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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 »

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 »

Joey Graham tweaks something

Posted by Arsenalist on October 2, 2008

Before I get to today’s piece I want to talk about Hwy 427. What the f*ck gives? There’s been construction on that bloody thing for the past two years and nothing has gotten done. Every night they close the northbound lanes at 8PM so that only one lane gets through. The southbound express (which already only has two lanes south of Bloor) is closed 80% of the time if not completely shut down in favor of the collectors which is also reduced in lanes. I can understand if this was a one-time thing but I kid you not when I say its been going on for years on end. Somebody fix something.

There are indications that Jamario Moon will be in the starting lineup instead of Jason Kapono because of defensive reasons. We’ve talked about this all summer – Kapono needs as much playing time with Bosh and O’Neal for him to be successful. Jamario’s a scrub and can adapt to any situation so it hardly matters who else is on the court with him for him to do his thing. As I said before the old ‘defense over offense’ argument usually wins here and this is no surprise, just a little disappointing. I would actually buy that argument if Moon was a shutdown-type defender who actually could lock you down but he’s not, he’s athletic and has great reach but does not have great defensive mechanics (cheating and recovering doesn’t count). Last year I was in favor of him being in the lineup because we needed his rebounding but with O’Neal already complementing Bosh we can afford to have an offensive weapon out there in favor of another rebounder. Matt Devlin thinks otherwise.

More on this. Bryan Colangelo is expecting big things for Kapono which is great but you have to put him in a position to succeed. We can’t do the same thing as last year and hope the results are different. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is stupidity. You could go ahead and blame Kapono’s performance of a season ago entirely on him but so far what have we done to mitigate that? The only thing I can think of is that we’ve kicked out Delfino whose 23 minutes will supposedly be given to Kapono resulting in more shots (hopefully). I understand that point of view and strategy but would just like to see Kapono get as much playing time with Bosh and O’Neal as possible.

Great quote from Sam Mitchell about the lack of depth on the roster and how the talent is more concentrated:

“That’s why we thinned out the roster – it makes it easier for me to coach.”

You don’t say? The less-is-more theory is great for golf but for a team that hopes to compete for an NBA title it doesn’t work. But wait! Are we actually competing for an NBA title or trying to win a playoff round? What is our measure of success this season? I wish Colangelo could answer this question. All those of you with press passes, do me a favor and ask this question of him. Please. Concentrated talent is a good thing though, it allows a coach to define roles properly, make sensible substitutions and manage expectations of players. If Mitchell manages to properly do that for his 8-man unit I think I’ll be more than pleased with him. Just please don’t bench Humphries for a month and then play him in the fourth quarter of a tight game for 8 minutes.

There’s tons of interviews on, here’s one of them with Roko Ukic. He says that being healthy is the biggest thing and that he needs to “get better everyday”. Asked what he does well he says that he can pass the ball well, especially with the larger NBA court. Roko my friend, you’re right. There is more space to pass but the defense recovers and takes away passing lanes so fast that what looked like a good idea ends up being a turnover. I’m not worried though, he’s looking to impress and sounds like he’s got a good head on him and I do think he’s going to surprise a ton of people.

Slam is ranking the Top 50 players in the NBA and Chris Bosh comes up at #22. More importantly they dropped this old-school YouTube vid on me which just made my day. There’s talk that Vince Carter is a different man at camp this year. I remember watching those Training Camp shows on Raptors TV last year and they had their cameras on the Nets training facility and Vince appeared to be taking it ultra-easy and not coming within 500 miles of breaking a sweat. If he does decide to play to his potential it might up the Nets win total and make the four automatic wins we’re counting on against them harder to get.

Oh yeah, Joey Graham tweaked something. Why even bother playing rest of the season? Let’s just concede all 82 :)

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

Hollinger be talking; Kapono be thinking; Sampson be signing; Manatee be resting

Posted by Arsenalist on October 1, 2008

The name’s Sampson. Jamal Sampson. The initial reaction to this signing was much like the ones of Hassan Adams and Willie Solomon: Who? Once you get past the disappointment of signing somebody on the fringe of the association the normal next step is to wonder what he can do for us. At the worst it’s a move that will replace Maceo Baston, at best he might turn into a Loren Wood or Jelani McCoy. The numbers aren’t flattering and he’s bounced around (the Raptors are his 7th team) but who knows, with some playing time he might be able to show us a little something something. All the best to Sampson, I mean that, hopefully he puts up a fight in training camp and gives Humphries a run for his money.

