Archive for the ‘Tank Nation’ Category

We don’t usually post a photo without comment and call it a blog post, but in this case, I’m pretty sure everyone approves.

I’m not sure where it’s from, or how it landed in the hands of theScore’s social media man, Toby Fowlow, but without further ado, I think Raptors fans have found their Tank Nation poster boy:

As stated on theScore’s instagram page, “Let’s hope Jonas Valanciunas understands TankNation only applies to this season, not next year.”

Also, I think we may have found a cover photo for our RaptorBlog facebook page, which you have hopefully ‘liked’ by now.

He just wanted it more

Game No. 44: Raptors 114, Grizzlies 110 (OT)

After a nasty second half showing in New Jersey on Wednesday night, the Raptors had to put up with the playoff-bound Grizzlies in Memphis, who were welcoming Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay back to the lineup on Friday night. Throw in the fact that the Raps were still without Jose Calderon and were obviously without the recently traded Leandro Barbosa, and the odds were stacked against them.

As you can see, things didn’t exactly go according to script.

Here are some thoughts on the game.

1- The Raptors responded to one of their worst halves of the season (second half against the Nets on Wednesday) with what was easily one of the their most complete efforts of the year in Memphis. The Raps set the tone early, hit the Grizzlies first, continued to hit back after the Grizz responded and continued to fight for every possession, every loose ball, and seemingly every single point. It was an inspiring effort from the young Raptors, especially from Jerryd Bayless and Gary Forbes, and even though the team made some costly mistakes down the stretch, you have to give them credit for finding a way to eek this one out given the circumstances. Imagine how emotionally draining and uplifting this game would have been in the thick of a meaningful playoff race?

2- Jerryd Bayless has had games where he’s scored more than the 28 he poured in against the Grizzlies on Friday, but as far as I’m concerned, that was the best all around game I’ve ever seen the young guard play. 28 points on over 50 per cent shooting, nine assists, six rebounds, nine free throw attempts, and he was without question, the engine that pushed this team forward towards a scrappy road W. The defensive intensity and dribble-penetration dynamic that Bayless brings to the point guard position is a welcomed sight for Raptors fans, and a must in today’s NBA if you want to be a successful team. I’m not suggesting that Jerryd Bayless is a better point guard than Jose Calderon, because he’s not, but for all the praise heaped on Calderon, Bayless brings a lot to the table that Jose simply does not. As I tweeted during the game, while Bayless makes his fair share of questionable decisions playing the point, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a guy who wants it as bad as he does.

And about those questionable in-game decisions Bayless is known for, he’s actually recorded 32 assists to just nine turnovers in the four games he’s started in place of Calderon. That’s a 3.55 assist-to-turnover ratio.

3- Jerryd Bayless definitely deserves praise for his performance, but we have to acknowledge the work Gary Forbes put in as well. We all talked about the opportunity that Barbosa’s trade opened up for Forbes, and on Friday night in Memphis, Gary made good on his end of the bargain with a career-high 20 points on an incredibly efficient nine shots. Forbes actually took more free throw attempts (11) than field goal attempts (nine). He also hit some big buckets and attacked the basket when the Raptors were desperate for a make. In terms of the post-Barbosa future, you couldn’t have asked for much more from Bayless and Forbes in game no. 1.

4- Between the five second count against the Lakers and the iffy lane violation call on the Raptors late in this game, you have to wonder if NBA officials are proud members of Raptors Tank Nation. In all seriousness though, as has become the custom in closely contested ball games, the Raptors attempted many less free throws than the opposition. The Raps went to the line a respectable 38 times. Though it’s hard to call that respectable when the Grizzlies went their 51 times. I don’t think the officiating was as unbalanced as those numbers suggest, but at the same time, I don’t think one team was playing more physical or less physical to the extent that those numbers suggest either.

5- A few words on the Grizzlies. This team is good. Like, legitimately good. If healthy, they could easily go on another deep playoff run this Spring. To me, the Thunder are still the class of the Western Conference, the Spurs are still the team that poses the biggest threat to the Thunder, and the Lakers are still dangerous enough to win the West if things bounce their way. But realistically looking at teams’ rosters, overall talent and depth, it’s tough to come up with a team in the West better than the Grizzlies from top to bottom. Would I put money on them to win the West? No. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see them fight their way into the Conference Final. This is one of the teams I’m really looking forward to watching down the stretch.

