Among NBA coaches outside Toronto, the word is out on how soft the Raptors’ defence is. Admittedly, you don’t need to be Gregg Popovich to figure out that the Raptors’ defensive deficiencies are easy to exploit — they can’t defend the pick-and-roll, they don’t box out consistently, they’re soft, they’re not particularly athletic, certain key players “tune out” for extended periods on the defensive end… I could go on, but you get the point. Here’s Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins on the Raptors’ defence:

“I was watching the Spurs-Toronto game and one of the sets (San Antonio) runs, we run and Toronto was struggling stopping it when they played zone. We ran that play almost the entire second quarter. (Maurice Speights) rolled to the basket and Jrue (Holiday) did a nice job finding him for those little pocket passes and scores.”

The second quarter of last night’s game might have been the most embarrassing defensive display I’ve seen the Raptors put up all season, and that’s really saying something. It wasn’t just that the Sixers scored 30 points in the quarter, it was how they scored them. They repeatedly scored off the same pick-and-roll play and off of several uncontested offensive rebounds.

In particular, backup big man Marreese Speights looked like an unstoppable force of nature as he scored 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting and grabbed five offensive rebounds in his nine-minute stint. Unsurprisingly, Andrea Bargnani was the main Raptor to look bad on a lot of these points, but Jose Calderon, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson and new Raptor Alexis Ajinca all had moments where they were culpable — as you can see in this painful-to-watch compilation of Speights’ second-quarter offensive rampage.

What you see there is a lack of effort, a lack of awareness and an apparent lack of pride in the way the Raptors allowed themselves to be exposed like that. This isn’t LeBron James using his otherworldly physical gifts to dominate the opposition — it’s friggin’ Marreese Speights. He really isn’t that good.

Of course, the Raptors’ defence has made several opposing bench players look like All-Stars over the course of their nine-game losing streak. Jamal Crawford (36 points on Jan. 12), Jarrett Jack (17 points on Jan. 17) and Ryan Anderson (21 points on Jan. 21) can attest to that. The easy excuse would be to blame the Raptors’ lack of depth during this skid because of their injuries, but each of the Raptors’ five starters played at least six minutes in the second quarter against Philly — Bargnani was on the floor for 10 of those 12 minutes.

A lack of talent is obviously a factor here, but an ongoing lack of defensive accountability has been a problem with this team for a season-and-a-half now. These players just aren’t motivated to try hard and focus on defence. And whose fault is that?

Whatever you think of him as a man or a basketball strategist, it’s increasingly difficult to see Jay Triano as a coach who inspires his players to play with pride and passion on defence. I’m aware he can only do so much with the players he has to work with — and it’s difficult to pinpoint how much of the fault lies with his defensive schemes or his inability to hold his players accountable for their repeated lapses — but a clear pattern has been established. These players don’t fear that they won’t get to play if they don’t do their part on defence and on the boards.

Some coaches improve the defence of the teams they take over — Scott Skiles accomplished this in Chicago and Milwaukee, Rick Carlisle had that effect in Detroit and Dallas, while Tom Thibodeau and Lionel Hollins are this season’s shining examples. They were all able to work with players who were previously known as poor defenders and improve them to a point so that they’re no longer liabilities on that end.

Does anyone think Triano has this ability to inspire and improve his charges? Will it even make that much of a difference if the Raptors trade Bargnani, Calderon and/or whoever you’ve decided is the primary reason for this team’s tissue-soft D? I can’t claim to know the certain answer to these questions, but I’ve developed my suspicions.

Changing gears a little, two players made their Raptor debuts last night. Neither Trey Johnson nor Alexis Ajinca particularly distinguished themselves in their brief cameos. Johnson seems like a bit of a chucker, but that’s to be expected of a guy trying to make an impression on a 10-day contract. Ajinca didn’t show me anything that would change my opinion of him as a soft player with limited talents whose only significant attribute is that he’s seven-foot-one. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers and this decimated squad definitely qualifies for that cliche.

For what it’s worth (not much), here are the handful of noteworthy plays involving the new Raptors when they each logged the majority of their minutes in the second quarter.

Comments (5)

  1. “they can’t defend the pick-and-roll, they don’t box out consistently, they’re soft, they’re not particularly athletic, certain key players “tune out” for extended periods on the defensive end… I could go on, but you get the point”

    the sad thing is that, its been like this for years and years now, without fail. And we have had a LOT of different players (about three or four different teams worth) in those years. Caldy’s been here a while and his pick and roll defense has always been particularily bad. But other than that, it’s almost become the team’s personality, rather than what the individual players bring to the table defensively.

    And not saying that a coaching change would solve it or change things overnight… but it’s the first step, and IMO needs to happen pretty quick. Case in point DeRozan…. he’s showing his worth offensively now, but he can just blend into the team’s shitty defense to the point where he’ll never really improve all that much (ie what Bargnani has been doing for the last five years).

    we gotta switch it uppppp

  2. Triano really needs to go. He is an awful coach. He seems like a great guy, and the players like him, but that is simply not enough to keep this job. We need somebody who will come in and make our guys passionate about playing defense. Either that or they can sit on the bench and rot.

    Unfortunately, AB is the type of player that is going to need somebody riding his ass to play defense for his entire career. He just doesn’t care enough to let up on him for any stretch of time. Maybe we can just hire someone to constantly yell at him from the bench. Or maybe we could just one of our useless bench players to do that.

    I like the young group of players that we are starting to collect, but we need to get rid of Triano before these players get too set in their ways of lackadaisical defense.

    Defense wins championships, Triano does not.

  3. [...] youngster get away with it, proving Triano is not capable of holding his players accountable, as Scott Carefoot pondered today?You sort through all of this and truly wonder what has kept Triano firmly entrenched as the Raptors [...]

  4. Not to link to someone else’s site but the Raptors spot at 2nd last on this list

    makes me think that the problem is what we always knew it to be: systemic. Toronto pays a 30-50% premium for talent (depending on how you do the math). Even before anyone gets paid the city has trouble attracting talent, and shows an inability to keep good players happy/productive/healthy.

    The coach carousel is an easy target for an obvious problem: this is the only NBA franchise not in the ‘nation’. The other problem is also obvious: defensive basketball isn’t particularly entertaining. I, for one, would rather watch this team loose than the KO Raptors win. It’s entertainment.

    In this light, Colangelo’s insane Caliper test criteria begins to make sense. Being a lower-mediocre basketball team isn’t a huge problem. Bad PR, however, could sink the franchise. MLSE wants guys who probably won’t get busted for drug charges. The team needs guys who will mug for community events. So Toronto almost predictably shows well at the dunk & 3 point contests, and wins awards for things like media-accesability and NBA good citizenry.


    I can think of only 3 things that will change this:

    1) The NBA talent pool continues to expand (as it has over the past decade) and the line between elite players and near-elite players becomes something more akin to health than skill. (Example: who’s better Chris Paul, Rose, or D Will…. well, maybe the guy who’s healthy?).

    2) The Raptors luck into a Blake Griffin franchise-altering talent. This is extremely unlikely. And there is, of course, a bad precedent as we once had one of these guys and bear some responsibility for his subsequent behaviour.

  5. 2) The Raptors luck into a Blake Griffin franchise-altering talent. This is extremely unlikely. And there is, of course, a bad precedent as we once had one of these guys and bear some responsibility for his subsequent behaviour.

    I have to disagree with this last line thoroughly. How would the team be responsible for an athlete’s character flaws getting the better of them? That applies to both VC and Bosh, though I don’t really consider Bosh that kind of talent.

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