If you really want to read between the lines you could say the Sampson signing is insurance for Nathan Jawai. The Raptors are taking every precaution with The Manatee’s heart condition. The question that comes to mind is whether we did a proper physical before we drafted him. He missed most of summer league and couldn’t get past media day, not being crude here but isn’t it too soon to be seeing specialists? This one’s got early retirement written all over it. All the best to him too, he seems like good people. I really wanted to see how he reacts when he’s put in the game to defend Dwight Howard, I’m taking he’s seen nothing like the sort before. NBA initiation, it’s the best.

Hollinger’s Raptors preview is out and he’s predicting a 47-35 record (tied with best ever) which would be good for third in the Atlantic and fifth in the East. To sum it up he’s saying that our interior defense is our biggest strength and the lack of depth in the backcourt our biggest weakness. Hollinger’s a closet Raptors fan who wants us to trade for a more experienced reserve. Well, we all do but since we refuse to pay the luxury tax and have a plethora of small and unproven contracts, we can’t make a move. So we better learn to live with what we’ve got. In summing up last season he brings up 1 good and 1 bad point. The good: We were better than our record last year and should’ve piled up more wins but the TJ Ford saga and Bargnani’s regression while playing heavy minutes cost us wins. The bad: He once again brings up his stupid, retarded and nonsensical point differential argument and uses it to argue point #1. There are many things wrong with giving any sort of weight to point-differential without considering records against +.500 teams. After all beating a good team by 1 point is much more indicative of a team than blowing out a sorry opponent by 20.

Dave Feschuk is back and his initial offering is weaker than an Arsenalist 3AM post. And that’s weak. The subject of the matter is Jason Kapono and how he was two players last season: a good one and a crappy one. Says Kapono about his inconsistent playing time and performance:

“Partly the blame’s on me, I’ve got to perform in the short time that I do get, and then extend my minutes. Hopefully now I have earned somewhat of a chance to kind of work through an oh-for-2 or oh-for-3 start (from the field).”

“Partly”. Let me finish of his thought for you: Sam Mitchell didn’t know how to use me and I was just trying to get mine in an offense that is based on freestyling. I’m a shooter and you can’t yank me after I miss my first two shots – see, I’m not Bargnani or Humphries. And so I didn’t play great defense last year, well, who did? Cut me some slack here, this time I don’t have Delfino to compete with and I’m damn sure that Adams and Solomon aren’t taking any PT away from The Kap. As long as I get some consistent playing time and have some idea of when I come in to the game I’ll put up some numbers. Running a play for me would help too, I can’t do this on my own. I tried last year and you should give me credit for that instead of talking about my 4 3’s all spring. You know?

There’s an article about Will Solomon in the Sun. It’s about how he left a couple million dollars on the table and went to Europe instead thinking there was more money there. Fast-forward six years and its no longer about the money but the pride of playing in the NBA. I don’t know, something tells me if he had gotten Delfino-money in Europe he’d manage to suffocate that pride for a few more years. Again, good luck to Solomon. He’s also good people. Plus he seems like a motivated guy who could play hard for a new contract. Always good to have those unless they start jacking up shots to pad stats (see Voshon Lenard).

Finally, Matt Devlin’s thinking that Jermaine O’Neal is looking “lean and strong” and by O’Neal’s own admission he’s never worked out this hard in the summer in quite some time. Andrea Bargnani was working on his back-to-the-basket moves at Tim Grgurich’s Big Man’s Camp and Sam Mitchell wants him to play “18-feet and in”. That sounds good on paper but Bargnani’s mid-range jumper had back-rim written all over it last season and he was far more comfortable shooting the 3, a lot like Bruce Bowen. Don’t know how that’s going to work but I’m all for moving Bargnani closer to the basket.

That’s it for this morning. Eid Mubarak!

