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Posted by Arsenalist on October 23, 2008

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Aggressive Denver too much for sloppy Raptors

Posted by Arsenalist on October 22, 2008

Denver Nuggets 105, Toronto Raptors 94

This game served as a good test for the Raptors which if they passed would’ve given them some confidence heading into the regular season. In the end it turned out to be yet another reminder that this team has more question marks than answers. An athletic Denver side which was committed to attacking the rim shot 53% as the Raptors defense (especially the second unit) failed to cope with Denver’s speed and aggression. It’s what you get when you have a 19-man roster fighting for 15 spots, people come out and play for their jobs. It’s a spirit that’s been lacking at this year’s Raptors training camp where players like Moon are playing like they’re already guaranteed minutes.

They don’t keep a stat of deflections but if they did you’d see Denver get one every three possessions. They challenged the Raptors by playing extremely aggressive defense – fronting the post, early doubles, ball-pressure and fighting through screens rendering them pointless. All this pressure forced the Raptors into making 20 turnovers which were of the very sloppy kind. We had the ball literally taken out of hands three times not to mention countless strips that either resulted in a turnover or took a bit chunk out of the shot-clock as the Raptors reset. Although Denver’s lead was only around 10 for the entire game you knew that this was a huge uphill mountain to climb – you’d never have picked the Raptors to come up with five defensive stands against a determined Denver while scoring five times on the other end. Hell, I’d even have settled for five straight possessions without a turnover.

There were some positives from this game, especially early on. Our offense clicked rather well when Jermaine O’Neal was in the game. O’Neal executed his patented post-moves on a couple occasions drawing double teams and kicking out for swing sequences. He hit a pull-up mid-range jumper and felt comfortable in driving to the rim against Juwan Howard or Nene. Chris Bosh was hitting his jumper and Parker executed two of his patented off-the-screen fadeaways. Andrea Bargnani went through good and bad stretches but ended the game strongly and looked good when he wasn’t turning the ball over. Let’s not kid ourselves though, we saw more bad than good last night and learned that this team is far from ready. Mitchell believes he doesn’t need any more preseason games but welcomes the practice time coming up. He feels that he knows what he wants the team to do, its a question of teaching the team how to do it. Of course, how could we forget…Mitchell knows everything, its the other that are lacking around him.

Jermaine O’Neal didn’t return for the second half because of a sore knee which rang many alarm bells in many heads. According to O’Neal its not a big deal:

“The back problem caused a little tightness in the leg. It’s more of a maintenance thing.”

Oh, a little maintenance thing. It’s something like getting an oil change, you need to do it and if you neglect it you’ll have to buy a new engine. Hopefully all we’ll need to do this year is oil changes because the mileage on this baby isn’t too high, although on the other side it’s been driven by a piss-poor driver for the last few years. I don’t know, you decide the depreciation on this equipment and whether it’ll have any buy-back value at the end of the year. I guess we could have brought something a bit cheaper and a little more stable but we went for the name brand here instead of really trying to find a good car to fit our needs. We ended up by buying a used BMW whose Kelly Blue Book value was way higher than what she was actually deemed to be worth by anybody other than the Kelly Blue Book people. They say BMW’s have long lives, obviously your mileage may vary so all we can do is hope that it works out.

There was a play in the second half which showed what the team’s continuity level is. Jose Calderon drove the ball across the paint and right underneath the rim expecting Bargnani – who had set the screen for him – to cut to the basket to receive the pass. Bargnani never cut and Jose ended up with a turnover and setup a picture perfect fast break for the Nuggets. Two players that are just not on the same page. Will Solomon was rested due to hamstring issues so Roko Ukic got the nod as the backup PG and showed us how raw he really is. Ukic’s ball handling needs to be a lot better before he can execute the passes that his mind wants him to make. Half the time he’s trying to protect the ball rather than make a play with it; his dribble isn’t nearly as tight as it should be and you can tell that he wants to attack the rim and create but doesn’t yet have the tools to do it. Ukic didn’t make many mistakes on the court, he dished out five assists and went 4-9 FG in a game where he was under constant pressure. Not a bad performance from the Croatian who is showing that with some experience he can be an effective member of this team.

Is there anything funnier than Jamario Moon trying to sell a head-fake? Yes, there is. It’s Jamario Moon trying to sell a pump-fake. His misery continued with another 0fer as he went 0-4 and got thunderously dunked on by Nene at the end of the second half. Again, I point out to two plays that tells you all about Jamario Moon’s state of mind. After O’Neal kicks out the ball and Denver’s rotating on the perimeter the ball comes to Moon who launches a 18 footer when two extra passes would’ve resulted in an open Calderon three. Granted, he’s wide open but that doesn’t mean you take the shot. So that’s #1. Then he managed to get an offensive rebound and instead of going up strong with it, he tried to use the highest part of the glass to avoid being blocked. Naturally he misses the layup. Contrast this with what Ruben Patterson or Dahntay Jones did last night and you’ll see the difference in aggression between the players. Denver is full of slashers and we don’t have a single one; the two guys that actually might be able to do that (Moon and Graham) are just not willing to do it. Afterward Mitchell was critical of Moon’s play (again):

“The Jamario of last year isn’t good enough for this year..if you’re not going to apply (what’s being taught), we’ll get people who will. But it’s coming for him. But it’s coming for him.”

Moon then chimed in with another unintelligent comment about how its just the preseason and how his problems will disappear come opening night. At least he’s admitting he’s playing the kind of basketball which is unworthy of a starting NBA small forward:

“I feel like I’ve had one of the worst pre-seasons that anyone could have, but that’s why they call it pre-season. I was just working on what coach wanted me to work on, drive to the basket. But I’ve got to step up now. The season’s ready to start.”

