CHISHOLM: FIVE RAPTORS POSITIVES
Old 03-30-2009, 01:12 PM   #1 (permalink)
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CHISHOLM: FIVE RAPTORS POSITIVES

It's becoming increasingly redundant to open these posts discussing the innumerable negatives that have plagued the Toronto Raptors this season, especially in light of the fact that the team has reeled off three straight wins. So instead we shift our focus to the five biggest positives to come out of this season and we'll look at the impact that they'll have on the summer and season ahead.

5. THE EMERGENCE OF ROKO-COP

When the Raptors traded away T.J. Ford last summer (along with Rasho Nesterovic and Maceo Baston), they did a number to their reserve crew, however no position was as affected as severely as the point guard spot T.J. was vacating. In the last two seasons the point guard position had been a spot of strength for the Raptors as they were able to platoon two starting guards to wreak havoc against opposing clubs. With the exile of Ford, though, the position became a one-man spot including Jose Calderon and no one else.

To remedy this situation the Raptors imported two European guards to fill out their depth at that position. One, Will Solomon, was supposed to log the majority of the minutes as the team eased former second-round pick Roko Ukic into the position slowly. Solomon was (shockingly) seen as the Anthony Parker of the point guard position due to his dominance of the Turkish basketball circuit and was believed to be ready to man a backup spot full-time for an NBA club. It turns out that being the MVP of the Turkish League is not quite the same as being a Eurobasket MVP (like Parker was) and Solomon struggled mightily with consistency at a position with elevated importance when Calderon's hamstring began limiting his playing time.

However, as games began to have less and less meaning, the 'why not?' theory was put to use and Ukic was given more and more minutes to learn on the job and iron out his own consistency issues. Ukic is a guard that has a confidence and aggressiveness that belie his still-raw abilities, assets that never dimmed, even with inconsistent playing time. His recent uptick in minutes, though, has allowed the Raptors' brass to glimpse at the kind of player they'll have in Ukic as his skills begin to catch up with his intensity. Were he to have continued as the third-string guy, the team may have felt unsure of what they had outside of the practice court when they had to make roster decisions this summer. In game action, however, he's shown an ever-increasing ability to run an effective offence at the NBA level and he seems to have a solid grasp of the things he can (drive) and cannot do (shoot) on the court. He plays aggressive without forcing his game, he looks to get his teammates involved in the offence and he punishes defenses that give him paths to the basket. In recent games against the Clippers and Thunder, Ukic recorded 8 and 10 assists, respectively, while having only three turnovers combined in the two contests.

As the Raptors look to reshape (as opposed to rebuild) their club this summer they will probably feel a lot more confident leaning on Ukic as a full-time backup given the experience he has gained in year one as an NBAer. While expecting him to have a Calderon-esque turnaround in year two is inviting disappointment, having a confident and capable backup (that doesn't create friction by being TOO good to be a reserve) would be a welcome asset to a club that has not had such an option since Chris Childs donned Ukic's number 1 from 2001 through 2003.

4. THE TRIANO EXPERIMENT

Jay Triano is a very well respected coach, and not just by players named Steve Nash. Triano has survived three coaching changes in Toronto and has a firm understanding of how basketball works and has a strong personal philosophy of how he likes to see it played. He was hired as an assistant coach this summer for the Team USA Select squad, a group of up-and-coming players who scrimmaged against the Olympic team during their preparation for the summer games. That made Triano one of only six coaches brought into the inner sanctum of the Team USA infrastructure, a group that included Mike Krzyzewski, Mike D'Antoni, Jim Boeheim, Nate McMillan, P.J. Carlesimo and Triano and that's it. That's seriously exclusive company and Triano was a part of it. When it comes to the future of the Raptors head-coaching chair, most signs point to Triano sitting atop it.

There are very few impact coaches available in the open market this summer, with guys like Flip Saunders and Eddie Jordan possessing the talents that several clubs will be after this summer. Their price tags are going to be high, probably too high for a club already shelling out mega-bucks to deposed head man Sam Mitchell. Next-tier guys like Mo Cheeks or the aforementioned Carlesimo are options, but they bring with them a lesser guarantee for success but a price tag that will reflect their name recognition. In all likelihood the Raptors are going to be forced to keep Triano on as their head man for the foreseeable future.

So when does this all become the fourth-biggest positive for the Raptors this season? When we realize, like some have in the last two weeks, that Triano might be the right choice for the job, despite his horrific record. As the team's roster has gained health and stability, they've begun developing chemistry with each other and familiarity with Triano's system. In the last two weeks the Raptors have obliterated Indiana, the L.A. Clippers, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City by playing fast and smart basketball. Now, beating a string of bottom-feeders hardly wins anyone a Red Auerbach trophy, but the way the Raptors beat those teams goes a long way towards proving that Triano's offensive and defensive philosophies are sound and appropriate for this group of players. The team has gotten more comfortable getting out on the break, they're assisting more than they have all season, and they're even out-rebounding their opponents in March by an average of 3.3 per game. The team scoring in March is up over 100 ppg for the first time all year and the players actually look like they belong out on the court with each other.