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

Raptors second best in the East?

Posted by Arsenalist on August 6, 2008

The title of this post is an example of how you can put a question mark is front of even the most ridiculous statements and give them a serious air. To get to the point we now know that Jamario Moon’s using his new found money to buy the finest cocaine in the land. That’s the only way I can explain him annointing the Raptors as the second best team in the East. I love the confidence because it’s a prerequisite to being great but expectations need to be kept in check. I’d prefer it Moon started saying things like, “We want to prove the cynics wrong” rather than “After Boston, its us”. The latter has a work-ethic theme attached to it that both Moon and the Raptors need to adopt if they want to even come close to the former statement.

Matt Devlin reports from Beijing about the makeup of the Olympics and how Team USA will kill everybody. He drops an interesting fact about the Olympics: There are 29 current NBA players participating at the Beijing Games along with 17 former NBA players and eight international players whose rights are held by an NBA team. Compare this to only 12 years ago where there use to maybe two or three non-US players in the tournament and you get an idea of how basketball has grown. There’s a Fox Sports article that tries to find things to warn Team USA about but its reaching when making every point.

On a side note, I hate the Olympics. I hate everything about it, I hate the torch, I hate the IOC, I hate the corruption of the people running it, I hate the false sense of ‘sportsmanship’ and ‘unity’ that it insists upon itself and last but not least, I hate 80% of the sports in it. Sorry, but I’d rather watch more summer league than watch a Canadian ‘realize his dream’ when finishing 7th in the swimming pool. The whole amateur thing has run its course; the mixing of professionals like NBA players and athletes who have part-time jobs is getting to be a bit much and sends a lot of mixed messages about the spirit and nature of this competition. What does Olympic Gold mean anymore? Does it mean that you’re the best at what you do? In most cases, no. So why the hell should I care? The only reason people even care about this event is that they’re told to do so by the overwhelming hype created by the marketing machine that is the media.

The NBA schedule will come out any second now (New Years Eve vs. Nuggets) and here’s hoping for an easy November. Nothing can be more deflating than ending the first month with a record like 4-10. The only thing that’s going to do is get Sam Mitchell closer to being fired which of course isn’t exactly undesirable to many. Regardless of how we start the season Mitchell should be given at least till the end of December to prove whether he can handle the new look Raptors. After all this is the East and even though teams have gotten better there’s no reason to believe a team can’t absolutely suck for the first half of the season and make a run to grab a playoff spot, so bad start will not equal impending doom. Update: Here it is.

In yesterday’s post I said the NBA need not worry when petty free agents sign in Europe and should only be concerned if the stars start moving aboard. Well, today Lebron apparently said that he’ll be down with Europe if it gets him a salary of $50 million/year. If that actually does happen I wouldn’t be shocked to see the NBA personally offer Lebron $100 million to stay, it would be a matter of saving face. Meanwhile the exodus to Europe continues and this time its one of the stalwarts of the league, Earl Boykins, leaving us to join Virtus Bologna on a 1yr/3.5M deal which will make him the highest paid player in Italy next year.

That’s about that for this morning. This is going to be the last Raptors post till August 25th. I’m going home for two weeks. Thanks for reading the blog and posting comments, it is greatly appreciated. I’ve asked eastcoastrapsfan to fill in when he can, he might write a post later on where he’ll talk about what it means to be a Raptors fan who is getting up there in age.


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

Proof that Andrea Bargnani is working hard this summer

Posted by Arsenalist on August 1, 2008

Andrea Bargnani working on his game

Andrea Bargnani working on his game

I’ve been known to read peoples facial expressions and judging from the picture above the Paul Bunyan look-alike muscled an offensive rebound away from Bargnani and then put it in for a 3-point play. Seriously though, aside from working with John Lucas and attending Tim Grgurich’s big man camp I have no clue what Bargnani’s been upto. Pete Newell’s big man camp starts off next week and there was some talk earlier in the year of Bargnani attending it.

