There has certainly been a lot to digest for the Raptors franchise and fan base after their humiliating loss to the lowly Bobcats on Friday.
This self-reflection also coincides with the unofficial half way point of the NBA season as teams will take a break this weekend for All Star festivities.
While the stars of NBA showcase their talents in Orlando, the Raptors will be left to play over the last half season in their heads. What’s gone right? What hasn’t worked? And where do we go from here?
The Raptors promised to “pound the rock” this season. Thus far we have seen it only in spurts.
Some games, like the recent effort against Boston and New York, fans have seen the effort and the focus on defensive intensity. Other, like the debacle against Charlotte, have shown that the Raptors have a long road to go before they are back in the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams.
The defense has not been consistent, the scoring has not been there night in and Night out and obviously Demar Derozan is not having the type of season he or anyone had hoped thus far.
But let’s try to accentuate the positive and focus on some things that are going right for this young team as we move forward.
Obviously it is a small sample size and we won’t really know until after the All-Star Break if his ascent to super stardom is for real or not, but he was terrific when he was on the court.
Bargnani seemed to put all of the negativity behind him and focused on his strengths. He scored at will when he was on the court because he had the confidence in himself. He abused the defensive mismatches coaches had on him and brought his game inside and out.
Had it not been for his time on the shelf, Bargnani would have been a serious contender to be in Orlando this weekend. He has played like a star and Raptor fans should be very excited about what is to come from this young man.
Some may argue that the Raptors don’t practice what they preach, but the tough talk about defense has, at least, caused a focus change. The Raps aren’t last in the league in points given up. They just can’t seem to score that much either.
They wanted a focus on defense coming into the season and it is beginning to take shape. Some players (james Johnson, Demar Derozan) have shown more improvement than others (Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson) but the effort is there and Dwane Casey has got this team very focused.
It cannot be denied that although the Raps have dropped a lot of games, they’ve been competitive and have earned rave reviews from opposing coaches.
All a credit to coach Casey
Although there have been well documented short comings this season for players like Demar Derozan. There have also been a few pleasant surprises.
James Johnson has played a valuable role for this Raptors team and has been a bit of everything for them. A rebounder, a late game defender, a shot blocker, an energy guy off the bench. If he can score more consistently he may become a very potent threat for this Raptor team going forward.
Hands up if you thought Aaron Gray would be starting games at center for the Raptors this year.
Gray has played very well in limited minutes and seems to fit the mould of a Rasho Nesterovic. He plays fairly sound basketball and is always under the basket battling for the ball. Gray has given the Raptors added defensive presence, some size under the basket and another rebounding threat. He has been a nice surprise.
His story is even more remarkable given the fact that it looked like he may not even play this year because of an irregular heartbeat. Definitely a feel good story.
Hanging with Best
The Raptors play their best ball when they are up against tough opponents. Miami, New York, LA, Boston are teams the Raptors have played tough this year. The team shows that it can raise its level of play to meet those of elite teams in the league.
The Raptors just need to do this against the lesser teams in the NBA. It is, ultimately those teams that they will eventually be fighting with for playoff position in the next few years. It would be nice if we could raise our game to a higher level for teams that we are supposed to beat.
Return of the Mack
Jose Calderon gets a lot of slack for his porous defense and deservedly so, but he has been on another level offensively this season.
Jose has always been a solid shooter, posting an impressive FG% most of his career, but this year he’s actually being told to shoot. In the past he would give way to the Chris Bosh’s and Hedo Turkoglus but now coach Casey is calling his number more often.
Jose is having a stellar year on the offensive side of the court, but does continue to need assistance on the defensive end. Some games Dwane Casey’s system hides his deficiencies, others, his defense is giant beacon on the basketball court.
Still, so far this year, Calderon has been something worth smiling about.
So Raptor fans, maybe things aren’t that bad after all. While the team is losing games and increasing the likelihood of a top five draft pick, there are some positive signs to tide us over until the off-season.
The second half is going to be long and hard for the fan base in Toronto but at least there are a few reasons to watch and hope for the future.
The ship may not be moving quickly, but at least it’s pointed in the right direction.
The Zan Tabak Herald
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