So here's how this breaks down: The Raptors will (and should) gauge the level of interest of guys like Saunders and Jordan, and they'll probably even have a sit down with Euroleague maestro Ettore Messina, but should those avenues prove unfruitful for the club (or too expensive to a club still paying Mitchell), it says here that the organization will confidently hand the full-time reigns of the team to Triano and revamp his support staff accordingly. He's had nearly a full season of on-the-job training without the players revolting against him - in fact they seemed to warm to him and his philosophies as time wore on - and with all of the external factors going in his favour, another week or two of knocking off basement dwellers will probably secure his seat for at least another year or two in Toronto. Fret now, if you like, but the club will be hard pressed to find a more capable and compatible match to this team in the months ahead.

3. ENTER THE MATRIX

Bryan Colagnelo had been trying since the day he landed in Toronto to either acquire Shawn Marion or a player of his ilk to fortify his wing positions. Of course, there are very few players in the NBA who can bring to the game what Marion can, and when Toronto's GM saw an opportunity to nab the man himself he waited patiently for Miami to acquiesce to the deal. As soon as Marion hit the floor for Toronto, his impact was immediately felt as he brought a commitment to defense, rebounding and running that has (finally) begun trickling down to the rest of the roster.
But Marion's impact goes deeper than just style. On March 13th, after weeks of consistent losing, he lashed out, saying that he was ''pissed off'' and that he didn't ''want to go out there and lose every night.'' After a season spent letting fans down (and chastising them for booing) someone on the team was finally saying what the fan base was feeling. Finally someone inside the organization seemed to be as disgusted as those outside it, and finally the team had a player who seemed willing to hold his mates accountable for their failings. Despite coach Triano's clipboard-shattering fire and brimstone act from the sidelines, most of Toronto's players seemed indifferent to their fate this season. Marion wasn't, and he let it be known.

Since Marion sounded off, the team has gone 4-2 and has played with a vigor that went unseen for most of the season. Marion himself stepped up his on court production and his teammates followed suit. There is (somewhat baseless) talk about the Raptors letting him go this summer or participating in a sign-and-trade scenario to get him to another team, but aside from the obvious impact he has on the court and Phoenix can attest to how hard that is to replace the Raptors cannot afford to lose work ethic and accountability in such a crucial summer. On a team littered with indifference he was the lone voice who was willing to step and tell the world that he was as pissed off as everyone else was, and that is a player a notoriously soft organization needs to keep.

2. THE MEASURE OF CHRIS BOSH

This is a somewhat controversial idea, but it nonetheless stands as a positive going forward. Bosh has always fancied himself on the same plane as LeBron, Wade, Paul and Howard. He has oft spoken of a desire to be seen throughout the NBA as a player who deserves to lineup alongside the game's young greats. However, while those four players saw their careers take another step forward this year, Bosh saw his hit a wall that pokes a number of holes into his self-evaluation.

Are LeBron, Wade, Paul and Howard better than they were a year ago? Absolutely. Is Bosh? Not quite. Bosh still struggles with butterfingers, he still doesn't move much without the ball to get easier looks at the basket and he can still fall into tunnel vision with the ball in his hands. His commitment to rebounding has been inconsistent all year, being spectacular one night and absent the next, and his defensive improvement do not live up to the potential that Bosh hinted at during the Beijing Olympics. Without Sam Mitchell's tough love relationship, Bosh seems to have grown complacent while those he longs to compare himself to have upped their production another notch this season.

Of course, it doesn't help that Bosh was saddled with a razor-thin roster that got beset by injuries within weeks of the season starting. Still, Wade hardly plays with world beaters and LeBron and Paul have certainly had to deal with injuries to key teammates all year, yet both of them refused to allow their team's fortunes to dwindle whereas Bosh seemed incapable of altering the fate of his Raptors.

This is all a good thing for a number of reasons, the chief one being that finally the team has an idea of Bosh's limitations. When he was just a bushel of limitless potential he was very hard to build around. It was difficult to tell which of his faults were temporary and which were hard-wired into his game. Now the team has a far better sense of the kinds of players that need to surround Bosh to keep him winning, as was evidenced by the hustle, defense and rebounding acquired in Marion and Pops Mensa-Bonsu. The organization knows, also, that Bosh will need a finisher to play alongside him, much like Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol do, because Bosh isn't a player who thrives in late-game or must-score situations.

