By Jeff Wong and Ryan McNeill
HoopsAddict.com’s resident Raptors fans Ryan McNeill and Jeff Wong exchanged some emails this week to discuss the teams first 20 games. While they were both excited about the marked improvement from last season’s 3-17 start they both realized there is still plenty of room for growth.
Ryan: The Raptors are now 20 games into the season and I think we’ve seen enough to start discussing our thoughts on the season so far.
The first topic I want to handle is how nicely the Euro players are fitting in. Jorge Garbajosa got off to a slow start but ever since he was inserted into the starting line-up he’s been a great “glue” player for us who doesn’t put up flashy stats but does a lot of great stuff on the court for the Raptors. Anthony Parker didn’t impress me in training camp games but over the past month he’s been one of the Raptors top scorers while also guarding the opposing team’s top player (a role Morris Peterson filled last season). Rasho Nesterovic has seen spot minutes but whenever he’s been called into action he’s been a reliable vet. What’s your take on these three players Jeff?
Jeff: I love Garba (I absolutely refuse to call him “Garbo”). Even before I saw him play for us, I liked what I’ve read about him from DraftExpress and from Raul Jimenez. And when I saw him in action, you can’t help but be impressed by his basketball IQ. He knows where to be both offensively and defensively, thus picking up key rebounds and taking charges. The only thing I don’t like are his shots – they’re flat as flapjacks. But as long as they go in…
I’m also growing to like AP. At first, like you implied, he had a bit of a slow start, but he’s really coming on. Like Garba, he’s a heady player who can be at the right place at the right time at both ends of the floor. AP’s points are inconsistent right now, but he should sustain it a bit better once he gets used to playing in the Association again.
I like Rasho, too. In my first season of fantasy basketball he was on my roster, so I know that he can get us some blocks. The only question for me is how he’d do in the Raptors running game, but Sam Mitchell has mixed and matched well according to opponent (like starting him against Big Z and the Cavs).
Ryan: We can’t talk about the “Euro Invasion” and not bring up Andrea Bargnani. Heading into the Draft I was hoping to draft LaMarcus Aldridge from Texas which only proves that I have no business playing armchair GM. Bargnani had a hard time adjusting to the style of play of the NBA (as shown by the amount of fouls he accumulated early in the season) but he’s now found his groove and is averaging over 12 points over his last six games. It normally takes a couple years to evaluate a big man but what do you think of Bargnani from what you’ve seen so far?
Jeff: I was talking in my Game Notes for the Raptors/Cavs game about how LeBron James is that rare type of player that combines size with guard skill. You can say the same thing about Andrea Bargnani. He’s over 7 feet tall, but can drive and kick out, dish no-look passes, swat, hit treys, and dunk. He is the real deal. Maybe not in the King James stratisphere, but he is legit star material.
Ryan: Another advantage of adding Bargnani this summer is that it allowed the Raptors to deal some of their size (Charlie Villanueva) for the point guard they need in TJ Ford. Ford was slowed by missing training camp which has resulted in him struggling to get used to playing with his new teammates early in the season but it’s clear that he’s the best point guard this franchise has had. What are your thoughts on Ford so far?
Jeff: I’m not totally sold on TJ yet, but at the same time I understand he’s only had about two seasons of NBA experience – he’s nowhere near his peak yet. But he’s got some great tools: arguably the fastest point guard in the league who’s willing to give the ball to our franchise player. His shot is improving, which was a concern from previous seasons. The concerns now are his decision-making and his health. But you know I’m a big Jose Calderon fan…
Ryan: I know where your going with that but I’m loving TJ as the Raptors point guard of the future – emphasis on future. He’s posted solid stats in the first month of the season and I’m stoked to see him take his game to another level once he’s fully healthy and he’s used to play with new teammates. Ford was slowed by missing training camp as that would have been his first chance to get used to playing with new teammates. A big part of being a floor general is knowing where your teammates like their passes and getting used to their tendencies on the court and missing training camp really set Ford back. I think that by January you’ll see Ford consistently posting double-dips while Calderon plays 10-15 solid minutes off the bench. However, with that being said I think Calderon could be starting on some NBA teams like the Lakers, Cavs, Philly or Boston.
Which if the Raptors free agents signings this summer has impressed you the most? Jorge Garbajosa, Fred Jones or Anthony Parker?
Jeff: Before we move on, let me assure you that I haven’t soured on Ford. I agree with you that he’s young and simply short on experience. I love the “Spanish Fly” (gotta find a better nick for him) but I have no illusions of him starting for us. That said, he’s a good true PG for our second unit, and I just love his intensity and vocality (is that a word?). I like all three of the guys you mentioned, but Garba is number one of the three for me – just a smart, smart player. AP is moving up my charts because of his defensive presence and improving offence, and Freddy’s cooled after a hot preseason start.
Ryan: Jeff, as we wrap this up, what are your thoughts on the Raps win total at the quarter mark of the season? I was worried heading into training camp that it would take Sam Mitchell a long time to get nine guys used to his system and playing together. After watching them breeze through preseason games I got a bit of premature confidence and thought they were a lock to win the Titanic Division this season. Despite being a couple games below .500 I can’t help but be happy with the increased win total from this point last season. What are your thoughts on the team’s win total so far?
Jeff: Well, generally, I’m just happy that most guys on the team are finding their roles, especially the “big names” like AP, Garba, Rasho and Bargnani. The four-swingman rotation still needs to be ironed out, though, with Fred Jones and Mo Pete having to get their games in gear.
But back to your question – yes, I’m happy with the current win total.
Ryan: As a follow up question, are you drinking the Red Kool-Aid? Can the Raps make the playoffs as the winners of the Titanic Division?
Jeff: Oh yeah! Er, maybe. In their recent slide, the Raptors have shown that they can’t do it (yet) without Chris Bosh on the floor. Without their star, they just can’t keep up in the shooting and rebounding categories. If the Raptors want to make the playoffs, they’ve got to either keep Bosh healthy or make the other players step up. As for winning the division, I have doubts about that, even with the New Jersey Nets floundering a bit.
Ryan: This season has had its frustrating moments but I can’t help but be optimistic that the franchise is making solid steps forward. I feel confident with Bryan Colangelo at the helm and I’ve really enjoyed watching the better ball movement this season. If the Raps can get away from chucking up so many bombs from beyond the arc then I’ll be content with the teams progress this season.