Colangelo came out and said it before the season began. They are going to need to overachieve if they want to get anywhere this season. And it’s not like overachieving can’t be done. Right? But it looks like we are seeing it not done right. So far anyways.
For starters they are not moving the ball all that much or all that well. We are seeing a lot of guys trying to fill the kind of star role that this team was not supposed to be about. Leandro Barbosa looked like a waterbug for long stretches the other night. I have to admit that I loved it, in the way that I find watching the randomness of waterbugs endlessly entertaining. I mean don’t stop for my sake Leandro. Zig, zag and then zag again. But I have to admit that it’s not going to lead to this team busting through any kind of perceived ceiling. We’ve seen Linas Kleiza making a lot of moves around the basket. They would be examples of the post moves that we heard about him developing while in Europe. And they seemed to work pretty well during the worlds this past summer. Until Lithuania played the good old USA. And then they simply did not work at all. And that has generally carried over to the various NBA talent the Raptors have faced thus far. I would really like to see him try to break down defenses a little more and make some nice passes in the paint, like he seemed capable of, even against team red,white and blue. Sonny, Demar, Amir - they all seem to be on islands and the water level is rising, but it’s not like they are doing anything to contribute to global warming.
And there’s my only real disappointment thus far. It’s not the losing. They can keep on losing, and maybe we’ll get a real game-changer in the draft. But in the meantime I want to see some sense of chemistry developing somewhere. Instead of chemistry we are seeing all kinds of energy with no unifying sense of direction. Ten, or eleven guys in the rotation taps into that energy, but it is not helping to provide any direction.
When I think about teams that over-achieved in the past, I think of Doc’s Magic team that hustled it’s way to a .500 record, and Hubie’s Grizzlies that won 50 games with two distinct lines of what he likes to call ath-AH-letic players. Bo Outlaw was on both squads. That dude could outwork anyone. He was able to fill a role similar to Reggie’s, but he wasn’t filling that role in part to make up for someone else’s deficiencies. And when Bo wasn’t in their providing that energy, Ben Wallace was. The rest of the Orlando team shared the ball and played together on both ends. Nobody tended to take more than 12 or 13 shots. They fed off of each other’s energy and took advantage of what was there - not what they might try to create for themselves. The Grizzlies had a young Pau, a young Battier, and Mike Miller. That team was not going to have a problem with a sense of direction. Again - the shots were distributed well, with Pau averaging around 13 attempts in 31 minutes of playing time to lead the way. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were not happy by the end of the season, because splitting minutes so evenly did not work for some of the larger egos that perhaps never should have been given the chance to show off their ath-AH-leticism at all. Orlando would turn to big gunners like McGrady and Hill, with Hill getting sidelined and McGrady cranking up the shots and killing the chemistry of the rest of the team. In each case the overachieving amounted to very little in the big picture, even though they did it right. That would just make things look that much bleaker here. Could it be time to do something about that?
Let’s look at the Raptors. You’ve got Bargnani playing big minutes, and showing signs of improving in one single area (scoring) due to nothing more than all the extra shots he is being afforded. And then there is Reggie trying to make up for all the other areas Andrea has shown no improvement in. Throw in a real mish-mash of guys, all with good intentions and a drive to put in the required effort. It’s nice that the kind of energy level and fresh legs that allowed those other teams to benefit from using a deep rotation can be in play here - but there has been no chemistry that has been sustained for a long enough duration to get any real results from it. It was nice to see a bit of a shortening of the rotation as Triano went small in the second half against Golden State. There looked to be actual chemistry between Demar, Jarrett, Sonny, Linas and Amir, on both ends of the court. For a nice period of time there wasn’t as much forcing of shots. The floor appeared level rather than sloped upward. On some turnovers they could even score on breaks that looked like they were running downhill all the way. They stood a chance at getting something done, and in a sense they did get something done, and it was monumental for this bunch - they looked like a team through and through. And I will take that little bit of overachieving. I hope Triano will take it, and run with it as well.
A group like that, give or take a body here or there, is the place to start, in my eyes. Shorten the rotation for now for the sake of gaining a sense of direction. If that direction can eventually extend it’s way through a bigger rotation, then swell. I would hope that we could see Ed Davis benefit from that eventually, rather than being squeezed into an interminable parade of waterbugs, chuckers, and failed post-ups. Of course it would entail Triano making some hard decisions, something he is often allergic to. I have to hope that his actions in the second half of that last game could be a start towards accepting the need to continue along that route. Yesterday he was repeatedly talking about the need for the team to put together a concerted effort for an entire 48 minutes. I thought if I heard him say “48 minutes” one more time I might pop like a pizza pocket left in the microwave for…48 minutes. This group is not going to be able to define themselves on their own by simply running here and there and usually in ways that make it appear to be uphill. Triano is going to have to identify where the chemistry can really have an effect, take hold, and carry over to enough other guys to allow them to think of themselves as a team. Jay Triano - it is on you. It has been said elsewhere, that all this man really needs to do is get his players to play hard. But actually, there is the need to construct a team in some sense, and that doesn’t mean they need to be a winning team. They should be done with the idea of overachieving about now. Just achieve that sense that there is an actual team taking the court. They can’t go on playing on their own islands in sweet bliss - the water keeps rising.