One of the painful things about this game was watching Jason Kapono struggle like a fish out of water. He’s unable to get his shot off because there’s no reason for his man to leave him open. It sounds ultra-simple but its true. Why would you leave Jason Kapono open if you don’t have to? The way Kapono can get his threes off is if someone is doubled and the rotation gets to his man. If we’re not consistently posting up Bosh or O’Neal, Kapono’s success rate falls instantly. We can’t expect Kapono to get his shot attempts off the high pick ‘n roll because that’s basically a two-man game the way the Raptors run it. Defensively he got exploited on every opportunity and worst of all the help of the second unit was brutal making for great interior Denver passing followed by Sportscenter material.

Bargnani’s late spurt resulting in 19 points might’ve saved the bench’s face but let it not be lost that they were outplayed throughout the game. Aside from Roko Ukic creating off the bounce or forcing the issue and Bargnani knocking some one-on-one shots down, they looked horrible on both ends of the floor. If we’re expecting this lot to sustain us during those crucial late third quarter and early fourth quarter periods we might be in trouble. Defensively they’re shot. Denver guards were able to split our pick ‘n roll traps every single time which led to easy points in the paint as Kris Humphries, Andrea Bargnani and Joey Graham looked at each other quizzically. You should’ve seen the way Hassan Adams tried to close-out JR Smith on this one three – it was f*****g weak!

Generally speaking our defensive effort was not good. We fell for way too many simple head-fakes (Moon, Graham, Bargnani and Bosh all guilty) which opened up things for Denver. We were -6 on the boards and were in shambles anytime Denver made more than two passes. Again, the second unit is far more guilty of this than the starters but you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

The preseason is over and I feel like we hardly learned much from it. Nobody’s taken ownership of the starting SF spot, who the backup PG will be is anybody’s guess and there’s no sign of the Raptors coming close to becoming a cohesive unit by October 29th. We have one-a-day practices for the time leading up to the season opener and we have a lot of work to do.

I feel bad for the fans who came out last night in Edmonton. They were trying to cheer on the Raptors all evening long and even had Ole, Ole going at one point. Instead they saw Nene crush Jamario Moon and Denver manhandle the Raptors. Oh well, better than staying at home.

That’s it for today.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , | 40 Comments »

Preseason’s almost done and Mitchell’s still worried about our wings

Posted by Arsenalist on October 21, 2008

Good Tuesday morning to you. I love Tuesday’s, its still got some of that Monday stench but overall its a nice little fella, gets you going towards hump day. Its also a day when you can get cheap chicken making for a great opportunity for a dinner-date at the local dollar theater. Aah, gotta love Tuesdays.

Sam Mitchell’s making a lot of sense this morning as he calls for our 2’s and 3’s (Parker and Moon really) to ‘step up’ and not rely on Bosh and O’Neal to do the work. Nothing could be truer and Mitchell’s fearing that the ‘concentrated’ talent everybody’s talking about is stuck in threes player with the rest of them being pylons. If you think about it we’re somewhat following the Celtics model from last year – JO = KG, Bosh = Pierce and Calderon = Allen. Now, now, I know you’re thinking that Arse has inhaled too much wet paint but I’ll concede that our talent is weaker and have different types of players than theirs but the model is the same. Get three good to great players and surround them with a cast that works. It worked for Boston last year and Colangelo’s hoping that somehow two of Hassan Adams, Will Solomon, Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, Roko Ukic and even Ralph Sampson become the James Posey and Kendrick Perkins from last year’s Celtics. It’s true, look it up.

Anthony Parker’s thinking the Raptors will approach tonight’s game “like a regular-season game”. Tune in to this one if possible, I think we’ll finally get a look at what October 31st against Philadelphia might look like. Hopefully both teams give their starters 30-35 minutes and make this a good run. I want to have something positive to remember leading up the regular season and if they lay an egg tonight this blog could get really ugly, really fast. I know its preseason but the Nuggets will provide a test that needs to be passed if the team wants to go into opening night with some sort of confidence. Hopefully Sam Mitchell doesn’t yank Bosh and O’Neal under the preseaon mantra and openly tries to win this game rather than pretend to be a conservative coach which he’s sooo not.

There’s some Moon hate talk by Dave Feshcuk who’s rightfully pointing out that Moon’s been absolutely miserable this preseason and it might be to the fact “Moon flitted away his summer doing little to improve his game, specifically his erratic jump shot.” Although Moon claims otherwise, his on-court performances have been the worst since he joined the Raptors and more importantly his jump shot seems scarcely better. I thought the Raptors should’ve kept a close eye on Moon’s summer program just like they did with Bargnani. If he’s going to be your starting small forward and log more minutes than Bargnani, it only makes sense, no? But as things stand he’s done nothing to make the defense respect him more than last year. Says Moon:

“Overall, it seems like I’m playing some of the worst basketball I’ve played in a long time. I’m glad it’s pre-season.”

Yes, you little knob. It is preseason but that doesn’t mean all your troubles will go away come October 31st. I’m telling you people, we should be very concerned about this position, much, much more than last year. At least last year he played with some enthusiasm and hustle, so far this year he looks like a guy lost in a grocery store looking for aisle 145. Dave also reports that O’Neal is still wearing Pacer underwear!! Nice job D, can you also please report the brand of his jockstrap and whether he’s a zipper or button fly kind of guy?

