One year ago the rumblings coming out of the Raptors camp were very positive. The team had just incorporated several new bodies and Sam Mitchell and the staff were preaching certain attributes that the team would carry. Of course, a year ago Sam wasn’t concerned about scoring, and went on to say that the Raptors and its players could expect to shoot the lights out of most people as long as they got somewhere along the lines of 100 shots per game.
It was one of the most talked about strategies coming out of camp. Now, I have no doubt that Coach Mitchell was exaggerating on some level about hoisting up that many shots, but eventually the Raptors adjusted a little down from that to become one of the most efficient teams. If nothing else, aiming for those 100 shots made sure that the Raptors were relatively well conditioned for most of the year. However, I’m sure we also remember the defensive report cards that were supposedly employed for the entire year and how they helped the Raptors in various areas.
There are a couple things to remember when looking towards this year and comparing to last year. For starters, for the first two months the Raptors were a horrible defensive team due to a lack of established chemistry. We can all agree that Bargnani getting more minutes didn’t really change anything on the defensive side of things. However, few remember the emergence of Rasho Nesterovich to bark out orders and defensive schemes which did help. As a result, last year numbers might look a bit skewed due to that late (about mid-December) establishment of defensive cohesiveness and communication. Luckily, the Raptors received a great lockdown defender in the form of Carlos Delfino. If anyone caught the Argentinians and how Delfino kept up with Kobe Bryant they would be impressed with the Argentine’s man-on defense capabilities.
Perhaps the biggest item that we should look at are the playoff games that the Raptors played last year. It’s important to recognize that due to the nature of playoff games, coaches and the flaws of a team are going to be fully exposed and exploited due the fact you’re playing the same opponent for 7 games straight. If we remember back to the Vince Carter era, it was during the Knicks series that Toronto fans saw the Knicks play aggressive D on Vince, forcing the other Raptors to step up. This strategy became employed by just about everyone during the following year. It’s here where most of my concern lies. The Raptors are currently very focused on defense, but I believe they need to concern themselves quite a bit with seeing a lot of zone coverage, along with a lot of doubling down on Chris Bosh immediately after he receives a pass. After all, the Raptors managed to keep the Nets at an average of about 96.2 pts per game, while the Raptors themselves only managed an average of 90.8 (averages courtesy of Raptors.com), well below their seasonal average (99.5 pts per game). There are questions I have with regards to how the Raptors plan to attack a very good zone defense that will hound them throughout the game. In fact, if either of the European Squads can employ that kind of intense defensive scheme for an entire game, it’ll hopefully give us a deeper insight into whether the Raptors have figured learned from their playoff series with the Nets a year ago.