In a HoopsWorld article from a couple days ago it was suggested that he could move out of the four spot and onto the perimeter which somehow is supposed to be a good thing. In a perfect world he would be able to defend the small forward position and score using his size on offense but realistically speaking he’s still a lot closer to a PF than a SF. Jay Triano alluded to two of Bosh, O’Neal and Bargnani being on the floor at all times which would mean there will be minutes for Bargnani at the PF as one of Bosh or O’Neal moves over to play center. Lest we forget Bargnani’s “natural position” is the power forward and so far in his Raptors career he’s been asked to play center.

I don’t think the difference between defending the C and the PF is much different in the NBA, both require him to box-out, rebound and use his quickness as an advantage. Last year a lot of fans felt that he was playing out of position and if we moved him over to PF it would fix a lot of his problems, I don’t buy that argument. At the end of the day he’s got to play big-man basketball and both positions offer the same defensive challenges and offensive opportunities, in fact you could make a case that he should be able to take advantage of centers more easily considering how they’re usually slower. Regardless of which position he plays Sam Mitchell has to try to use him as a plus point rather than a liability.

Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon were playing pick-up at some guy’s house and gave their thoughts on the Jermaine O’Neal trade. Both are counting on a “renewed” O’Neal to lead the Raptors this year. Parker gave his thoughts on ex-teammate Will Solomon joining the squad and says its another shot at the NBA for him after being very successful in Europe. Sure, whatever to not give the impression that we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Jamario Moon will be heading down to Vegas again to work out with Joey G and O’Neal later in the month.

Resident fruitcake Mike Ulmer got to interview Nathan Jawai and once again failed miserably. My favorite gem from this interview has to be the question, Are Australians just like Canadians? No Mike, Australians marry kangaroos, eat their offspring and run around naked in shopping malls trying to set off fire alarms. WTF?!? You get a chance to interview a player, ask him basketball related stuff like his impressions of Mitchell, what he thinks of his teammates and other interesting stuff. Who cares if he thinks Torontonians are nice?

Jack Armstrong will replace Chuck Swirsky on the Fan 590. He’s paired up with some hockey coach just to even the balance for the puckheads. I might actually listen to a Fan 590 show after years of boycotting it because of their idiocy when it comes to covering basketball. Eric Smith is a fair enough analyst but after that the drop down is so significant that its not worth it.

The folks over at Rush the Court have compiled a list of schools which have produced the most NBA draft picks (Google Spreadsheet) and not surprisingly UCLA and North Carolina are #1 and #2. You might be surprised at #3, its not Duke. My Kansas Jayhawks are #8.

Could they have found an uglier picture of Bosh? On a non-basketball related note, this has to be one of the craziest stories I’ve read this year.

That’s about it for now. Thanks for swinging by in the summer time. A special thanks to the ArseBlog for linking it up.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

What does signing Will Solomon say about the Raptors?

Posted by Arsenalist on July 29, 2008

The multi-faceted player that Bryan Colangelo hinted at acquiring didn’t turn out to be Bonzi Wells or Michael Finley but Will Solomon. The Raptors have signed the 6′ 1″ guard to a contract for the upcoming season and it’s logical to think he’ll be playing the role of Darrick Martin. The combo-guard played the last two season in Turkey and was the 33rd pick in the 2001 draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies. He also happens to look a little like Milt Palacio and if his play is anything like the former grandmaster, we are in good hands.

Once again the Raptors tap into the international market to address a need. Nathan Jawai, Hassan Adams, Roko Ukic and Will Solomon were all snatched from foreign teams and combined the quartet has very little NBA experience. With the exception of Adams who played a year with the Nets and Solomon who played the better part of a season with the Grizz, the Raptors incoming crew lacks meaningful NBA experience which could come back to haunt them. If Joey Graham and Kris Humphries remain on the 15-man roster come November, we’ll practically have 6 “scrubs” on the team. This evaluation might seem harsh when applying it to Roko Ukic but until he’s gotten himself in a groove and played through his initial NBA season, expecting anything significant out of him is probably unfair, just like it would’ve been for Calderon’s first year.