There’s a basketball round table at TSN where Doug Smith, Eric Koreen, Tim Chisolm (my boy!) and Jack Armstrong are debating questions like “What impact will the new players have on this team?”. Basically they’re talking about what we’ve been talking about all summer long. It just sounds a lot more credible when coming out of their mouths. Once again Chisolm’s got the best comments so I’ll post one of them here:

Offensively, he and Bosh can wreak havoc on opposing front lines if they can find a way to mesh their respective games (a work-in-progress thus far in preseason). While both can play in the high and low post, with O’Neal preferring to play with his back-to-the-basket and Bosh preferring to face-up, the two still have to develop the kind of chemistry that allows both players remain effective without compromising each other. While it is easy to say that Bosh is the main cog, the whole dynamic of the way the team plays offense down-low is going to change with J.O. and it remains to be seen how exactly that change will manifest in Bosh’s game and in his ability to remain effective. Two savvy basketball players will probably figure it out, but how long that takes could be the storyline to watch early in the season.

There’s a game against the Nuggets tonight…in Edmonton. It’s part of promoting the Raptors across Canada but let’s not kid ourselves its just a meaningless preseason game. If you really want to promote the Raptors across Canada, play a couple regular season games in Vancouver or Calgary and then you’ll truly be recognized for your efforts. I know that might not sit well with you regular season ticket holders but think of the greater good it will do. The Bills finally realized this after decades and the Raptors shouldn’t wait that long and strike while the metal is hot.

Bosh is injecting O’Neal with a love of the game and has given the poor 21 million dollar man a reason to live. It’s really quite heart-warming, O’Neal was dying in Indiana, he had no food, no desire to play basketball and by all accounts was living in a garbage can feeding off of Arby’s waste. Then came the trade and O’Neal stripped away his rags, got rid of his mullet and took an ox-cart to Toronto and started saying things like:

“Coming to Toronto was a mental rehab for me. I was checked out in Indiana. There was too much going on away from basketball. I was telling Chris after the game that I didn’t like playing basketball. The Pacers organization was thinking more about their image problem than the game. And when you mentally check out, physically you check out. We get paid a lot of money to perform at a high level and, mentally, you never want to check out. That’s inexcusable. That was an issue and I addressed it by coming here”

Poor guy, how did he even manage to survive these years. Hopefully nobody ever in this world is burdened by what he’s gone through in his life. Send donations to the Raptors Foundation to facilitate O’Neal’s rehab. Please.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: | 29 Comments »

Lakers beat Raptors in a “shootout”

Posted by Arsenalist on October 20, 2008

I’ll be honest. I had no idea a replay of this game was on TV and was shocked to find it on at 12:15 AM just as I was about to go to bed. It was the fourth quarter and the Laker commentators were commending the Raptors on playing well and celebrating the Lakers comeback which had put them up 4 going into the fourth quarter. So I sat down, made myself some tea and started watching the fourth quarter expecting the Raptors to hang tough and maybe even pull out a rare win in LA. How wrong I was. That fourth quarter was the worst I’ve seen the Raptors play in years. The Laker bench was running backdoor cuts, throwing alley-oops off the glass, getting five offensive rebounds on one play, getting deep posts against us while we were bumbling the ball like it was covered with acid, ball-watching the rebounds, not getting back on defense and worst of all not matching the Lakers’ enthusiasm. I don’t know what was going on in the first three quarters but it definitely wasn’t this.

I had to turn it off. Yes, I turned it off at the 1:25 mark when Jamario Moon tried an MJ fadeaway to no avail. This happened right after the Lakers had gotten another offensive rebound for a layup and I said to myself, “Self, turn this shit off and go to bed”. Here’s the box score and here’s a recap.

They interviewed Bryan Colangelo in the fourth quarter and asked him about the O’Neal trade and he flat-out said: “We were desperate for an interior presence…and took an educated risk.. It’s odd that a team that has a 6’11” PF and a 7’0″ C desperately needs an interior presence but that was the case. I too felt that we needed an interior presence, more specifically a pure rebounder and defender but I never figured he’d add someone like O’Neal because of the fear of redundancy. So when the trade was made many people had positive reactions because it did address a need but at the same time it came at a cost that seemed too high. It’s like asking for a Honda but getting a Hummer except now you don’t have any money for gas. I do stand by this trade, I think the other one that was on the table was Gerald Wallace for TJ Ford straight-up which looks enticing on paper but as can be argued wouldn’t have made the team better since Wallace is basically a good player on a bad team. He also happens to have a longer contract. So how did O’Neal do last night? 12 points, 4 rebounds on 4-8 FG in 21 minutes. Can’t stretch a guy like that out in preseason on back-to-backs, probably a wise idea that he rested.

No rest for Bosh though, 11/11 in 34 minutes a night after he played 36 minutes. This sounds like a bit much for a couple meaningless preseason games but maybe it’s Bosh who wanted to play, he’s been eager about getting on with the season for some time now. Ukic’s minutes are rising, they’re up to 20 now but he’s not making the most of it going -31. Ouch. I don’t care how flaky a stat that is, if its that low its saying something about your play. Bargnani was -27 and played most of the fourth quarter where Chris Mihm had his way with him on the glass. The most impressive Raptor that I saw was Hassan Adams. I know, I know. He hit a couple jumpers, got a sky-high offensive rebound and even threw one down. It means nothing though and only confirms that the preseason is too long. Way too long.

Messiah’s grading the Raptors preseason performances and he’s fairly bang-on with his grades, I’ll repeat them here. I’d give Jamario Moon a D-, that’s about the only place I disagree.

In other freaky news, Kenny George, the tallest college player at 7’7″ had part of his foot amputated! And you though you were having a bad day.

Only more preseason game left, its tomorrow in Edmonton against Denver. After that it begins.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

The perfect evening against an imperfect opponent

Posted by Arsenalist on October 19, 2008

Toronto Raptors 93, LA Clippers 89

If Bryan Colangelo had his wish Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal would have close to 20/10 nights every night. Well, last night he got his wish although the Clippers missing Baron Davis and Marcus Camby might’ve taken some of the ecstasy out of it. I didn’t watch the game, couldn’t find it on TV so can’t really comment much but looking at the box-score it was a good night for the Raptors. Roko Ukic got to play 15 minutes (and Will Solomon only 9, I like where this is going) and Joey Graham took a step back from his Minnesota performance. I highly doubt we’ll see an article in every paper about him today, as it should be.