It also gives the Raptors about a year's head start in dealing with Bosh: The Real Player versus the Bosh: The Idea of a Player that most still believe him to be. Bosh has much more in common with this summer's free agent, Carlos Boozer, than he does with next summer's James and Wade. Like Boozer, he shouldn't be a top-level, max-money player and the Raptors may be able to exploit the fact that most still believe he is in trade discussions this summer. Plus, after this season there has got to be some faction of the organization that is wary of having to ink Bosh to a $100-million-plus deal so if a team can bowl them over with a trade proposal the Raptors will have to think hard about pulling the trigger (especially if they can get out from under Jason Kapono's onerous contract in the process).

Now keep in mind that Bosh is absolutely a player a team can build around, so this isn't meant to imply that he's not, but what this season has provided was a glimpse of how much talent is needed around him to make his team a winning one. If Bosh says he's in for the long haul with the Raptors then that would still be the best scenario for the team to go ahead with. However, if Bosh proves lukewarm about the prospect then at least the team can explore alternatives with a half-decent sense of the player they are giving away. Bosh is not going to become Duncan or Garnett, that has become clear (in fact, his game resembles a pre-surgery McDyess if it resembles anyone from that era), so if the team is forced to move ahead without him the sting is dulled, if ever so slightly, by the fact that the Raptors finally have a clear sense of what Bosh's ceiling might be.

1. THE RETURN OF IL MAGO

Two summers ago, the future looked incredibly bright for Andrea Bargnani. The number one overall pick in the draft had defied early expectations to finish as the runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting, he'd had a positive impact in his first ever NBA Playoffs and he looked poised to take over as a full-time starter when the team reconvened the following fall.

When the team reconvened, though, the plan began to fall apart. Bargnani was yo-yoed in an out of the starting five all season as the team tried desperately to reclaim some measure of consistency that eluded Bargnani in much last season. His shot was way off, with a 39 percent field goal accuracy to be exact, his rebounding was worse and he looked absolutely broken, confidence-wise. When the team started this season with him as a full-time reserve it was with the hope that it would spark something in Bargnani by not having the weight of undue expectations as a starter on his shoulders, yet still he struggled to recapture the promise that had so many excited after his rookie year.

Of course, that's all history now. Bargnani has spent all of 2009 reminding the NBA world why he was selected number one overall three years ago by averaging 17.7 points and 6.2 rebounds as a starter this year, and averaging 52 percent shooting (including 52 percent from three) in the month of March. That puts him squarely in the company of Utah's underrated starting centre Mehmet Okur at only 23 years of age. He's rounded out his attack to include not just three-point shooting but a killer pump-fake, dribble, pull-up move and quick cuts all the way to the basket. His around the hoop game is vastly improved, as he now takes 25 percent of his shots from in close, where he shoots an field goal percentage of .589, and he's doing a better job of demanding the ball when he is in spots he feels comfortable scoring. As his confidence has risen so has the confidence of his teammates in him to make good decisions with the ball. At several points this season he has carried the team's offense (he's led the team in scoring fourteen times this season) and twenty-one times this season he's posted 20+ points. Bargnani represents, for the first time in franchise history, a true second scorer for the Toronto Raptors.

Of course, quietly or otherwise, that's not the real story anymore. As the talk of trading Bosh continues to swirl (and will continue until he's either extended or traded) the question become whether or not Bargnani could maintain or even improve upon his 2009 numbers without Bosh around. One argument suggests that paired with a shot blocking and rebounding big man and a scoring wing (both could and should be a return, at minimum, in any Bosh transaction) Bargnani could use his multifaceted offensive attack to lead the Toronto Raptors into the next decade. The counter-argument is that without Bosh drawing defensive attention away from Bargnani he'd struggle under the weight of being the team's primary weapon. As maligned as Bosh has been in Toronto of late it can be easy to forget how effective a scorer he is, especially considering the interest defenses take in trying to shut him down. It's all speculation since no one has any clue what Bosh could actually fetch in the open market but it would be premature to expect that Bargnani is ready to fill his shoes just yet but that doesn't mean he won't be asked to next fall.

The point is that Bargnani's emergence this season has not only validated his selection as the number one overall pick, even in such a mediocre draft as that of 2006, but it's also given the franchise a little bit of breathing room as it pertains to handling the Bosh situation. He went from downright bad to eerily good rather swiftly and with Bosh or without his development will be key to any success that Raptors hope to have going forward. Considering that his decline was easily the most depressing part about last season's run, it's only fair that his explosion back onto the scene tops the list of positives a year later.