When Colangelo was talking about “concentrating talent” on the team earlier in the year I didn’t expect this degree of said concentration. After Jermaine O’Neal, Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani and Jason Kapono, we are severely reaching for talent and ability. The “Big 3” will need to produce at a very high level and with great consistency if the Raptors plan on hiding their weak bench, something which used to be their strong-suit only a year ago. Say what you will about Carlos Delfino but the man could come off the bench and spark the team with his offense and defense, albeit not with great consistency. Right now we’re asking Hassan Adams to fill that role which you would think would be a drop-off. We’re asking Ukic to make-up for TJ Ford which you would also think is a drop-off (at least next year). We’ve basically replaced Rasho Nesterovic with Jermaine O’Neal which by itself is a great improvement but when you look at all the overall addition/subtractions, its hard to definitely say whether we’ve actually improved or not – especially considering the relative improvements other teams in the East have made.

If Colangelo is to be believed this signals our last signing of the summer which has to be disappointing. Colagenlo’s most important off-season has consisted of one big risky move and a few signings that are unlikely to have an impact given the talent of the players and the coaching philosophy on this team. Asking Mitchell to integrate half a dozen new players with below-average talent is asking too much and will result in us putting too much pressure on our Big 3. Taking Boston’s example last year this might not all be bad but keep in mind that Boston’s supporting cast was superior and their three stars are future Hall of Famers. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves, we’re nowhere close to the Celtics in terms of core talent or supporting cast.

Maybe Colangelo’s thinking is to test out the Bosh/JO combo and see if it actually flies and if the team is doing exceedingly well by the trade deadline or is one player away from legitimately contending, then make a move to acquire another true talent. This “wait and see” approach makes some sense but it sure puts a damper on a summer where much was expected of the Raptors. There were obvious weaknesses at the end of the season (rebounding, perimeter defense, athleticism) and we’ve addressed them to some degree but this pessimistic observer feels its hardly going to be enough.

The last thing I want to see on the Raptors is players being stretched out of their ability and ask of them things that they’re not capable of doing. We saw this last year with Jamario Moon and are poised to see the same complaints being directed at the likes of Hassan Adams, Will Solomon and Nathan Jawai. It’s a slippery slope when you start expecting things from scrubs and get annoyed when they don’t deliver. The supporting cast Bryan Colangelo has assembled does not fill me with confidence, mainly because of their lack of proven talent and experience. Sure, they might have potential to be good players but how long can we afford to wait? I though the plan was to fix the Raptors this summer, not sign players that in the best case will turn out to be average NBA players.

We’re not even close to contention.

Jason Kapono talks about the O’Neal trade and how it’ll help him get his shot off. He reckons O’Neal will do for him in Toronto what Shaq did for him in Miami. An optimistic view of things but I see what he’s saying. If you combine Bosh’s quickness in the post with O’Neal’s back-to-the-basket game you’ll get a diverse set of double teams which can open up the offense given the right pass out of the double.

“If O’Neal’s playing well on the block, that’s going to help us out. The more shooters and post players you have, you have the balance to create problems for the guys on the defensive end. Defenders must choose between helping out on the post or guarding guys who can make shots on the perimeter. It makes you want to get training camp started just so you can get him in here and used to our system and our sets and used to the guys. You can’t expect J.O to learn our system in two weeks. Obviously we are going to have a tough time in the pre-season and have a few bumps in the road.

I give Jermaine two practices to learn our entire “system”.

Matt Devlin finally replied to my email and it was a long one too. The Swirsk’s replies were never more than 10 words and I suspect Devlin’s will get shorter too once the season begins. He sounds like a very humble and honest guy but that’s what they said of Charles Manson. There’s an article about him in the Globe where he talks about how he’s going to focus the attention on the players and how he’s not a “hometown announcer” aka homer.

Ricky Davis signed with the Clippers and Renaldo Balkman got traded to the Nuggets in a move that fails to make sense for the Knicks. Andris Biedrins got re-signed for 62 million over 6 years, sounds like overpayment but given today’s NBA market its almost fair value.

