The Raptors bounced back nicely from an inconsistent effort yesterday in Boston. Jose Calderon guided the offence to a very efficient 97 points on 47.5% shooting. DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani provided the scoring punch that is expected from them as Toronto improved to 3-7 on the season and 2-3 at home.
Andrea Bargnani showed signs of life today. He was rebounding (more than usual), driving and appeared genuinely interested in the outcome of the game. He spent more time around the basket than he has all season and his increased activity level led to two steals and two blocks. I hate to say it, but Bargnani’s steal under the basket in the first quarter was probably his best play of the season. His good one-on-one defence was on display against Vucevic and Glen Davis. It was nice to see him hit two field goals with less than 5 minutes to play – a good sign for his confidence. Positives to build on for Bargs, but it means nothing if we don’t see more improvement in the future.
Although Jose Calderon’s physical limitations are still there, I have noticed significant improvement in his defensive principles this season. When he brings double teams, they are more aggressive and he doesn’t float around in “no-man’s land” as much as he used to. He’s also realized that he needs to give more space when playing man-to-man defence. His foot speed is simply not good enough to stay in front of most PGs in this league. This season he’s daring opposing guards to shoot jumpers, which is the correct approach. Jameer Nelson made 3 straight shots in the third quarter but he finished the game 3-13 and Jose deserves a lot of credit for that.
Jose was fantastic distributing the ball, as evidenced by his 18 assists. The vision and anticipation on display as he made skip passes to Kleiza and Dom McGuire off the pick and roll was very impressive. The only qualm I have with his passing was where he would give DeMar the ball. Frequently, Jose would hand off to DD at the three-point line. DeMar is better when he catches the ball closer to the basket and needs fewer dribbles to create or score. A lot of these situations came at the end of shot clocks, when Jose couldn’t create a shot for himself. This problem will be solved with a healthy Kyle Lowry – a tremendous one-on-one creator.
Jonas Valanciunas’ awareness when giving help defence is fantastic. He doesn’t lose track of his man and still manages to bring help in time. At the other end, his offensive awareness still needs work. JV loses track of the shot clock frequently. Early in the third quarter he kicked it out of the post with two seconds left on the shot clock. Not the first time that he’s put a teammate in such a position, but the fact that this was his biggest flaw today, is a very good sign.
Dominic McGuire has a mid-range jump shot with range out to 20 feet and his ability to space the floor more than Landry Fields did, is very useful. The problem is he still doesn’t understand his role and when to take his shot. His pull-up jumper on the fast-break in the 1st quarter was a terrible decision. He doesn’t have the ability to shoot off the dribble and I hope we don’t see it again in the near future. In a lot of ways, Dom reminds me of Jamario Moon. Both with the athleticism and the incredibly frustrating inability to embrace his role.
Amir Johnson also needs to accept the range on his jump shot. He tries stretching it out to 18-20 and it doesn’t work. In the 4th quarter, Johnson made me eat some of those previously written words as he hit his 5th career three-pointer. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Hopefully it doesn’t go to his head and turn him into Andrew Bynum 2.0. Amir continues to be one of the best roll-men in the NBA. He spaces his rolls very well and he finishes with aggression at the rim – as evidenced by the two monster crams he attempted today off rolls to the basket.
Amir Johnson and Ed Davis are starting to develop some nice chemistry in the 2nd unit. In the middle of the 2nd quarter, Amir hit Ed with a nice high-low feed for a layup. They work very well together on defence too – providing great length and mobility.
Ed Davis’ jump shot and his confidence on offence appear to be improving. It’s a disgrace that Roy Williams and UNC didn’t make him change that jump shot. It was something that should have been fixed in college, but instead Williams was happy to let Davis play his role of rebounder/shot-blocker. Davis put in the time this offseason to fix his release and although he has been fighting himself in early games, the changes are starting to show and the percentages will climb as a result.
DeMar DeRozan is growing up before our very eyes. It seems as though every aspect of his game is improving. His mid-range jumper is truly one of the best among NBA wing players and his defensive intensity is consistently better than it was last year. Even his passing ability – which I thought might be a lost cause – has improved by leaps and bounds.
Toronto’s player of the game: Jose Calderon – 9 pts (3-8 FG), 18 ast, 2 reb, stl, blk
Orlando’s player of the game: Glen “don’t call me Big Baby” Davis – 16 pts (8-17 FG), 12 reb, ast
At 3-7, with the return of Kyle Lowry on the horizon, things are not looking quite so bleak in Raptor-land. Five of their next six games come on the road, starting Tuesday night in Philadelphia. That is followed by very winnable games in Charlotte and Detroit. Toronto fell to the Sixers last Saturday as a 7-point second quarter doomed them. They may have to play Calderon as much as they did today (43 minutes) to avoid similar lapses.