playing many positions and has become known for his defensive intensity, a trait that surely earned the respect of Casey. Casey often points to Anderson’s defensive effort as an example for the team to follow.
When he is on the court the Raptors seem to have a clearer defensive identity. He energizes the rest of his team and gets them involved. On Sunday he was one of the primary shooters, but he’s a smart player that plays within the flow of the game and knows when it is his place to take shots. His timely play on Sunday was one of the keys to victory over the Rockets. It was his lay-up and free throws in the final minutes that sealed the victory for Toronto.
Anderson isn’t a player who is regularly asked to play heavy minutes. This year he is averaging just over 20 minutes per game, but what he has been able to bring to the team in that time has been noticeable, just not always on the score sheet. He puts defense first and this attitude is something that is beginning to rub off on his teammates. He is making use of his limited minutes and plays hard whenever his number is called.
This mentality could really come in handy for young players like Jonas Valanciunas or Terrence Ross, who have not seen consistent minutes this season. They’re going to have to learn to make the most of their limited time on the court and earn those extra minutes. Alan Anderson is a player they should watch and relish matching up against in practice. He is not guaranteed minutes on this team, but earns them through his effort and commitment to the team philosophy.
If Jonas and Ross can put forth a more consistent effort on both ends of the floor and play within the flow of the game they are going to see a lot more minutes. Ross, over the last two games, has looked more confident and has really let the game come to him. In turn he has seen his minutes and production increase. Anderson would be a great mentor for Ross.
Anderson also isn’t afraid to call out himself or his teammates when they need to be held accountable. This is a trait usually reserved for a teams’ star player or coach. As of yet, not player on this team has become the vocal leader. This may now be a role that Anderson has decided to take on.
Upon his return to the lineup this week he wasn’t afraid to call a spade a spade when discussing the teams misfortunes: “Our defense isn’t consistent as it can be and it should be…we’re playing three-quarters, three-and-a-half quarters and we disappear. So I think my experience…can sustain that and help us out some more.”
Whether it has been his words or his actions on the court, Anderson has clearly been inspiring his teammates. The effort of the team in the last two games has been a complete turnaround from the “road trip from hell”. The last two games they’ve given up under 100 points and have held their opponents to 40% shooting. They’re holding things together as a team and Anderson has been a big part of this resurgence.
On Sunday Jose Calderon was the best player on the court, recording a triple-double and playing some of his best basketball this season, but Anderson and his style of play, are beginning to make a larger impact on this young Raptors squad.
The Zan Tabak Herald