The win combined with the Lakers victory over Barcelona means that we get to play in the “finals” of the LA Shootout. This might be the only finals appearance of any kind the club makes this decade so lets enjoy it while we can. The only thing to note from this game is that Bargnani didn’t play because of a bruised right leg. It’s funny how the Raptors were flown all over from the East coast for this game just because they have two significant foreign players – got to love the NBA, they look for ways to generate fan interest in any which way.

So Mitchell was asked why the Raptors were able to pull off a road win and The Wise Man of the North responded:

“Inside presence, think about it. I told our guys, when’s the last time we shot 38 per cent (and won)? … Not very often. So you can win games shooting 38 per cent if you play D and get to the foul line (and rebound).”

Just thought about it and he’s right. Playing defense, getting rebounds and shooting more FTs will win you a lot of games but let’s not go nuts. We won by four points against a team who was missing their two best players. Just like you brush off the Minnesota loss you should brush of the Clippers win, that’s how the preseason works.

Somebody remind me again how great Hassan Adams is and how NJ was ruing letting him go and how we’re so lucky to have this talent that slipped through the cracks and fell on our laps. Hot garbage! He’s the new Maceo Baston, nothing more. He’s been entirely unimpressive thus far and this night was no different, his fat-ass went 0-2 with 2 turnovers and 0 assists in 5 minutes. Put a fork in him, he’s done. One more note on this game, ex-Raptor and brand new NBA employee Haywoode Workman was a referee for this game. I like this move by the NBA, more players should become referees. Tops on my list: Charles Barkley, Charles Oakley, Keith van Horn, Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace. Just picture Vince Carter arguing a foul call with Charles Oakley and instead of Oakley explaining his call he just bitch-slaps Vince across the face. You’d have people come to the games just to watch the officials!

Raptors Talk has an article about Bryan Colangelo letting players with good value walk. The author seems very down about this, in fact I think he wrote it just before he wrote a brief but thoroughly spell-checked suicide note and overdosed on pain-killers. He’s got a point, Bryan Colangelo seems to do nothing with marginal free agents who could have potential. I doubt we needed to buyout Garbajosa’s contract, there was interest from the Lakers and you’d think we could’ve offloaded him for a second-rounder somewhere. He did have the grit factor going for him despite his injury. Letting Mike James walk didn’t make much sense either, I’m positive he wasn’t the Colangelo mold of player so why he didn’t trade him at the deadline when he was having a good season didn’t click. Maybe Colangelo was in two minds about Mike James and couldn’t make a decision until after the season and if that’s true its a horrible trait to have in a general manager. I don’t now about Primoz…that might be a reach.

Andrew Bynum. I remember during the 2005 draft I said to myself, “Self, we should take a chance on Andrew Bynum. Chris Paul and Deron Williams are already gone and its a crapshoot from here on out. Why not reach on this raw talent?” But Babcock selected Charlie Villanueva and everybody got their panties tied up in a knot and it turned out to be a decent pick and the rest his history except that Andrew Bynum is on his way to becoming a perennial All-Star. Why am I mentioning him? Because he’s now asking for an 85 million dollar contract and despite the Lakers trying to play tough they’re bound to give it to him.

The Knicks are so down on Eddy “I just ate a bowl of” Curry, they don’t even make a secret of not liking him or wanting to trade him. The Magic also have a decision to make at backup PG and its come down to JJ Redick vs. Keith Bogans. You remember Keith Bogans right? He’s the guy we insisted on leaving open in the playoffs last year. Gerald Green dropped a spectacular 29, I still remember that little twat’s breakaway dunk against us in Boston at the end of a blowout. We’ll make him pay for it….just you wait.

That’s all I got. Have a lazy Sunday.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , | 10 Comments »

I can smell Joey in the air

Posted by Arsenalist on October 18, 2008

Joey Graham plays a few minutes where he looks like a basketball player and all three papers are pumping out articles about him: Star, Sun and Globe. But you don’t really need to click on any of those links because what they say about Graham can be logically deduced if you’ve been a casual supporter over the last few years. The Raptors have always just been hoping that Good Joey shows up to the games rather than actually hastening his return, but Mitchell thinks the coaches are doing what they can:

Joey’s attitude is always great He’s a joy to be around. It’s frustrating sometimes because you see that talent and you’re trying to figure out how to tap into it. You know that you’re really going to have something good if you can and you’re always hopeful. As coaches we have to continue to work with him. Not get down on him, not give up on him, we’re not going to do that.

Judging by the 8.7 minutes Graham played last year somehow I think we’re not doing all we can to help him out. As Feschuk points out in the Star, it might be that “Mitchell’s incessant criticism has damaged Graham beyond repair”. Who knows, maybe he’ll come around and be productive for us and usurp Jamario Moon. There’s a school of thought out there that says if you put him in the starting lineup instead of Moon we’re going to be a better team. Joey is a much better slasher than Moon and has shown a desire to attack the rim (the finishing isn’t there but that’s a different story) which should be welcomed by Mitchell. The defense is probably not as good as Moon’s but that’s only because of Moon’s reach, there’s no talent differential there. Both have serious issues with their man-defense, can’t shoot, become anonymous on offense, take bad shots and do general dumb stuff on the court. I don’t think I’d even notice a difference if you substituted one for the other which is why I’ve always said that Graham deserves more time.

So Joey had a good game, so what? Let’s get back to reality, he always has a good preseason game or two giving way to such enthusiasm and since this is already his fourth year with the team and neither the coach or the GM has seen anything great out of him, I think Graham is done as a Raptor. But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be a serviceable NBA player. At this stage of his career he needs a team where he can play through his mistakes for 20 minutes a night and a coach that doesn’t ride him so hard so that he gets his rhythm and confidence back.

