For two games now, the Raptors have had to figure out how to play as a team without Chris Bosh. It was in this preseason game that we could finally start to see the fruits of their hard labour. For the little amount that the starting lineup (minus Bosh) was in the game, we got to see a group that was slashing and moving the ball towards the purpose of finding the open man. TJ Ford played under control and looked to dish to his teammates. I cannot stress how nice it is to see Ford use his penetration to shift defenses in order to free up other shooters, rather than have to rely on a stagnant set when him and Chris Bosh are on the floor at the same time. It’s without Bosh that was got to see that wonderful passing display that led to that open 3-pointer by Kapono at the beginning of the game.
However, this game was largely a good test and a great opportunity to observe the reserves. This was undoubtedly Jamario Moon’s most productive game and I’ve finally seen glimpses of what other people have been so optimistic about: a long reach that was able to defend his opponent, knock the ball loose, and block shots at the 2 or 3 spot, with speed, agility and athleticism. Jamario also managed to show some offensive skills by choosing to slash and go into the paint rather than settle for an outside 3. Nevertheless, the question remains to be answered if he can produce in limited minutes. At 28 minutes last night he was on the court the longest and managed to get in a rhythm. However, I don’t believe anyone is thinking that he’ll be a starter on this team (at least not at this point) so the question remains to be answered if he can be “that scorer and game changer off the bench” that I believe we’ll be searching for.
Another important look to this new season is how refs are calling Kapono and Bargnani for their pump-fakes in the early going. Not many people remember, but when Bargnani first came into the league, he was called for that fake a lot. It also happened a couple times in the New Jersey series at the end of last year, and according to Hubie Brown during the Lottamatica broadcast, the refs are checking for the “heel lift in the pivot foot”. How Kapono and Bargnani and others adjust to the small rule change remains to be seen (or for that matter, how long the refs will keep calling this as a travel) but it’s of some concern in the early going. And while we’re talking about Bargnani, it was interesting to see him run a two man game with Delfino backing down his defender. It’s interesting because it’s the first time I’ve seen a set like that coming from the Raptors, and it’s quite the reverse of what we’re used to. Usually it’s the big guy backing down his opponent and the guard taking the shot from the perimeter. However, this does put Bargnani out of position for rebounds.
The Raptors themselves were out rebounded by the Bulls and that was without Ben Wallace in the paint. Now granted, we shot a high percentage, and we also didn’t have Chris Bosh in the game last night, but as was often the case our guards didn’t stick around for the long rebounds a lot of the time. I’m sure with Anthony Parker, Kapono and Garbajosa playing more minutes, this stat will change, but it’s going to be something that this staff is going to have to impress upon its players consistently. Maybe having Moon in the lineup is the answer, because while Joey Graham had 3 rebounds, they were mostly because others had sealed off their man so he had an easy pick on them. In any case, Maceo Baston still fails to impress me with his fairly lethargic play, getting only 1 rebound in nine minutes. I’m not sure what he expects on this Toronto team, but he’s not going to be even a replacement for Kris Humphries at this point. I remember when Baston first came here, he was talking about getting more minutes and being able to showcase what he did in Maccabbi. Well, if he’s going to do that he’s gotta make a much better impression than he’s made since he’s got here.
Finally, one huge concern remains from the European tour. While the Raptors did a serviceable defensive job against the Europeans there’s a huge concern that lingered from that trip and that is the defensive presence from our guards and specifically our point guards. It didn’t affect us much with Deng only playing limited minutes and Hinrich only taking a few shots but I’ve got concerns about TJ’s inability to guard taller guards and Jose’s ability to guard quicker guards. It’ll come down to match-ups since we have two very, very good point guards, but it’s going to be a concern nonetheless. However, we’ve seen some benefits of TJ’s strength conditioning as he’s been able to body his man out to the perimeter several times. I’m sure that part of the reason he’s bulked up over the summer is due to that Jason Kidd guy manhandling him physically for most of the playoffs. So he’s done all that he can over the summer to improve on that part of his game. Jose, however, has been working on his offense, and while it’s as efficient as ever, he had difficulties getting into position against Hinrich, who’s a quicker guard than he is. In any case, it’s a luxury that Sam has two capable offensive guards who have unique defensive deficiencies. The point guard “controversy” will likely be solved on a nightly basis depending on the opposing team match-ups and which guard is playing better for that particular night.
Next up: Thurs vs Cleveland