If you watch a lot of NBA action, you know that the ability to play smart, well-executed basketball at the end of games can be worth from 5 to 10 wins over the course of a season. Since the Raptors are a young team, it shouldn’t be surprising that this has been a problem for them this season, and it was certainly what caused them to lose last night in Charlotte.
While Jerryd Bayless had his second straight strong performance as a starting point guard, he followed 34 minutes of electrifying play with a disastrous final minute. His questionable decision-making and careless ball-handling you’ll see in this clip killed the Raptors’ chances of pulling out a close win. I’ve also included Andrea Bargnani’s costly turnover after a key offensive rebound when he should have taken a second to gather himself before attempting the pass to reset the offence.
It’s worth noting that in spite of last night’s rough ending, Bayless has been very impressive in his last two games. He’s obviously not lacking in confidence and I’ve been pleased with his hustle, his fearlessness in the lane and his ability to stay in front of his man on the defensive end. Here are a couple of highlights that stood out for me last night — in the first sequence, he gets back in transition to stop a fast break, forces D.J. Augustin to force up and bad shot on the ensuing offensive set, and then streaks down the other hand to set up a wide-open Sonny Weems for an easy jumper. In the second play, he drives through the athletic Bobcats defence for a near-circus-shot and-one.
It’s safe to say we haven’t seen a point guard who can make plays like this in Toronto for a while. It’s not hard to find flaws in his game — his handle could use work, his shot is inconsistent and he’s not a particularly great finisher at the rim — but his 24-points, eight-assists, four-rebounds average in those two games speaks for itself. Jose Calderon has only scored 24 points in a single game once since the beginning of the 2009-10 season.
Whether or not he’ll ever be considered a “true point guard” is uncertain, but even if you don’t consider him starting material in the long run, there’s no question the 22-year-old has Sixth Man of the Year potential. It appears that Jay Triano has allowed him the freedom to drive and shoot whenever he feels like it, and it’s worked out pretty well so far in Toronto with the unfortunate exception of that final minute.
In case you haven’t seen it already, let’s wrap this up with DeMar DeRozan’s spectacular dunk late in the third quarter. Watch this once for the dunk and then watch it a second time for Bayless flying off the bench in his warmup jacket with his towel waving to help DeRozan up. I like this kid. Also, can I say that my one of my favourite aspects of the NBA is they way bench players react to dunks like these? For some reason, many of them wear facial expressions like they just witnessed a particularly gruesome car wreck. It never gets old for me.