Till tomorrow.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , | 47 Comments »

Rod Benson talks about summer camp

Posted by Arsenalist on July 22, 2008

Uber NBDL blogger Rod Benson talks about his summer camp with the Raptors including how Sam Mitchell doesn’t accept anything less than defensive perfection (insert a big f*****g joke here). I sat through watching this team fail to close-out and rotate the entire freaking year, I’ll attribute this slip of Benson to not getting any PT:

The first practice was all about instruction. Head coach Sam Mitchell made it very clear to all of us that our focus would be defense, so I was making every effort to be in the right spot and to talk. Only an idiot would do otherwise, I thought. Still, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t escape the ridicule that seemed to catch up with everyone who failed to employ the correct defensive tactics. If there was one thing I learned from coach Sam during that first two hours, it was that he doesn’t accept anything less than perfection.

Beijing’s getting closer and the reason I’m picking the Americans to win isn’t because that they’re a much better team than any other country but simply because they have Lebron James. An experienced Lebron James. In tournaments past they’ve lacked that one go-to guy that could get them out of their doldrums when things weren’t going their way or when there was one too many defensive gaffes and offensive Larrybrowness. Safe to say that getting points will not be as hard as it’s been the last two tournaments given how Lebron’s learned to suck the defense and even give out contracts to people named Boobie.

Chris Bosh talks about the lack of size in the US frontcourt and how its not a concern since talent-for-talent they matchup against any team’s 4/5’s. Bosh is likely to play backup center to Dwight Howard which is a good thing. In the upcoming season he’s going to be asked to switch around and play the C more often since Bargnani and O’Neal’s natural position is the PF.

New Jersey made another nice acquisition: Keyon Dooling. A defensive-minded guard who can shoot and plays hard, much like Darrel Armstrong who he’s likely to replace. So far NJ’s acquired Eduardo Najera, Yi, Jarvis Hayes, CDR, Dooling and Brook Lopez. That’s a nice young core but aside from Vince I don’t see legit proven talent on that team. They almost seem to have too many role players at this point.

Juan Dixon wants to be a Raptor again apparently. Actually, Juan Dixon would like to play anywhere and would be more than happy if any team would take him.

Matt Devlin’s loving Toronto, he sounds like a very humble guy that’s got his head on straight. John Bitove’s in the news.

Off to work.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Maurizio Gherardini + Primoz + Blue Jays talk

Posted by Arsenalist on July 21, 2008

Good morning, in today’s edition of the blog we’ll jump straight to some Maurizio Gherardini quotes where he’s talking about how there is an equal distribution of talent across the globe and that you’re as likely to find the next Michael Jordan in Azherbaijan as in North Carolina. The funny little fat guy says:

“I believe situations have shown you may find talent around any corner. There is no place where there are going to be better diamonds than other places. Spain is probably the best model in Europe and I would expect to see more players coming from there. The former Yugoslav republics have been the biggest producers of players in Europe, somehow because of their love of the game and the physical structure of people in the area, and so I expect that to continue. I think South America will always be a continent to look at. I think Africa, if the quality of the teaching keeps improving, if they are capable of putting together simple structures to work on their games, has a great possibility of developing intriguing talent for the future,”

There’s some truth to what he’s saying, as the game spread to more and more parts of the world the chances of finding good players becomes higher. I’m just not sure that right now is the time to draft European question marks as the top pick in the NBA draft, that’s all.

There’s a great fact in that article about how James Naismith taught the game in the late 1890’s to Christian missionaries on their way to China and how it helped spread the game there to the tune of them having more NBAers than us in 2008. On a side note, how does getting blown out against Croatia and almost losing to Korea make you feel as a Canadian? I have to say that there’s a tinge of embarassment in our national team’s performances, obviously I don’t know enough about the program to recommend fixes but as a casual fan of the national team I think you’ll agree that I speak for everyone here when I say, “Come on….I mean, come on people…please…come on, its getting a little ridiculous…huh? Yeah..that’s right..come on now”.

Oh, did I mention we lost a summer league game to Golden State where Joey Graham was our best player, I think it happened yesterday, or maybe even the day before. I don’t know, I’m just glad its over. Somebody find out how Andrea Bargnani’s off-season is coming along and what his plans are, I want to scrutinize his every move this summer, how many jump shots he takes, what he bench presses, how many times John Lucas gets a rebound over him, what he eats for breakfast, what TV he watches, what drills he’s doing, how he’s moving laterally, if he’s learned to pump-fake, if he’s learned to box out, whether he’s learned to make a mid-range jumper four times in a row…everything, I want to know everything!

