Where is this team going? Will we see more games like the win against OKC? Or more like the loss against Indiana? In the end, I think it’s most important to see what pieces on the team work well with each other, and which don’t, regardless of wins or losses. They should not lose sight of that just yet.
The win against the Thunder was notable right off the bat, in that it showed real progress in the ability of this team to use a quicker pace to it’s advantage. Through the first half, it looked like the faster pace might favor OKC, as would be expected to a degree. Were the Raptors just playing into the hands of the opposition? They were using up a lot of energy and not exactly doing anything beyond staying fairly even on the scoreboard. It looked like a further continuation of what plagued them all last season and in a good part of this season: score in bunches with running and early offense, and get scored on in bunches in transition and poor rotations. But there was a change in the overall pattern in this game. Instead of the Raptors losing their legs and just lying down and dying in the second half, they actually saw OKC do just that. But here’s the problem – the Thunder, and particularly Westbrook (their main guy with Durant absent), were simply tired from a roadtrip that had featured a triple overtime stint previous to this one. The Raptors did well in exploiting that factor. But how many games can they win based on a team not being up to playing a complete game? Maybe too many, if you want to see a high draft pick more than anything else. But then again, we’ve already seen the Raptors lose games they had the potential to win, because they simply looked ragged themselves, so it should all equal out to some extent.
That doesn’t mean I would entirely discount the game against OKC. That second half featured some nice passing and some solid defensive play. They showed some hustle across the board, and it didn’t lead to any dead ends, but rather capitalized further on their good team play. I won’t just say that the Raptors need to play teams that are gassed, hurting, or just more dismal than our team in Toronto, in order to display such things as ball movement and defensive prowess. Instead, let me look at the positives. They are the poor girl that David Cassidy comes across in the Partridge Family song that also served as the opening theme to the television show. And they have now been pointed in the direction of their Albuquerque. This game should be exhibit A in terms of demonstrating where they need to be. If this team can develop beyond simply running well, and working hard, then they can break through an otherwise low ceiling. Passing and defending are all about a team truly coming together. It’s nice to have an identity centered on the idea of hard work, but it’s the kind of thing that can be negated all to easily over 48 minutes, whereas whatever talent that this roster possesses can be magnified by the development of an identity based on passing and defense with consistency. Without that basis the running game is just a way to hide the truth about that low ceiling. So it was very nice to see this team go beyond running and working hard when they had the chance against a gassed-out team. At least there is a latent possibility that can come into play a little ways down the road, and hopefully they get frequent enough glimpses of that, so that they don’t feel like they’ve already landed in Albuquerque, as D-Leaguers.
But for an identity based on strong two-way teamwork to become a reality in the future, I suspect we are simply going to have to see some significant changes to this roster. If nothing else, that became evident in the loss to Indiana. That game featured a first half with a meager 5 assists, and 10 turnovers. That would be an embarrassment to most D-League teams. This team just doesn’t have much in the way of a halfcourt offense, and it’s going to take more than just time to fix that. There are too many guys that simply do not pass. And it turns out that they are some of the biggest guns that this team relies on. Reggie Evans might actually be missed for his passing abilities, almost as much as for his rebounding, and that fact says more about the rest of the team than it does about Reggie Evans. Sonny Weems and Demar Derozan had been making the attempt to make things work in the halfcourt sets, but have recently become black holes themselves, and that is to be expected to a degree. Just as a weak link or two on the defensive side can make everyone look pretty bad as defenders, when it comes to sharing the ball, the weaker links tend to make those committed to working well within halfcourt sets develop impulses that work against those ends. The key for this team going forward, is to see if they can minimize those weak links on both ends of the court. If they can’t get as far as that, they will need to identify those that make the problem impossible to improve upon, and build around anyone but them. They need to at least be pointed in the right direction, or else the feeling that working hard isn’t going to be enough quite a lot of the time right now, is going to be compounded by a sense that hard work might never be enough to counteract those that hold the rope, and even pull, but never in synch with all the rest.
There might not be any Keith Partridges on this team. Those that come closest might only be suited as backup singers – your Laurie Partridges. That’s fine for now. But the Danny Partridges that ultimately get in the way more than they help, have got to be switched out for the sake of the band. Eventually. Because believing that Danny is just pointing out that the only way to go from here is up, is only going to be possible for so long, before everyone realizes that they are actually being pointed in the direction of an Albuquerque they just don’t want to know about.