6- If you’ve been a regular RaptorBlog visitor this season, you know I’m as big a Tank Nation proponent as you’ll find. Games won on the backs of veterans are incredibly frustrating in a rebuilding year. Games won against fellow lottery teams when the Raptors don’t even play well enough to deserve a win do nothing for me. But Tank Nation member or not, it’s hard to search for negatives in a hard fought victory like this that saw the Raptors outwork and upset a legitimate Western Conference playoff team on the road, especially when the victory came as a result of the work put in by two players in Bayless and Forbes that could be pieces of the team’s future.

And if even all of that can’t cheer you up, fellow Tank Nation members, then just look at the NBA scoreboard for Friday night, where you’ll see that the Kings matched the Raptors by upsetting the Celtics.

Raptors Player of the Game: Jerryd Bayless – 44 Min, 28 Pts, 9-17 FG, 3-5 3PT, 7-9 FT, 6 Reb, 9 Ast, 3 Stl, 1 Blk, 3 TO, 6 PF

Grizzlies Player of the Game: Rudy Gay – 40 Min, 26 Pts, 10-20 FG, 3-5 3PT, 3-4 FT, 11 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 4 TO, 6 PF (Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol could have been given the nod here)

Leandro Barbosa

Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports reported this morning that the Raptors have traded Leandro Barbosa to the Pacers in return for a second-round pick, presumably in the upcoming draft. Considering the Pacers’ current place in the standings, the pick will probably be in the 50s — which is like Solomon Alabi territory. The trade will save the Raptors around $2 million in salary on Barbosa’s expiring contract and will enable him to play some meaningful basketball over the next couple of months, which is nice.

I never considered Barbosa to be part of the Raptors’ plans beyond this season, so I can’t say I’m broken up about this. Jerryd Bayless and Gary Forbes would appear to be the guys who will pick up Barbosa’s minutes. Bayless is a restricted free agent after this season, so he’ll benefit from the ability to play 30 minutes per game over the rest of the season — regardless of whether Jose Calderon is in the lineup.

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The Tank-Force is getting stronger around the NBA. Are the Raptors up for the "challenge?"

With just a day remaining until the NBA’s trade deadline, most teams have played around 40 games or so. Even in a shortened season, this should be the point where contenders and pretenders are separated (hence, the Knicks’ recent disappearing act).

The time is now for contenders to assert their will or make a move to put them in position for a run through May and June. Those moves get all the publicity and all of the blogger love, but just as important and future-shaping are the moves that pretenders make to position themselves for a draft day bonanza.

Ridicule Tank Nation all you want, talk about the valuable experience young teams can get from meaningless first round sweeps as the eighth seed (which is only valuable if it’s a young team on the rise with already set core pieces). The truth is that this is the time for NBA cellar-dwellers to stake their claim to futility in the hopes that it will lead to sustainable future success.

The Warriors replaced an inefficient scorer with an oft-injured centre. Between Andrew Bogut’sĀ and Stephen Curry’s injury problems, Golden State should be on the cusp of a heavy duty tank job. If it works, and they end up with a top-five pick in 2012 to add to Curry, Bogut, David Lee and Klay Thompson, they may not be in bad shape.

The Nets, who are right in the thick of the lottery chase with the Raptors (Toronto’s a half-game better right now), will sit Deron Williams when the two teams meet tonight in New Jersey (Not suggesting Williams isn’t really banged up, but it doesn’t hurt to sit him either). If the Nets don’t land Dwight Howard before Thursday’s deadline, I assume we’ll see a schooling of epic proportions on how to tank.

The Bobcats, Wizards and Hornets couldn’t avoid tanking if they tried, and I’m still convinced that the Cavaliers, if they know what’s good for them, will come crashing back to earth soon. The Kings are somewhat of a Wizards West.

What that leaves us with, as Raptors fans, is the realization that although Bryan Colangelo and co. seem committed to the rebuild, something likely needs to be done, or some good luck disguised as bad luck needs to interfere, to help the Raps in their lottery quest.

Dwane Casey is too good of a coach and too competitive of a guy to stand by and facilitate a proper tank, so the Raptors’ only hope of out-losing their Tank Nation opponents might have to come “from above.” I’m hoping it comes from valuable trades that net Toronto draft picks and/or young assets in exchange for serviceable veterans, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of trade chatter out there involving the Raps right now.

What exactly can be done though? Trade Calderon? Trade Barbosa? Trade ‘em both? Sit Bargnani, Calderon and Barbosa for random games?

