Well, now we know. Most of us knew going into this season that the Raptors wouldn’t be a playoff team, but it took seven games for us to truly measure how bad this team was going to be. After last night’s lackluster effort against the Warriors, there is a strong possibility that the Raptors are the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
This team lacks star talent, plain and simple. Not a single one of these players is an above-average NBA starter. Their supposed “best player”, Andrea Bargnani, is a sixth man paid like a quality starter. Improbably, his help defense and rebounding effort appear to have worsened since last season. Whether it’s due to frustration because of the losing environment or the fact that he doesn’t seem to be held accountable for anything other than his offensive contributions, it’s time to acknowledge that he’s an abject failure as a frontcourt starter. I don’t even think that playing him next to a defensive-minded center would solve anything — power forwards need to rebound and defend, too.
The Warriors are a formidable offensive squad, without question. Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis make up one of the most dangerous backcourts in the league and they combined for 62 points on just 38 field goal attempts last night. The Raptors couldn’t guard them on the perimeter and they were met with minimal resistance when they drove to the basket. More importantly, the Warriors played harder and smarter than the Raptors. Let’s look at a couple of examples of the Raptors’ lazy, dumb play.
Midway through the second quarter with the Raptors trailing by eight, Sonny Weems grabbed a long rebound and led a three-on-two break with Leandro Barbosa and Jose Calderon on either side of him. Rather than passing to Barbosa for a probable layup or to Calderon for a wide-open three-point attempt, Weems pulls up at the free throw line and fires up a brick. If there was any doubt before last night that Weems is looking to score as much as possible in the hopes of maximizing his next contract, that doubt should be eliminated.
Later in the second quarter with the Warriors now leading by 17, Andrea Bargnani contested a Brandan Wright shot attempt and then started leaking out while Reggie Evans was left to battle Wright and David Lee for the rebound. Predictably, Wright threw down a putback dunk while Bargnani simply stood and watched.
I can excuse a player for not being particularly good at something. I don’t get mad at Reggie for being lousy on offense as long as he long as he plays his role and doesn’t waste possessions. I can’t overlook repeated brain farts like the one exhibited by Bargnani here. If Andrea boxed out Wright here, he would have ended up with the ball after Reggie fumbled it. Instead, it’s an easy score for the Warriors.
Luckily, not everyone on this team is infected with Bargnani’s malaise. For the third straight game, Amir Johnson was a positive force and he almost helped the Raptors get back into the game in the fourth quarter. After the Warriors took a 90-74 lead at the 10:44 mark, the Raptors went on a 12-0 run over the next four minutes — and Johnson was largely responsible for stifling the Warriors’ offense. In these two clips, Amir shows his defensive versatility by forcing Monta Ellis to take a bad shot at the buzzer, and then causing Stephen Curry to miss a layup 30 seconds later.
Amir will probably always be foul-prone but that doesn’t change the fact that he can be a positive force on both ends of the floor if he’s given sufficient playing time. The way I see it, Jay Triano should allocate him 30 minutes every game and make sure he understands that he’s going to get that playing time unless he fouls out. Some nights, he might foul out in 12 minutes. So what? Let him foul out! That’s preferable to having him sit on the bench with four or five fouls while the opposition conducts a layup drill.
The Raptors play the Eastern Conference’s other 1-6 team, the Charlotte Bobcats, on Wednesday. It’s quite possible that Triano could be coaching for his job in that game. After the Bobcats game, the Raptors go on the road to play the Magic, Heat, Wizards and 76ers. Then, they return home to play the Rockets and Celtics. There is legitimate potential for the Raptors to end up 1-13 after that string if they lose on Wednesday.
I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about Triano’s status with this team because I don’t believe there is a coach out there who could mentor this team into the playoffs. I’m pretty sure Scott Skiles would have tried to punch out Bargnani last night if he was the coach. This team simply isn’t good and it looks like certain players have already checked out. This could get really ugly in the next couple of weeks. Get your popcorn ready.