Here’s something to think about. After Marion comes in and witnesses a good old-fashioned butt whupping of the Raptors, he calls them out about it. Right away, no hesitation. A day later, a completely different looking team comes out and beats the Knicks, controlling most of the game and playing with what actually looked like some energy and desire, with the Matrix leading by example. Now, when we have seen the Raptors take a few ugly losses on the chin this season and Chris Bosh has spoken up (albeit, sometimes a little late), the Raptors haven’t had the same sort of bounce back. It could all be coincidental, seeing that the Raptors were facing the Knicks twice in a row and stood a decent chance of winning regardless of the first game and it could just be that they were embarrassed and didn’t need anybody to call them out, but could it also be that the Raptor players respond a little better to a guy like Marion who is going to stand up and take charge when the team is looking for a leader? Is this the kind of guy Bosh needs around to take some of the weight off of him? It certainly looked that way today.
Shawn Marion has been my favourite player for years, so maybe I’m a little biased with all of this talk, but games like today are what make me like him as a player. We saw him miss his fair share of shots, but we also saw him get his own rebounds, we saw him run the length of the court on offense and on D and he recognized when his teammates were in good scoring position. He plays a complete game and leads by example. I can overlook the ugly shot.
Another big deal for the Raptors is that when Bargs comes to play and comes with a little bit of fire in him, he really is a tough matchup. I saw him hustling back on D today in a way that I haven’t seen him do before and surprisingly, he’s pretty quick for a big. The thing about getting back on D is that not only does it give your team a better chance to withstand the push from the opposition, but it keeps you in the game. Getting back on D doesn’t allow you the time to think about something you may have messed up on the offensive end or revel in your own good play. Getting back on D shows that you are smart enough to understand that what you just did on the offensive end doesn’t mean a thing unless you get back on D, because chances are, if you don’t get back, things are either going to cancel out or just get compounded.
There have been a variety of things that we have seen improve this year from Bargs, with his defense much better, along with him putting the ball on the floor. But while his attack has been better this season, early in the year, we saw him make the decision to drive and just put his head down, often leading to charges or walks. When we saw him put the ball on the floor today, we saw him doing it with his head up, reacting to the D in front of him, making adjustments as necessary. When you have a guy Bargs’ size doing that, you have to respect his dribble, which opens up opportunities for his natural shooting ability.
Since I am in a decent mood today, I also want to comment on Roko Ukic. The kid is showing steady development in limited minutes. What I like about him is that he’s a nice change of pace when Jose isn’t in the lineup, sort of like what the Raptors used to enjoy when TJ was in town. I’m not saying that he has the same sort of attacking ability that TJ does, but he has that same sort of mentality, where he thinks that he can beat anybody off the dribble. The good thing is that we aren’t seeing him force the ball inside, which we often saw from TJ. Roko knows what he is in there to do and is learning how to maximize his abilities. He still needs a lot of work on his jumper, but there is plenty of time for that.
If the Raptors could just put a few more complete games like this together, they wouldn’t have to rely on Bosh so much. Nobody is thinking that they are going to have four guys post double-doubles every night, but this is a team game and when you have that many players contributing in a positive manner, it just works out that you are tough to defend. People have complained a lot about the Raptors roster and true, the bench is a little short, but when I look at things, I don’t think they are that far away from being a quality team. For me, if Marion stays around, I think somebody new at the 2 could be the thing that gets them back in the right direction. But for now, let’s just see how the rest of the season goes.