Despite what Coach Mitchell has said, this European leg of the Raptors’ preseason has been quite an eye opener. As I predicted when training camp began, it’s not really so much the defensive end that the Raptors have to worry about, but rather, it’s the Raptors’ offensive end and attacking the zone. In addition, it’s good that Mitchell felt compelled to win those games against the Euroleague, because I don’t think the first two units have gelled as much as some people believe and they will need more time on the court together in order to get used to each other’s tendencies. Integrating a guy like Jason Kapono can take time just as it did the previous year for Parker to get into his groove.
Granted, it’s still early in the preseason, but let me throw some numbers at you. Against a 2-3 zone for much of the day, the Raptors struggled mightily against Roma Lottomatica. The beautiful passing of the Raptors just wasn’t there (as evidenced by the assist totals of 17 rather than the 25-30 we saw in January and February of last year). It’s important to keep in mind that unlike in the Boston game, this second preseason game had mostly starters and rotational players for the majority of the game. In addition, a 42.6% FG percentage is hardly efficient shooting, and that was a direct result of the constant zone defense the Raptors saw in addition to some full court press. It’s this number that’s scariest to me, as it’s a reflection of the Raptors and their difficulties toward the end of last year; a problem that the coaching staff has yet to adjust to because there isn’t a “zone expert” on the team.
It was Hubie Brown who gave some insight in to the broadcast. Unlike the Celtics game that featured two inexperienced broadcasters who just gushed about the Celtics for four quarters, Hubie Brown gave some insightful analysis; the kind that we sometimes get on a smaller level from Jack and Leo. Breaking down the Raptors’ weaknesses as well as their strengths and how they should be attacking the basket and breaking down Lottomatica’s zone. Hubie did a great job analyzing and exposing Lottomatica’s weak interior, the Raptor’s own problematic transitional defense, and different sets. It’s his voice that really proved to be a new experience as a Raptor fan, and gave us a valuable differing perspective on the Raptors.
In today’s game against Real Madrid, we saw something that I actually wished to happen at some point this year; Bosh in civvies. I think we tend to forget that without Bosh having that injury last year, Sam Mitchell might not have discovered the talents of his team outside of TJ Ford and Chris Bosh. In fact, I kind of blame the final two months of the season on the fact that a lot of the team was forgotten due to the excessive use of the two-man game. While Ford was new and hot at the beginning of the Real Madrid game, his decision making seemed very consistent. He ended up being able to shred the defense, make his shots, and find the open man. However, as we saw late in the 2nd quarter and in the 2nd half, Ford still has the “I’m the Man” mentality that gets him in trouble a lot of the times. In the end, it was that mentality that cost the Raptors the game. Granted, it was that kind of idea that got the Raptors some wins last year, but it’s cost the Raptors far too often for my liking.
The thing that we saw again was that these Raptors still have trouble defending screens and 3 point shooting teams. Like the Lottamatica game, the Raptors ended up giving up too many open shots to the opposition. Rotations were sloppy, people didn’t close out on shooters, and everyone kept playing for the drive. It was scary seeing the shot statistics for Madrid. It was all from beyond the arc, or under the basket.
In the end, what did we learn from this trip?
- The Raptors need to remember how they won so many games last year and beat all the statistical analysis. A team game is not only their strength, but it’s their only option
- I’m still not sold on their bench scoring. As I’ve said previously, Delfino should be a starter, and Kapono should come off the bench just because the bench needs some scoring options.
- Attack the zone. The Raptors, despite what some believe, will be seeing a lot of it this year. If we, the fans, notice their weaknesses, for certain, the scouts around the NBA will notice too.
- The Raptors are definitely not in “game shape” yet, and with Bosh missing some practice already, there should be a greater emphasis on playing without him so that they can be great with him
- Rebounding is still going to be an Achilles heel for these guys. Without Bosh, the Raptors looked lost on the boards. It’s concerning that the guards did nothing to help the bigs who were deflecting balls. In fact, they did such a poor job against Real Madrid, that it was compounded by…
- Poor defensive rotations. Without a doubt, the biggest concern. Perhaps it’s still due to integrating two players into the system, perhaps it’s just one player (*koff* Joey *koff*) making the incorrect decisions. Whatever the case, there were too many instances of having players wide open for a shot, giving the Raptors a taste of their own medicine. The other difficulty is with poor rotations, there is less of a chance of a rebound due to confusion on the floor.
- Don’t worry about Kapono and Parker. They both usually have slow preseasons, but give them a month or so and they’ll be fine. Problem is, season begins in about two and a half weeks.
- For all the worry that Bargnani’s hit a possible ceiling, he’s been doing a lot of what made that January-February run so memorable. He’s taking charges, trying to get boards, driving and shooting when needed. It’s good stuff. Just need to work on the fouls.