Not much has gone right for the Raptors this season, but at least a small handful of events have set the team up with an ounce of promise heading into a key summer in the history of this club.
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Old 03-30-2009, 01:24 PM   #2 (permalink)
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nice - very balanced article
the only thing I don't agree is marion's comments being the catalyst for the change. After those comments, marion had two horrible games against charlotte where wallace abused him every way possible. Ever since that though, he's been on top of his game.
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Old 03-30-2009, 01:27 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Excellent overall assessment. But I think the jury is still out on Marion. More often than not he seems to miss those easy layups that end up costing the team,,,sometimes he shows flashes of the matrix in Phoenix but sometimes you wonder if he has lost it. You also forgot to mention Pops. he sure was a positive addition to the roster.
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Old 03-30-2009, 01:27 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Hell of a good read and pretty spot on.
Has Chisholm been reading RF?
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Old 03-30-2009, 01:37 PM   #5 (permalink)
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A very fair article from someone who has obviously watched this team intently. The only area I disagree on is Marion's role on the team; I am glad that he said something, but don't credit less than a handful of wins against sub-par teams to his frustration.
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Old 03-30-2009, 02:37 PM   #6 (permalink)
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good read.
love the CB4 assessment.
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Old 03-30-2009, 02:52 PM   #7 (permalink)
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for me, the jury is still out on Triano. Is he really the "best" guy to coach the team? I don't know. I don't want these last few wins to cloud my judgment.
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Old 03-30-2009, 02:58 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Really enjoyed the article, and appreciate the accuracy of it.
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Old 03-30-2009, 02:58 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Now THAT is a good article.

For once it's not all about doom & gloom.
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Old 03-30-2009, 03:40 PM   #10 (permalink)
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That was good.

But what was he talking about Bosh's rebounding inconsistencies? What about Bargs?
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Old 03-30-2009, 03:43 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Dann38 View Post
Has Chisholm been reading RF?
Who doesn't read it. LOL

BTW, this was a good read and I agree with the Bargs assesment. I love his play and can't wait till next season to see him improve even more
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Old 03-30-2009, 04:17 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Very nice. Eerily similar to my own recent blog attempt. With actual knowledge inserted of course.
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Old 03-30-2009, 04:29 PM   #13 (permalink)
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dont keep marion plz
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Old 03-30-2009, 05:46 PM   #14 (permalink)
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number 2 and 1 are the only ones that matter to me.
nice article btw
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Old 03-30-2009, 06:45 PM   #15 (permalink)
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i'm really intrigued at the possibility of keeping triano going forward. I like the way this team plays under him. chisholm brings up the point that most people forget about triano and that's his connections on the international level and coaching on such a big stage and being successful at it.
the team's carving a little identity for itself and over the last four games i like that they're scoring in a variety of different ways, not to mention executing pretty well on both ends of the floor.
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Old 03-30-2009, 07:43 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by ClingRap View Post
i'm really intrigued at the possibility of keeping triano going forward. I like the way this team plays under him. chisholm brings up the point that most people forget about triano and that's his connections on the international level and coaching on such a big stage and being successful at it.
the team's carving a little identity for itself and over the last four games i like that they're scoring in a variety of different ways, not to mention executing pretty well on both ends of the floor.
Was he though?? He got to the top, but did he really do anything once he was there? Steve Nash carried the team on his back in 2000, but other than that the Canadian team never really did much under Jay except consistantly lose to teams like Angola and New Zealand.
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Old 03-30-2009, 08:02 PM   #17 (permalink)
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ok I draw the line here with you.

Who the ^%$ are you to call a guy out for his success coaching a Canadian mens team that is full of guys that couldn't compete in the D-League????

Wow.

Just wow. Do you remember the team?

Remember the players?

Did you see the games?

Do you know that Triano was widely respected for his efforts coaching that team? Which is why he's coaching now, which is why he was an assistant on USA, which is why he lasted through 3 head coaches here?

He is a good coach. He's a very smart man.

So I guess my answer is YES, he right effin successful.
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Old 03-30-2009, 08:25 PM   #18 (permalink)
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oooooooo. SJ is drawing the line with me.

Don't just cut me up by saying he is where he is and that's how it is. That's too easy. And if that's how it is on here, than nobody should be critiquing anybody in the league.

How was he successful with Canada except for the fact that he made it to be the coach of team Canada? I just call it like I see it, I think Triano didn't do a whole lot with the national team program, we sucked when he came aboard, we sucked when he left. He did get fired and replaced with somebody with no head-coaching experience. I think that says a lot towards his success with the national team right there. And I do remember, because I had the same opinion of jay back then when I watched our national team lose to teams from countries who didn't have any more professional experience than our Canadian teams had. His national teams had the same passionless demeanor on the court that the Raptors have showed under him for the most part this year.

So again, how was he "fucking" successful with the national team.

He had ZERO success with any canadian team that didn't have a player named steve nash on the roster.

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Old 03-30-2009, 08:29 PM   #19 (permalink)
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How is Jay Triano anywhere near being a positive?
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Old 03-30-2009, 08:59 PM   #20 (permalink)
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