By Kinnon Yee
Today’s loss might mark the beginning of heartbreak for Toronto Raptors fans, but at the same time, I believe it should be time for optimism. During this year, we’ve known the Raptors always bounce back and gain focus before they win. It’s part of the education process, and these Raptors are some quick studies. It’s a part of their pattern. It’s why I’ve believed that they would lose this first game to the Nets, and why, more importantly, we should not lose track of this series.
As the great Bill Russell pointed out, you could almost throw away this first game. It’s a feeling-out process and the Raptors are the young team that people will expect to need some time to get into their groove. Today, though, I think it’s important to focus in on what Joey Graham brings to the table and why he will be a pivotal point for this club.
While Anthony Parker might be the guy that is our most consistent defender, we need another guy with strength and length to defend against this particular New Jersey team. Let’s go down the list. Juan Dixon, a fairly good rhythm shooter, has difficulties matching up with Carter or Jefferson, because he’s giving up about five inches to both. It’s a no-go as far as that is concerned, as both players can front him, beat him off the dribble, and shoot over him. Next up, Morris Peterson. I think long time fans have been waiting for Mo Pete to step his game up, and while he rebounds and defends well enough with most people, Sam can’t afford Peterson’s sketching 3 point percentage this year, and frankly, his tendency to jack a shot up whenever he pleases (especially with his percentages this year). Humphries and Bargnani can play out of position at times to defend both Jefferson and Carter, but they’re a bit slow. Actually, Bargnani would be perfect if he didn’t miss three weeks, and damaged his great conditioning.
The only option for Sam, therefore, is to rely on Graham.
For the most part, Graham played Carter well by playing the drive, and forcing Carter into a lot of jump shots. Then again, that could have been the crowd and others getting on his case. Whatever the reason, Graham’s defense on Carter was passable, and needed. He’s the only guy that can protect the drive yet close out on a shot attempt against Carter and Jefferson, two guys that are bigger than AP and Mo Pete. It’s just the other areas that he needs to clean up. Today, we saw Joey stand around while loose balls bounced around his vicinity, Joey chewing up the clock with some silly one-on-one action, and a total lack of fighting for positioning for rebounds.
By the end, Joey’s numbers looked like this:
Not pretty, especially on the rebounding end. So the question to me is, who do we play against what Net Players.
Jason Kidd – TJ Ford. Calderon, though he’s my guy, I have to give it to TJ who has brought it out against the Nets 3 times this year, lifting the team and challenging Jason into some pretty awful turnovers.
Richard Jefferson – Joey Graham. Today, we saw what Jefferson did to Anthony Parker. For some inexplicable reason, the Raptors kept playing him for the shot instead of the drive. I think Graham’s a better match up with him physically, since both are stronger players out of the SG/SF positions, and they should match up well. I honestly don’t think Mo Pete or Juan Dixon can handle him.
Wince – Anthony Parker/Mo Pete. The best the Raptors can do defensively is through one guy who knows how to play against athletic players, and another guy that has played for the vast majority of his life. I think these two guys can keep him off the line, off the boards and more importantly, force him into jump shot
Bostjan Nachbar – Andrea Bagnani. It’s time for this rookie to prove it. No excuses. I’ll give him a pass on this game, cause he was still working into game shape, but with two days until the next game, he should be close to full, if not AT full. He’s the guy with the length, quickness and intelligence to take this guy out.
As a team though, the Raptors needs to stress a push to keep the Nets into a jump-shooting team. I personaly don’t think the Nets are better at shooting jumpers than the Raptors, and certainly don’t have the selflessness to overcome the Raptors. Finally, the Raptors need to establish Rasho Nesterovich. This is a guy that can get you 8 points EASILY, and will punsh the Nets in the lane, so that Chris Bosh can take it inside, you know, “tenderize” those Nets. Rasho’s a guy that’s been underused, and should be able to shred the front court of the Nets.