Primoz Brezec walked out on us and signed with Roma. Its hardly worth a mention let alone a quote but its the summertime so why not:

“I am very happy and proud to play next year in Rome. It’s beautiful to return to Europe after seven years in the NBA with one of the best teams on the continent, with the great, successful coach Repesa and the most beautiful city in the world. The determining factor for my choice was the link with Dejan Bodiroga.”

Garbage time will never be the same.

Oklahoma City Thunder? That sounds like a WNBA team. Speaking of which, if you’ve been catching the summer league games on Raptors TV you’ve probably seen the WNBA commercials which end with the guy screaming all excited, “Now this is what the WNBA is all about!!!”. That right there is how bad summertime sports are.

Side step to some Blue Jays talk, I think its far worse to be a Jays fan in this city than a Raptors fan. The Jays have zero chance of making the post-season in the next 10 years. Seriously, they now have to be better than two of New York, Boston and Tampa Bay to even have a shot at the post-season. Before you shrug and go “Tampa Bay??”, I say yes, Tampa Bay! That team has sucked for the last few years but along the way has managed to develop some solid pitching and great hitting to top the AL East. This year is not a fluke but a sign of things to come.

I remember watching Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado not too long ago and thinking that if this team could just make a couple more signings here and there, they’re right there on the cusp of contention for a playoff spot and maybe even go deep in the post-season. That summer they let Green walk, didn’t replace him and assumed Delgado would hit at the same clip next without realizing that teams were going to pitch around him…blah! Frustrating man, the Jays have been looking forward to “next year” in July for 13 straight seasons, if I’m them I trade Roy Halladay and get something for him while he’s at his peak. That team’s not going anywhere, dropping 2/3 to Tampa sealed their fate, we needed a solid sweep to get things going and it just didn’t happen. Bryan Colangelo is a genius compared to J.P Ricciardi.

Thanks to the ArseBlog for the link on Sunday, 12,000 hits and counting for the Arsenal vs. Barnet post. Wow, there are a lot more Arsenal fans than Raptors ones, that’s for sure.

Posted in Raptors, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Random Raptors thoughts

Posted by Arsenalist on July 19, 2008

The Fake Raptors blowing out the Lakers reminded me of the Real Raptors. You know, how we were mired in mini losing streaks and when we finally won it was by 39 points. And you thought, “There, that’s the real Raptors” and just as soon as you finished the sentence we lose to the Clippers at home. It was almost like we needed to be up by 25 for us to have a chance to win because asking this team to fight and claw their way to a win in the fourth quarter was too much to ask.

We didn’t win nearly enough “grit games” in the regular season to prepare us for the intensity of the playoffs. That’s whw we couldn’t win Games 2 and 4 – they came down to the wire and we folded like a cheap deck of cards. The team wasn’t mentally or emotionally experienced or prepared to handle situations like those – close, tense encounters that value possessions and force you to be disciplined in everything you do on both ends of the floor.

In baseball they talk about one-run games and how great an indication that is of how good your bullpen, fielding and pitching is. In much the same way your record in close NBA games tells you what a team is capapble of when push comes to shove and you have to go that extra yard and execute that one crucial play down the stretch. I’m hoping that the addition of Jermaine O’Neal will, more than anything, add an extra offensive option that will allow us to get good looks when it really matters – with 3 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The PNR and Bosh Post-Ups become awfully predictable when you’re running them all game long and that’s why they hardly fool anyone in the fourth. A bit of offensive creativity is what could put this team over the hump of mediocrity which is so rampant in the East.

The lack of fast break points was another annoying factor last year. You would’ve though that with two very good PGs and the likes of Parker, Moon and Bosh we’d be pushing a slight bit more and putting Kapono in the corner for the kick-out three on the break. It’s unforunate that if anything, next year we’ll be even more of a half-court team and won’t look to get easy baskets. The addition of O’Neal and the subtraction of Ford means our half-court needs to be damn efficient because we won’t be getting much on the break.

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