You’ll have to excuse the Toronto Raptors if they aren’t in a festive mood like the majority of the world is at this time of the year. It’s just that there hasn’t been too much to be cheerful about in Raptorland this season. With a roster that includes Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, Hedo Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani, big things were expected from the Raptors this year, especially considering they dwell in the not-so formidable Eastern Conference of the NBA. Yet, despite winning their last two games and going 6-4 in their last 10, the team has only won 13 of their first 30 games. And if this isn’t depressing enough for fans of the team, Atlanta scorched them for 146 points a few weeks back and their defense is given up almost 108 points per game, second-worst in the NBA.
“The poor performance defensively has disrupted the other, more positive things we’ve been doing and the team is in a funk,” Raptors President and GM Bryan Colangelo told the Globe and Mail early this month. “It happens in the course of an NBA season, and it’s up to us to get them out of it”.
Rightfully, all levels of the organization are taking heat for the underachieving, from the players to coach Jay Triano right on up to Colangelo. While many (including some players) pointed the finger at Coach Triano for the bulk of the blame, Colangelo isn’t buying it.
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of talk about this being about coaching and systems and things like that,” Colangelo told The Globe and Mail. “But at the end of the day if you’re looking for someone to blame, you can point to me because I’m ultimately the one responsible for putting this group together.”
But rather than point fingers, considering this is the season of giving, let’s instead try to figure out what ails the Raptors and what can be done to heal them. We went to long-time Raptors commentator and analyst (and former NBA player) Leo Rautins for his diagnosis of “what ails the Raptors”.
1) “(The) Rap(tors) had one of the worst schedules to start the season than almost all teams in the NBA.”
Looking at the team’s schedule thus far, this is a very valid point. The Raptors have played the most games in the league and second-most road games (16). But it isn’t just a case of quantity of games – it is also the quality of their opposition so far that has caused problems. Of their 17 losses, three have come to Orlando, two to both Phoenix and Atlanta as well as losses to Boston, Dallas, San Antonio and Denver. Luckily for the Raps, Santa will be bringing them a much easier schedule in the New Year.
2) “Nine (10 with Pops Mensah-Bonsu) new players and Bosh & Hedo missing camp have slowed this team down. Hedo adjusting to his new team and Raps adjusting to a player that needs the ball as much as a point (guard) does, has been slow.”
Another valid point – it does take teams time to gel, especially one with as much turnover as the Raptors have experienced. In fact, the only players getting significant minutes that were actually with the team last season are Bosh, Calderon and Bargnani. But with each game and practice this team should be getting more acquainted with one another and should improve their performance as the year goes on. Right?
3) “Not having the one thing they need – (Reggie) Evans toughness and grit, hurts.”
When you’re counting on a journeyman like Reggie Evans to save your team from despair, you probably are in some deep trouble. All kidding aside, Evans did play real well in the preseason before a sprained foot has kept him on the sidelines throughout the first two months of the season.
“Every single possession of every practice and every game he was in, when he played minutes, he made a difference,'' Colangelo told The Toronto Star last week.
But due to his offensive limitations, Evans isn’t a player that the team will be able to play more than about 20 minutes a game (assuming he eventually heals and can suit up for a game). The real problem is the team’s main big men – Bosh and Bargnani - are finesse players. In fact, per 40 minutes Bargnani’s rebounding numbers are the worst among centers in the NBA. While a healthy Evans would help, the fact of the matter is that the team’s key performers aren’t gritty players by any stretch of the imagination.
4) “Other than Bosh, and until recently (Jarrett) Jack, everyone has played below their potential. If they do nothing to this point but play to potential, they are +.500.”
Last, but not least, Rautins hits the nail on the head with this one. This team is clearly underachieving. Chris Bosh is having a career year (24 points & 11 boards per game) but his numbers have gone done each month as the season progresses. Andrea Bargnani is a confident scorer now (16.2 ppg) but, as previously mentioned, his rebounding is sub-par for a NBA center. Hedo Turkoglu’s assist and rebounding numbers are on his normal pace but he is scoring almost six points less per game than he did two years ago with Orlando. And even before being shelved with a hip injury, Jose Calderon was having a down year, evidenced by his pedestrian free throw shooting accuracy (79% as opposed to last year’s 98%). The Raptors need at least one (preferably two or three) of the trio of Calderon, Bargnani and Turkoglu to step their games up to take some of the heat off of Bosh. But can any of these guys make any stops on the defensive end?
So there’s the diagnosis for what ails the Raptors. Yet, despite their ailments and shortcomings, the team is still currently the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. But with the raised expectations leading into this season, that obviously isn’t good enough. Not to sound like the Grinch, but if the team isn’t able to find the remedy for their ailments soon there will be plenty of cries of “Bah, humbug!” in Toronto in the New Year.