It’s been a concern of ours all season, and I’ve tried to avoid thinking about it in great detail, but seriously, look at the standings right now (Good God, the 14-28 Raptors are just four games back of a playoff spot) and tell me you’re truly confident with this team’s chances at a top-three or even top-five pick.

As things currently stand, I don’t know if I can.

While it seems ludicrous to say that the head coach of a 12-25 team is doing “too good” of a job, in the case of Dwane Casey’s first year in Toronto, it may very well be true.

I’ve heard a lot of Raptors fans joking around about how the Raptors might have hired Casey “a year too early.” Obviously, most Raps fans are pleased with Casey’s performance, and those making that joke are paying the coach a compliment, conceding that with Dwane at the helm, the Raptors may have given up a chance at the worst record in the league or even one of the three worst records in the league and the subsequent draft lottery percentages those futile positions bring.

The Raptors currently sit tied with the Sacramento Kings for the sixth and seventh worst records in the league – obviously not impressive, but still ahead of the expectations of a bottom three record that many Raptors fans and NBA pundits came into the season with. While I still maintain that the Raps will finish with around 20 wins and a record that sees them land anywhere from fourth to eighth from the bottom, I will admit that the team is a couple of games ahead of where I thought they’d be at this point in the season.

Some will point to the fact that Bryan Colangelo hasn’t really torn this thing down to build from the ground up, as in its truest sense, that would mean trading Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon for younger assets and draft picks. That argument has some validity to it, but at the end of the day, the primary reason the Raptors are minutely over-achieving is all about the defensive culture change Dwane Casey has instituted in his first season on the job.

At the beginning of the season, I would look at defensive statistics because in such a small sample, it was comical to me to see how much the Raptors had “improved.” I just as well assumed that as the season wore on and reality hit, Toronto’s defence would surely come crashing back to earth. But that hasn’t happened, and if anything, the Raptors’ defence is only getting meaner, stingier and just plain better.

After 37 games, which would be nearly half the season in a traditional NBA schedule, the improvements Casey has made are staggering.

The Raptors allowed 105.4 points per game (good for 26th in the NBA) in 2010-2011. They allow just 93.5 points (10th) this season.

Raptors opponents shot over 48 per cent from the field last season (29th in the NBA), including 37.6 per cent from three-point range. This season, the Raps are holding opponents to 43 per cent (9th in the NBA), including 34 per cent from deep.

The Raptors had a historically poor defensive efficiency in both the 2009-2010 season and the 2010-2011 season. They finished dead last in the NBA both years, allowing 110 points per 100 possessions. This season, the Raptors are a middle of the pack team in terms of defensive efficiency, sitting 16th in the NBA at 100.4 points allowed per 100 possessions. No team has made such a leap from last place in this statistical category since the Lakers went from 30th in 2004-05 to 15th in 2005-06.

Perhaps most impressive of all is how Casey and his staff have transformed Toronto’s interior defence. After allowing a league worst 47.4 points in the paint per game last season, the Raptors have skyrocketed to the top of the league, now allowing just 35.7 points in the paint. Just last night, the Raps held the Warriors to a measly 28 points in the paint. And it’s not like the Raptors are simply stacking the middle and allowing a ton of open jump shots or allowing teams to shoot high percentages from outside the paint (9th in field goal percentage allowed, tied for 12th in three-point percentage allowed).

In the last nine seasons, the biggest jump from dead last in P.I.P. allowed one season to the next was Memphis’ jump from the 2007-08 season to the 2008-09 season. The Grizzlies improved their points in the paint allowed by about five per game, and jumped from 30th to 23rd. Again, the Raptors have improved their points in the paint allowed by nearly 12 per game, and have jumped from 30th to first. Not to mention, Casey has steered this magical defensive turnaround with 10 of the same players from last year’s roster and just five new additions. Of those five additions, only Aaron Gray (who averages about 17 minutes per game) and Jamaal Magloire (in very small samples) have made any significant contributions to the interior defence.

A famous saying says “you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit, no matter how much mayonnaise you bring to the table.” It turns out that all along, it wasn’t mayonnaise that the Raptors’ chicken shit defence needed, but rather just a little Dwane Casey seasoning.

The question is, will Casey’s defensive wizardry allow the Raptors to achieve greatness in the future without the need for extraordinary talent, or will it simply doom the Raptors’ draft choices over the next couple of seasons and ensure sustained mediocrity in Toronto?