Remember before Bosh was selected in ‘03, how badly the Toronto Raptors needed some credible, functional, viable size? Things might have even bottomed out completely in Bosh’s first season, when he played C with a banged up knee and a skinny frame, and there was no other real size to be had outside of the “Banger Brothers”. After that we saw the arrival of the Haffanator, who seemed like an evolutionary twist on the Huffman-Huffamazing. Actually the whole collection of bigs throughout the first half of the decade could all be lined up on a chart not unlike the one showing the link from ape to neanderthal to human, with the more human calibre of NBA talent appearing so rarely as to suggest a process as slow as evolution.
Finally we have found the missing link, or links actually. Bosh, Bargnani, Amir “Dirty Baby” Johnson, Rasho, and the pre-season wonder - Reggie Evans. Add to that the size of Hedo, and it is clear that this team can finally play big. But can they win big? Or is it simply a horrible irony that what teams need to win in the NBA today, is speed and playmaking on the perimeter? It was the small ball that hurt this team last week in Indy, and it will be small ball that gives them fits in games yet to come. But they also have bigs with enough mobility to withstand most of the attempts to make speed count for more than size, and as long as they continue to improve their half-court game, getting the most out of shots while not allowing for a ton of transition points the other way, this team is going to be able to gain an identity through it’s big men.
I fell in love with Andrea Bargnani last week. That is the guy I imagined when he was picked #1. Earlier this season I said that he needs to bring the kind of energy that Marion supplied last season, and that if he could muster that it would make this season a success. Energy. Not shots, not rebounds per se, just the energy - and then the rest would come for himself - and more importantly, for his team. And the energy is there. He is hunting down loose balls, he is battling inside and out, guarding Howard and Rondo effectively, and this team is winning easy and winning ugly, winning through offense and winning on defense. He’s talking, he’s bouncing around and skipping like a little girl when he gets the job done. He’s getting teched up when things don’t go his way. He’s arrived, with a boost of energy.
He made a couple of moves in the post against a smaller Knicks squad, that looked a little bit like Duncan. The ease of motion was there - the fundamental soundness. And the way he is not only grabbing boards with two hands (two hands!!!), but having the awareness to create space for himself afterwards, must be making Moses Malone proud to have worked with him over the summer. I always felt that Andrea would and should be defined in terms of his completeness as a player. He is not Dirk. The overall flair is not there. He is a different animal. He has his own branch on the evolutionary tree. OK - maybe it’s just a twig, but it is unique in how it takes some of the same sap that feeds the likes of a Marion, a Duncan, a Dirk and a Malone. That’s pretty complete, and he deserves a ton of credit for not focusing on being more like any of those guys, nor being content to be able to hit some three pointers and block some shots as he’s always done. Because it’s his ability to do a bit of everything that makes him so valuable.
Now add a more sizable Bosh than before, a physical workman like Amir, and eventually the threatening presence of Reggie Evans, and it’s going to take some extremely hot shooting for this team to get beat on most nights. Right now I’m liking the idea of a matchup against just about anybody but Boston. If this team continues to gel around the play of its bigs, then they are going to be a tough to handle. If Bosh and Hedo can continue to sacrifice individual numbers alongside Bargnani, then they’ve got an extremely big, and well-balanced front court, to complete a transformation from the first half of the season to the last half of the season that is going to leave little to complain about, for myself anyways.
Remember when the games were coming fast and furious, and you were almost happy to have forgotten some parts of that schedule? Now do you feel like the days inbetween games are going too slow and you’re checking the schedule over and over again? That’s the deal for me, and it is a big, and welcome change.