Speaking of Graham, his brother’s having a good preseason over in Indiana along with Raptors draft pick Roy Hibbert. You’ll love Hibbert’s line: 12 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks. Has any Raptor grabbed 12 rebounds or 4 blocks this preseason? No, they haven’t. We’re going to regret trading Hibbert, it was obvious then it’s even more obvious now. The O’Neal trade would’ve felt a lot better if we would’ve been able to keep our pick, as khandor mentions all the time it was a 4 assets for 1 asset trade.

There’s a very nice blog post over at CBC sports which really stole the words out of my mouth. Its basically pointing out that although Will Solomon looks good he doesn’t really look good which is very true. There are some who compared Solomon to TJ Ford which was ridiculous because Solomon just doesn’t have the court vision or dribbling skills to ever be as good as Ford is now. Bringing the ball up the court, using a screen and knocking down a jumper behind it does not make a point guard. Granted, Solomon’s pleasantly surprised a few people with his scoring but that doesn’t mean he’s been running the point effectively, his assists and turnover numbers aren’t flattering and he often guides the offense to a grounding halt by picking up his dribble under mild pressure. Last year we had Delfino playing the point for about 4-6 minutes a game when Ford went down and this year you would think Roko Ukic would get that opportunity and if you’re a Roko fan (which I am), you’d want Solomon and his minutes switched around. Help me out here Sam.

The Knicks might be sending Danilo Gallinari to the D-League on a “rehab assignment”. D’Antoni feels that the D-League was made for raw talent like Gallinari which prompts me to suggest that we should be sending Nathan Jawai down there too. Get him that “taste of reality” D’Antoni’s talking about, its a lot better than rotting on the bench in Toronto. And might I suggest that if Roko Ukic isn’t going to be getting much playing time as indicated by the preseason (if he’s averaging 8MPG in preseason, what will happen in the real games), send him down to the trenches so he can get a taste of the physical American game. It’s not a crazy thought, no, its not.

Do you ever feel nostalgic about Rob Babcock? You ever thank him for Jose Calderon, Roko Ukic, Charlie V and freeing up cap space? I sometimes do but then I look back at the 2004 draft and remember that we passed over Andre Iguodala (9), Andris Biedrins (11), Al Jefferson (15), Josh Smith (17), JR Smith (18) and Beno Udrih (18). It makes me feel a little better until I look at the 2006 draft and remember that Colangelo passed up on Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay. Actually, come to think of it that was very crappy draft year….just some Saturday morning random thoughts.

There’s a little note in this article which says the Raptors will play one of FC Barcelona or the Lakers on Sunday if they beat the Clippers tonight. Back-to-back’s in preseason. What’s that all about?

Hey, get the RSS feed for this blog. It’s free. Got to get ready for Arsenal vs. Everton now. Later.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , | 13 Comments »

Joey plays, Raptors lose as MLSE and TSN prove to be greedy %&$@#

Posted by Arsenalist on October 17, 2008

Before we get to the game let’s talk about TSN2 airing 23 Raptors game this year. This stinks of a fat suit in MLSE and a fatter suit at TSN wondering how to make more money and their greed eventually leading them to each other. The cash of course comes at the expense of the middle-class fan who is forced to buy yet another specialty channel just to catch their home team’s games in a city where cable channels are running reruns of Seinfeld and Family Guy in primetime. Is the new VR still around? How about OMNI? Couldn’t MLSE have chosen to air these games on one of those local channels? After all they still produce the games, its just a question of who airs them. But asking MLSE to take a hit for the fans is something that’s never happened and expecting them to offload games to regular cable channels would be too much of a sacrifice. Remember, this is happening in a year where the average season ticket went up a whopping 17% making it top 3 in the league. Am I shocked by this? Actually, I kind of am. I thought having an entire channel dedicated to the team would be enough to air all the games the normal cable channels couldn’t handle but hey, MLSE, O’Neal and Bosh need to get paid.

To the game now and thanks to DG for hooking me up with some awesome, awesome seats. Section 107, Row 24, I usually find that watching the game on TV allows me to analyze and understand it better but having an unobstructed view from seats this close completely changed my view – if you want to watch an NBA game spend some money and get up-close. Check out some of the pics I took.

I don’t know if Sam Mitchell whipped out the bench for the majority of the second half because he new we weren’t up to the task of winning and just tried to save face by swallowing the loss in the name of the reserves or whether he really wanted the likes of Kapono, Solomon and Humphries to get some run in. Whatever the approach was it made for an eye-sore of a game if you’re a Raptors fan. What was irking me even more while I sat there in my great seats was that my man Roko Ukic was glued to the bench. He played the lowest minute total of any Raptor (8:21) while his bench backcourt mate Will Solomon James played 24 minutes and once again hoisted the second most shots on the team. Take that for its worth.

This was a showcase game for Andrea Bargnani who looks very comfortable with his mid-range game which appears to be his finest weapon so far this preseason. He even faked the drive and stuck a jumper from 20 feet which I think happened twice all last season. The best part about watching him play so far is that he appears comfortable with himself, takes what the defense gives him and if there’s nothing given, he won’t force the issue. What the stats don’t show is that he made a couple very sweet passes which should’ve been converted for points and set solid screens in the high pick ‘n roll situations. I thought he should’ve gotten a lot more touches but Will James and Jason Kapono were guilty of looking him off or not re-posting him up after the initial catch. Bargnani is no doubt the anchor of the second unit and the sooner Jason Kapono and company learn how to play with him instead of around him the better.

