Despite the frustrations of a blown 16-point lead against the Pacers on Friday and being held to just 64 points in Chicago on Saturday, there were a couple of things I saw in the two games that I liked from a Raptors perspective.
Aside from obvious observations like DeMar DeRozan’s improvement or Amir Johnson’s hustle, the two things I saw that I liked, and that I would like to see more of, were Gary Forbes on the floor and some zone defence.
Before the weekend, Forbes had been limited to some spot minutes here and there, and when he did check in, he really failed to impress. He seemed uncomfortable at times, and looked to be forcing things offensively at others.
But against the Pacers and Bulls, in a surprising back-up point guard role, Forbes actually looked pretty good. Sure, there were some moments of confusion and some missed defensive coverages, but you have to expect that from a guy who hadn’t played more than eight minutes in a game for a new team until the third week of the season.
Between Friday and Saturday, Forbes had 12 points on four-of-eight shooting, 10 rebounds, six assists, one steal and just two turnovers. Pretty solid numbers considering Forbes played just 23 total minutes over the two games.
Of all the off-season additions to the roster, I was only excited about Forbes, who I thought could be a good scoring option and spark plug off of the bench for the next couple of years, so I was a bit disappointed that he hadn’t made an impact through the first 11 games. Forbes has now finally shown some glimpses of what he can be for the Raptors, and surprisingly, has shown that he can even run the offence if need be.
He can score, he can rebound, he can apparently play three positions. There’s no reason Gary Forbes shouldn’t get a good look in this season of finding out exactly what we have here.
Now as for that zone defence. It’s one of the things a lot of people were looking forward to when Dwane Casey took over in Toronto, but it obviously took a lot of time to implement considering Casey first had to teach most of this team how to play basic defence.
It’s still a major work in progress, but the first real display of zone defence seemed to work well for the Raptors.
For a long time, NBA fans, analysts and ‘experts’ cast off zone D as a gimmick that could work in short spurts in the NBA, but could never really be relied upon in the long-term, outside of school and international ball. I think the Mavericks (and I guess Casey himself) changed that way of thinking last season.
For whatever reason, NBA players and teams look absolutely lost and dumbfounded when faced with a zone, as the Heat showed in last season’s Finals and the Bulls proved again on Saturday night.
Unfortunately for ‘Tank-Nation,’ the Raptors might be able to stun a few of the NBA’s upper echelon teams this season with an effective zone scheme and end up with wins we assumed would be losses (Don’t worry, they’ll throw in plenty of losses we assumed would be wins too).
I still think the primary focus should be getting the young core of this team to become good man-to-man defenders and help defenders, but I also think the zone should and will be a big part of Toronto’s defensive mantra as this season and future seasons under Casey unfold.
As mentioned, this season is supposed to be about development and finding out what we have, so there is nothing to lose by experimenting with both giving Gary Forbes consistent minutes and throwing in a good mix of zone defence.