A ten game losing streak. Those don’t usually inspire anything other than contempt. But this was as good as a big losing streak can get.
First off, we’ve seen the Nets and Wizards and Clippers pass the Raptors in the standings. Even Sacramento and Minnesota have crept closer. Cleveland is the only team that looks like a lock to finish lower than our boys this season. If we could see the Raptors finish second or third from the bottom, then the ping pong balls give us a real shot at a much needed injection of talent. If we could somehow package someone and Miami’s pick for another lottery pick, draft night could be orgasmic.
As well, there were some good games in there, with some nice competitive stretches. Take out the back-to-back games in Florida, and there was consistently some good signs. Injuries have forced them to slow the pace and see what they can do in halfcourt sets while offering a chance of limiting the other team’s possessions. The halfcourt offense has benefitted from two things - consistently good play from Jose Calderon, and DeMar DeRozan improving his ballhandling by leaps and bounds, where he has previously just leapt and bounded (all to often right into shot blockers). Jose’s performance this season has made it hard for me to see him as a guy that needs to be moved at all costs. I would love to see us draft a Kyrie Irving (go ping pong balls!), and have him eased into the starting lineup under the mentorship of Jose, who could then be asked to come off the bench without objection and likely be able to excel in that role. Eventually the right deal could be found as Jose’s contract gets less burdensome, and even then, that would be necessary only if Bayless develops into a player that just can’t be squeezed into a role as a backup 2 and third-string pg any longer. It’s possible that Colangelo could be faced with making a happy choice between trading Jose or Jerryd. Of course, all of that depends on the ping pong balls, so bring on more losses.
DeRozan meanwhile, is looking like a basketball player and not just a slightly overwhelmed kid. He’s proving able to use his body control and improved handles to get around defenders and finish, or pull up for a jumper. Considering that he began the season fairly one-dimensionally as a guy that plays aggressively, for better or worse, he’s come a long way to where he can temper that aggression with some smart decisions that improve his own offensive efficiency as well as other teammates. He’s taken the reigns over a good number of stretches, and shown that he understands enough to make it work. He’s also shown some defensive toughness and smarts, although it is still a part of the game that leaves him falling far short of being a perfect Comp10. It is going to be worth watching this team for the rest of this season to see how much of an all-around game he can put together. Right now he looks to have the right demeanor, perhaps realizing that as much as he wants to win games, putting together perfect ten-minute stretches is going to be more important for his game and the overall development of the team. If Triano has done anything to instill that sense in him, then he deserves full marks for any good that comes out of it.
Is there any other cream that has risen to the top of the rather funky milk while it has sat in the refrigerator over these ten losses? I’d have to make a case for Amir. My “Dirty Baby” (mine because nobody else is ever going to call him that), has fought through his back woes, and done nothing less than make more progress in his development than ever before. He’s averaged more than 30 minutes in this stretch of losses, shooting .658, and averaging 7.8 rebounds while more importantly consistently playing tough on the boards. His game is no longer so heavily reliant on Jose setting him up for easy dunks or drives on the pick and roll. He now has some range on a very reliable jumper, and he’s shown some nice quickness on drives along the baseline. His numbers in pretty much all categories, have climbed from month to month. And I don’t think he’s peaked yet. I think this could be a guy that averages a double-double, brings energy and toughness, and never takes a bad shot. Will he be a legitimate starter, or a very nice role player coming off the bench? It depends on where he peaks, and on just how big he is able to play, particular on the defensive end, where he ends up being something of a tweener. We saw him being able to cool off the hot hand of Bogut last night, but only after being unable to keep up with Ilyasova all game long. He might be a better defender as an undersized center, and that might be workable on a team that can stop the ball at the point of attack and provide the quickness and length that allows for some swarming of opposing threats. And this current roster has some guys that can fit that scenario right now. Otherwise, Amir might be able to improve his mobility yet, but if he’s going to be forced to defend quicker power forwards, I would guess that his ceiling would be that of an invaluable bench player that gives up a few too many points on occasion.
What of the funky milk that lies beneath the cream? It has a bit of a garlicky odor. Someone fed Bessie some leftover pesto. Andrea Bargnani started this season with improved numbers. And he showed some willingness to do the work required of him on the defensive end. He got to the line and shot fewer threes than usual. On his career night in Madison Square Garden, he performed on both ends on that big stage, remaining active all game long, while getting other players involved. But it was one night, although at the time it seemed like more than that, since it was part of a pretty good 10-15 game stretch for the Mago. But alas poor Yorick, the limelight has dimmed, and the calcium oxide used for the lighting effect has been replaced by this souring milk. In the last ten games he has shot 39 threes as compared to 44 freethrows, making a dismal percentage of .282 behind the arc. His overall shooting percentage has come in at .414. In the early part of the season we didn’t see many fadeaways. He was going straight up, or leaning into the basket.. He was taking advantage of his size advantage over many defenders. But the fadeaway is back in his arsenal, and he is chucking as much as he is shooting, and we’ve seen the clunkers and airballs killing momentum. His rebounding has dipped down to 5.2 per game, which actually flatters him in comparison to bigs that play fewer minutes. A seven footer that can’t average 5 boards every 36 minutes is simply going to be a costly asset. When the offensive game goes awry, there is just no way to win on most nights. His help defense has deteriorated dramatically, just as it appeared there might be a chance for stabilizing it. He offers no resistance, and all too often ends up being a spectator. The team’s slower pace should equate to fewer possessions for opposing teams, as I suggested earlier. But the inability to secure rebounds has meant that opposing teams get off far too many shots, with a good number of those being easy points from Andrea’s cover coming in unimpeded for a rebound after some good defending from everyone else. That happened all through last season as well, and appears to be a pattern that is not going to be broken anytime soon. It’s also a perfect formula for losing, so the ping pong balls are happy, having sex and multiplying.
This team’s last quality win (that’s not counting a squeaker against the horrible Kings, or the route of the utterly hapless Cavs) was against Dallas with Bargnani out of the lineup. It’s the perfect equation - isn’t that how the marketing campaign goes? Andrea+you=that losing feeling. Let it go on often enough to ensure the losses keep coming and we get a good draft pick. Just don’t forget the smell of that milk, and please Mr. Triano and Mr. Colangelo, do not try to reinvent the game so that we can maybe use that milk in our lattes. This guy is on the clock. Though it doesn’t look like he will ever respond at this point, he does still have a chance to consistently display the form he exhibited through late-November and early-December. If he manages to do so consistently, then I can live with one more shot at making him part of a team, with a suitably lesser role, and rolling with it for a while more. If the current trend continues, then he just simply has to be unloaded as soon as possible. So there you go - clarity is at hand. A perfect ten losses can provide for some of that.
If it’s not clear enough, allow me to quote one of the fine contributors in the Raptors Forum - Ligiea:
Amir and Andrea make for an interesting contrast.
One is full of hustle and earns his minutes with effort. The other plods along and seems interested in scoring, but not much else.
One shows patience and waits for the right shot or opening on offense. The other is chucking the ball at a rate you would expect from a legitimate all-star, not from a borderline 6th man candidate.
One always has his hands up, fighting for every rebound. The other is passive and waits for the ball to fall into his hands.
One player is getting better every month. The other seems to be regressing.
Perfectly summed up Ligeia.
Finally, on top of everything else - we don’t have to hear about that damn three-pointer streak anymore. Absolutely perfect.