Jermaine O’Neal who you can’t say has had a single solid game all preseason only played an error-filled 15 minutes. I thought we’d see more of him in the second half but Sam had decided that he’d had enough of him. With only three preseason games remaining there isn’t much time to get Jermaine O’Neal looking like the Jermaine O’Neal from four years ago and if this is the form he’ll bring into the season opener against Philadelphia, we’re in trouble. You would think he’d log up some serious minutes with Bosh to get that chemistry going but nothing of the sort happened today.

Maybe Sam played the bench because he was too disgusted by our first half defense which saw Minnesota leak out for scores about 5 times. The Raptors’ jump shooters were ball watching as they released their shots while their man ran up the court and caught a long pass for layups. On one occasion they actually pulled the stunt coming out of a dunk. This was not a good defensive performance and it came against one of the worst teams in the league. But hey, remember yesterday Mitchell said that they weren’t working on defense, they were focusing entirely on offense so let’s see what the offense did. 86 points and 19 turnovers against a T’Wolves defense that didn’t do a single unorthodox thing all game. All they did was use their athleticism and length to get into passing lanes and steal the ball from players like Jason Kapono when they were trying to dribble through three defenders. Save for some Bargnani pick ‘n rolls and some Joey Graham back-cuts and slashes there was nothing smooth about our offensive game. We didn’t get many easy baskets and were only 6-16 from long distance; the thing that kept us in this one was our +5/+8 rebounding differential mostly thanks to Kris Humphries who continues to impress on the glass and suck from 16 feet.

Joey Graham got the start at the three and looked very good (relative to his career thus far). He moved without the ball for a couple easy hoops, got a hoop by going strong on the baseline and even went straight down the middle of the paint to get fouled. The subtle thing to note about Graham’s game is that he’s entirely one-dimensional when he’s trying to do something. For example, take that play where he drew the foul in the paint, he drew at least four defenders and could’ve easily kicked the ball out for an open jumper but he just doesn’t have the presence of mind for those things. I think it’s the lack of floor time that stunts that kind of growth in a player and that’s why I’m of the belief that Joey Graham will have a serviceable NBA career, it just wont’ be with the Raptors because he’s too behind Jamario Moon in Sam Mitchell’s books. Joey even had a good defensive game, he wasn’t nearly as laterally slow as we’ve seen in the past and even took a charge by using quick feet. How often does that happen? Let’s throw in a quote form Joey who if he plays as well as he did today might, just might give Moon some competition:

“I was aggressive, coach told me he wanted me to come in and be rebounding, run the floor as well as I could, even though it was still a little sore. I tried to do that, come out there and stay aggressive, attack the basket and get to the free throw line.”

Let’s talk about my least favorite Raptor, Jamario Moon, and Anthony “what have you done for me lately” Parker. Together they managed to score 5 points in 45+ minutes on 2-9 FG. How many games can we honestly win if that’s the kind of production we’re getting from those two? Not many, and the concerning part is that these two will have to produce offense without getting too many touches. There’s only one ball and Bosh, O’Neal and Caldeorn will need their share of it, if Parker and Moon think that they’ll be able to get “warm up shots” during the game they’re highly mistaken. I think Parker will come around and his percentages will rise as his legs come back to him but what will Moon do? He’s not going to become a better shooter overnight so asking him to keep the defense honest is out of the question, the only other feasible offense he can produce for us is through offensive rebounding and by running the break or slashing. Good luck getting him to do that. While I’m ripping Moon let me also mention that he’s the king of getting the rebound anybody could’ve gotten. His rebounding numbers are severely inflated and as soon as the NBA starts keeping track of contested vs. uncontested rebounds you’ll see the truth.

We had a chance to tie this game with a minute to go but Jason Kapono got the ball on the left wing and tried to go 1 on 2 and ended up losing the ball. Minny got the ball back on the other end and got a quick score for a 4-point swing. After that the Raptors came out of a timeout to execute a play which resulted in Will Solomon forcing up a bad jumper which obviously missed and that was that. The underlying theme of any Raptors loss is late fourth quarter execution and this one was no different. This is where I keep telling myself that its only preseason. Its only preseason…its only preseason…its only preseason…its only preseason…

So the Raptors bench drop one at home to the Timberwolves who thoroughly deserved to win the game. Corey Brewer, Rodney Carney and Randy Foye ran the break, stuck their jumpers and played with an enthusiasm that was refreshing. On a side note, Kevin Love looked awful, nonathletic and out of place, this looks like a classic McHale move. But Minny deserved to win and they would’ve won bigger if it weren’t for Bargnani and Humphries’ second half play. If you ask Sam we’re not supposed to feel bad about this win because 1) it’s preseason and 2) our starters didn’t play much so if we really wanted to, we would’ve won this game. Or so he hopes.

Once again thanks to DG.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , | 21 Comments »

Roko Ukic vs. Will Solomon, Sam Mitchell vs. Media

Posted by Arsenalist on October 16, 2008

It’s the only question mark left on the Raptors squad, who will be Jose Calderon’s official backup? In the black corner is an unheard of European journeyman that resembles a poor man’s TJ Ford in what he can do on the court. Unfortunately he also reminds you of Mike James. In the white corner we have an NBA rookie and another European professional, Roko Ukic, who happens to be a remnant of the Rob Babcock era (bringing that tally to 4 – Bosh, Calderon, Mitchell). So far Solomon appears to be ahead in the race but that’s only because he’s been getting more minutes, if you extrapolate Roko Ukic’s play and numbers over the course of 48 preseason minutes he’s averaging 84ppg, 39apg and 16 spectacular plays per game. In hopes of making this race a little tighter (and fairer), Mitchell will be cutting back Calderon’s minutes and giving them to the wannabe backups, with Ukic getting a major bump:

“Right now we are giving (Solomon) an opportunity. I haven’t decided yet because Roko is getting better every day. Roko is doing some things and I have to get him more (court time). I’m probably going to be trimming Jose’s minutes back a little bit and start playing those two guys more so I can really, really get a good look at both of them.”

