First of all, lets make no mistake about it – the necessary improvement with this Raptors team needs to come on the defensive end. It’s really too bad that they could not continue playing very well together as a group, as they were before the All-Star break. On both ends the concentration and focus was there before. Now these guys are looking like complete strangers again. There is too much looking for one guy to create stops, rather than to be a part of five guys all adding to the effectiveness of the defense from the point of attack to securing the rebounds.
Yet as much as the defense is a sore spot, I still find the way they play on the offensive end to be a part of the problem. The shot selection, and the way that shots are settled for without making the opposing defenses work, leads to a whole lot of transition points going the other way. The play on the offensive end mirrors what happens on the defensive end. There’s just not a great idea of what each guy needs to be doing to add to the sum of the parts. There is a positive trend towards driving to the basket and scoring in the paint. It’s nice to see that they do not need to be defined as a jump shooting team. But there are also many negatives in that trend. There is so much rushing involved in trying to get the ball inside. The entry passes are forced and all-too-often to the other team. The drives are often forced as well, not originating from any openings, but rather just heading into multiple defenders with no sense of exploiting any options. It’s no wonder that there ends up being so many turnovers and so many less-than-optimal shots taken.
In the end, opposing defenses only require the simplest of schemes to gain momentum in games. Defend the paint. That’s it. Let the Raptors continue to try to force plays into a crowd. And let them settle for the odd outside jumper that will have a good chance of leading to a head start the other way. The Raptors lack range. They do not have anyone that wants to shoot for the big score from the outside. Bargnani has all but completely lost his touch from long-distance. Jose needs to get a boost of confidence before he is willing to unveil his antler-revue. Wright and Jack have trouble making up their minds as to whether they will be ready to shoot or drive. And so defenses just don’t have to work very hard. The Raptors still get their points, but they come from an awful lot of effort from a lot of guys that need to be putting the bulk of their efforts in on the defensive end. There is a lot of scrambling to get close to the basket without rhyme or reason. Instead of an inside-out game, there’s just a lot of looking for space inside that isn’t there. So, they start with a deficit of long-range threats, and then end-up needing to change their shots from point-blank range. Pretty much everyone has missed multiple layups in this extended stretch of ineffective play. Poor Demar doesn’t miss as much as he just gets shots blocked and his ass drilled into the floor. With defenses laying in wait, and so few openings created, there are not a lot of trips to the free throw line. The way the the Raptors are playing right now just allows for bad teams to equalize opportunities and go on runs, and good teams to dominate.
It would all be great if these guys were in training for the 1 Meter Olympiad; you know – where people of any shape, size or ability throw on the tight body suits and wait for the starter’s gun. No matter what your athletic skills overall, it’s going to be a close call at the finish. Mind you the 1M Olympics would be far more entertaining than the Raptors are right now. I could go for watching a lot of lunging on skates and skis. Swimming would consist of contests to see who makes contact with the bottom of the pool first. The 4x1M hurdle relay would be something to watch.
But back in the real world the playoffs are either approaching or falling from their grasp. Either way, they need to get Bosh and Turkoglu incorporated in an offense that brings some rhythm and flow and free throw attempts back into games, while allowing guys like Jarrett Jack, Antoine Wright, Reggie Evans, and Amir Johnson to save a lot more for defense.
Ultimately though, assuming that they are going to find the right balance again and make it into the playoffs, they are going to need to find some range. The teams at the top of the standings are going to turn games into three point contests if they can. They are going to push things out further out on the perimeter, and if Toronto goes back to forcing the ball inside they will have no hope. They are going to have to at least establish a modest threat from long-range and make defenses put in some work to take some outside options away. The more the Raptors work on their 1M competitions, the more they help opposing teams race the full distance in transition. If they are going to make the playoffs, they better at least look like they belong there, in the real deal, and not in some mock version that someone who isn’t getting out enough, like myself, might have just made up while lying on the couch.