I have to stay positive. It’s too easy to see the negatives and conclude that in spite of all the changes, the same bad habits will continue to sink this team. It’s also a little crazy to even think in terms of habits at this point.
The first two weeks of the season are like pre-season with something of a regular rotation developing, and of course real wins and losses. You look at this team and it’s not hard to see that they are still figuring each other out, and still learning the system. On top of that, a couple guys like Bosh and Turkoglu are still rounding into game shape. So for me it is entirely possible to see a whole lot of things improve.
To some extent I did see some growth last night already. Maybe the worst thing Triano has done so far, was suggesting that their defense was too scattered against Cleveland in spite of the successes they had that night. Onward from there to two games where the aggression was lost, and as Jarrett Jack suggested, there was too much thinking and not enough playing instinctively. Jay has to have some faith in all the drills and teaching gaining steady impact, but over time. They can’t lose the aggression, as scattered as that might make them at times. Now the good signs from that first game have returned, but there was still a few too many minutes of general passivity out there from a number of individuals, and that means just about anybody not named Wright. I’m not going to suggest that all the passivity stemmed from too much thinking, but it’s not far-fetched to figure that still being in the early stages of learning the defensive system does play a role in limiting the level of play that otherwise might be expected once it all becomes more second-nature. Adding to the problem of over-thinking, was the way they planned a defensive strategy against Orlando that was a little too cute, assuming that with their usual three-point threats missing, they could get by with just keeping Howard occupied. Take away that and there just hasn’t been the glaring weaknesses that plagued them last season when overall confusion was the greatest limit to executing defensively, until Marion’s talents could be implemented at the end of the schedule. If anything the role definition that they gained throughout that final month, has only been strengthened so far in this new season, as much as they do miss Marion. If they just keep playing the games their identity is going to develop to the point where they are playing “their” game.
So let’s look at all the aspects that have an obvious chance to solidify in positive ways to help form this team’s identity.
First off, Jose is going to shoot better than he has so far. He might have to accept a role off the bench to make that a reality, or he might have to get Wright starting next to him, but it’s hard to see the possibility of him losing his shooting touch altogether. In the past few seasons the way this team played was altered too much to better suit Jose. This season it’s going to be the other way around, and Jose will be all the better for it himself. He’s looked much more comfortable playing alongside Wright in the middle of games, and alongside Jack to end games, than he has alongside DeRozan to start games. So some kind of tough decisions need to be made to the starting lineup, if that trend continues, but I’m confident they will be made.
Another given is Bosh rounding into game shape. We’ve seen this all before. He comes back from injury and has difficulty with his touch around the basket. He’s been getting the calls, but if he can start getting the baskets with some of the tough finishes at the rim, as he always has while in solid game shape, then the team is going to be able to control games to a greater degree.
Next, I have to imaging that DeRozan is going to contribute more and more. It’s going to be gradual, and the scoring is not going to be a necessity, but the energy and hustle has already been on display in short bursts. If he can collect the loose balls and keep opposing teams a little afraid of his athleticism in general, then he is going to certainly help more than he hurts this team. If by the end of the season, he can be a guy that defends the speedy guards to some extent, particularly in transition, then he’ll solve all kinds of problems.
One other easy choice is the return of Reggie Evans. Bosh and Bargnani both did a pretty nice job on switches where they kept up with the small lineup last night. And they also did a nice job of showing hard and then quickly recovering back to their man. All of that good foot speed from the bigs allowed them to stay big against a small lineup from the Pistons. And when Reggie comes back, the ability to disrupt plays from the point of attack will become further magnified. And even when plays succeed, and guards stroll into the paint, he will find ways to make them pay a price. Right now there is a little bit of a premium on fouls from the bigs. But with Reggie’s allotment of minutes thrown into the mix, there won’t be great worries about picking up fouls. So the aggressive defense should be there throughout games.
Now I don’t know - maybe even with all of that taken into account they will struggle more than they assert their will. Maybe the upcoming schedule with bring about surmounting problems before the easy solutions can take hold. I’ll start to worry and fret if and when that happens. But for now I’ve seen three games that have entertained me more than most of last year’s scheduled affairs, with the Memphis game even being pretty good, as irksome as it was to lose to the Grizz. There is some fight in this team, win or lose, build a lead or lose a lead. They are showing the ability to get to the line like they haven’t in years. And they are converting defensive stops to offensive opportunities like they have not been capable of in some time. They might just prove to have some good habits soon enough. Let’s give them another couple of weeks?