Fun fun and Giggity Giggity Goo. My money’s on Solomon but my heart’s with Ukic, there’s something about him that says “I’m actually better than Jose”.

Chris Bosh isn’t going to be lured by the European millions (Article, Video) that will apparently be offered to Lebron and Kobe. Bosh says he’s happy where he is and it’s comfortable at home and he needs to prove himself and the grass is sometimes greener on the other side and that he’ll go for what he knows right now but let’s not kid ourselves, if he gets offered 35M/yr he’s out of here. Like. Now.

I hate the way Sam Mitchell talks to the media. Listen to this interview. So annoying.

“You don’t have a question, you don’t have to think of going aaaawww…now something dumb can happen…you guys complain when I’m mean but now I’m nice and you still complain…”

Name me one other NBA coach that talks like that. Worst part is that he thinks he’s dropping knowledge on us by saying simple common sense generic stuff. Today he’s talking about being aggressive and working on our offense because we always work on our defense and something about personnel, team, leeway, screens and other generic scrum talk. Funny part is that whatever basketball specifics he says the team’s working on in practice is exactly the area where the Raptors under-perform in games right after. So watch our offense against Minny tonight, it better be pristine and running like a Japanese railway.

Back to the press briefly, there are few people that are more annoying than the morning show guys on the Fan 590 but I find myself rooting for them every time Mitchell’s on because the condescension starts from the second he’s on. It’s too much to bear for even an outsider and casual observer like me. Now these guys aren’t exactly Rick Reillys but they’re just doing their job and the least your millionaire ass could do is answer a few questions without sounding like a jerk, you know, like the rest of the team and management does. Somebody should slap Matt Devlin’s personality on Sam Mitchell when it comes to talking to the press.

Quick thought, does the title of this article apply to Jamario Moon? Moon’s playing time last year and so far this year is the ultimate indication of just how shallow we are at our wing position. It says a lot when you’re a starter and wander on the court aimlessly for 30 minutes and nobody talks about your game. The starting SF is a foregone conclusion and for yet another year Joey Graham fails to challenge for it for whatever reason. At least last year Delfino had Moon on his toes but this year who’s the challenger? Will Solomon? Kapono? Sad state of affairs this.

There’s a game tonight, Minny at home. I’ll be watching out for how Jermaine O’Neal handles Al Jefferson. Not a lot going on in Raptorland so I’m off to bed.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , | 18 Comments »

CSKA impressive as Raptors scrape through

Posted by Arsenalist on October 15, 2008

CSKA Moscow 78, Toronto Raptors 86

CSKA Moscow was fun to watch. I can see what the hype about Ettore Messina is, his team moves without the ball, consistently communicates on the court, doesn’t take bad shots and is extremely disciplined in their approach. With CSKA down by 10 late in the fourth, they ran a sequence of five exquisite plays that cut the lead down to 4. Two back-cuts which were picked out beautifully by the guard followed by three straight right-elbow screen ‘n rolls punctuated by shovel passes which led to scores. That cut the lead down to two possessions but Bosh countered with a score like he had done all evening and the Raptors escaped with a narrow, scrappy win against the Russians.

The Raptors were sluggish coming out of the gates; we turned the ball over frequently in the first quarter and compounded the problem by taking bad shots which didn’t seem to come out of any sort of offense but were just sort of there for the taking. The off-the-ball movement was poor and the only scores we seemed to get were when Calderon pushed the ball early to find Bosh or stuck the jumper himself. O’Neal looked rusty and unsure any time he had to interact with a teammate and looked most comfortable when he was given the ball in a post-up situation. He missed some of his early shots but by the end of the game had racked up a few impressive scores where he manhandled his defender in typical O’Neal style.

O’Neal finished with 11 points on 5-9 FG which is probably a little lower than what he’s likely going to average this season. He’ll average more than the 2 rebounds he had today but his scoring numbers will be comparable to tonight. If anyone’s expecting him to average 20/10 or even 17/8, I think they’re in for a disappointment. When was the last time two All-Star caliber big men played with that kind of efficiency? The last great ‘twin towers’ of Tim Duncan and David Robinson averaged 21.7 and 15.8 points and that combined point total is probably the best-case scenario here. Shaq and Malone averaged 21.5 and 13.2 in 2003-04 and James Worthy and Kareem averaged 19.7 and 14.6 in the year the Lakers won the title so asking/expecting O’Neal and Bosh to put out those kind of numbers is a tall task. Anyway, O’Neal saw something positive in his play:

“I was very, very pleased with my defensive efforts. I was able to take a charge, I was able to block a shot for the first time in the pre-season which I was probably on myself more about than scoring. I think the next three games will be very important for myself and the rest of my team, because we’re getting prepared for the real games now.”

The night belonged to Chris Bosh who easily had his best game of the preseason. Bosh always looked to attack first and made a beautiful play in the first half where he drove to his right and pulled it back for a jam. You sort of knew that he could do that anytime he wanted to because the CSKA defenders just are not laterally quick enough to stay with him. I thought Bosh and Calderon were going all-out in this game and were the reasons the potential embarrassment was avoided. Calderon’s aggressive defensive plays and ability to push the offense in the third quarter sparked the Raptors rally and left CSKA wondering how they could bring the ball up the court without turning it over.

It’s a good comeback win but the pessimist will say that we should’ve done to them what the Magic did to them. The difference is that the Magic have a dominant player that nobody has an answer for and is someone who can do whatever he pleases against smaller opposition. In our case things are a little different, Lorbek and Siskauskas were not shy to attack Bosh and met with success. Khryapa dragged our big men to the perimeter forcing them to defend out there leaving us vulnerable at the back to drives which Planinic and Langdon apparently love to do. They were able to get penetration, were patient in their swing sequences and used pump-fakes wisely (just ask Jamario Moon who got a first-hand lesson in how NOT to defend Europeans). Bottom line is we’re a much less athletic team than the Magic and this worked in their favor.

I’m concerned about Anthony Parker, he looks completely lost out there and I think its because he’s not getting enough touches. He’s a shooter that needs his shots to stay interested in the game and have an impact for us; he’s not the type of guy who will ever sulk because he’s not getting his shots but its something that definitely helps him get going. Parker had the 5th most shots in today’s game and that’s likely going to be the norm for him. He played 30 anonymous minutes and was constantly being broken down by CSKA’s quicker guards while on the other end he never actually looked to use his size and post-up game against Langdon or Holden.

Jamario Moon might become my least favorite Raptor this year. He was schooled in this game because of his lack of intelligence; he had trouble fighting through screens and could not anticipate what the offense was trying to do. He’ll never provide anything concrete for us on offense because he continually plays to his weaknesses and desperately avoids using his athletic ability. It’s almost like he’s thrown out there as a freelancer who has the freedom to do whatever he wants on offense as long as he looks like he’s playing defense. Remember, Parker and Moon are our starting swingmen which carries some basic responsibilities: provide athleticism, scoring, fast-break points, fourth quarter jump shooting and some consistent defense since they’ll usually guard the other team’s best SG/SF scorer. I’d actually feel better if Delfino was still on this team because his replacement, Hassan Adams, looks like he’s going to be utterly useless.

A word about Roko Ukic: He got in for about 6 minutes and had one gorgeous spin move for a score. Unfortunately for him he got in the game when the rest of the team was playing like crap and got the Mitchell yank. The crowd loved this guy and wanted to see more of him but given the need for scoring and how we were trailing for most of the game, Calderon was called in to right the ship. Will Solomon met with the same fate tonight.

Andrea Bargnani had a couple offensive rebounds and stuck one for a putback. He had two little jumpers a two horrible looking forced shots (one airball). He’s somewhere between “better than last year” and “still not worth the #1 pick”. The odds are that that’s the range on the spectrum where he’ll end up when his career is all said and done. He is showing signs of improvement and is trying to do the right things on the court, I can’t stress that enough. His defense was good and at the end of the first half he did a great job sticking in front of Planinic who was trying to break him down. Six rebounds ain’t bad either.

Hey, its preseason and its all a learning process. Sure, this game was much harder than we’d all like it to be but we saw some positives from Bosh and O’Neal, the two men we’ll be relying heavily on for the entire season. Calderon played well and we looked great in that third quarter. The improvement continues….

I was at the game and took some pics, most of them are bad but there are a couple good ones here and there.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

Red Army comes to town

Posted by Arsenalist on October 14, 2008

An excellent preview of tonight’s game is available in the local paper. Let me quickly recap: CSKA Moscow come in to Toronto after getting their asses handed to them by the Magic 96-66 where future Raptors coach Ettore Messina said Dwight Howard “looked like Godzilla” to them. Anthony Parker says they aren’t taking them lightly since the European and exiled American players want to have a chance to show what they’re worth in NBA terms. Parker of course helped Maccabi beat the Raptors in Toronto by hitting the game-winner on Morris Peterson. Will Solomon is echoing some similar thoughts here.

Sam Mitchell on the other hand can’t possibly be taking this game too seriously. After suggestions that the Raptors didn’t play hard or well enough against Philadelphia, Mitchell brushed off any criticism by saying:

“We can’t get banged up trying to win a pre-season game. I saw what I needed to see.”

Right. So that’s that I guess. If Mitchell isn’t too worried about the game maybe he should be. His counterpart tonight is a man who was speculated to succeed Mitchell a couple summers ago and is considered to be a brilliant strategist, a sharp contrast to Mitchell’s blowhard line of ways. There would be a none better endorsement of Messina’s superiority over Mitchell if they beat us tonight on the heels of the 76ers loss and right after they themselves got rocked by Orlando. Go Sam.

A few names to lookout for on the CSKA roster: Trajan Langdon, the Duke star known as the Alaskan Assasin, JR Holden who’s now a Russian citizen and former Maryland forward Terence Morris. They are the defending Euroleague Champions so I expect a good game tonight, nothing like Orlando.

The NBA is laying about 80 people off in the US because of the economic troubles. Funnily enough David Stern expects the number of season tickets to go down but the revenue to go up which can only mean that those season seats are getting very pricey. I myself haven’t been able to afford one ever.

The Cavaliers have trouble figuring out who will start at SG for them and this blog suggests that they pick starters based on matchups. On the surface it seems like a good idea but the article admits that it comes at the cost of continuity and rhythm, two very underrated but important factors in any rotation. It works in soccer, not in basketball. The Raptors tried this experiment last year to some degree (well, not by flipping starters but through incoherent subs) and it didn’t turn out too well.

Four of the games that I always circle on my calendar are the ones against the Hawks. There’s never a dull moment. The Hawks are aiming for a .500 record and SLAM has a preview of the young team which will pose more of a threat than they’ve done in recent years. Hawks/Raptors games have always been exciting and I can’t see this year being any different except that we shouldn’t take winning 3/4 for granted.

I was really looking forward to the Minnesota game on Friday as it would mark the return of Hoffa but sadly it wasn’t to be. He was cut by the T’Wolves. Sniff. Did you know the NCAA is increasing the 3-pt line by a foot to 20′ 9″?

As you can see I’m ending this post with some big time fodder because that’s all there is to it. I’m going to the game tonight and will have something for you tomorrow.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , | 11 Comments »