I generally take pride in having a good take on the Toronto Raptors. To have that feeling of knowing what to expect. It is not unlike when you are a wrestling fan you know what is coming next before it happens. As an example fans had been told someone was coming to the WWE and they already had Y2J signs ready to display. How did they know? Mainly because wrestling is predictable and scripted. Sports does not follow a script and as much as you can think you know sometimes you don't know. Could anyone have predicted the Denver Broncos would make the playoffs with Tim Tebow as their quarterback when the season began? He wasn't even the starter. Life and sports are dynamic.
In a lot of ways despite the Raptors making big strides under Dwane Casey some of the same old issues are still lingering around. Raptors no matter what defensive system they have employed have all seemed to have issues with defending the three point line. The Raptors traditionally have always had issues holding leads even with some of the best rosters they have put on the court.
It gets to the point as a long time fan you don't just hope it won't happen but you know it will happen. The Raptors could have as big a lead as you like at any point in the first three quarters of a game and you wait for that other shoe to drop. To not expect that to happen makes you incredibly loyal or ignorant to history. But the history really shouldn't apply after all this team has many different parts, but this has been a theme that has lasted longer than anyone on this roster.
The idea of changing culture gets thrown around a lot in this organization over the years. You know when that really happens? When people honestly don't go into a 4th quarter expecting the worst and hoping for the best. When you have enough confidence to sit there calm and secure that your team can win the game.
When you start to break this down to the individuals there are positives and negatives. Dwane Casey is all positive to this point. You can't help but applaud his effort to take a core group of players, that many felt it would be next to impossible to get them to play defence and he has made it happen. The poster boy for that lack of belief was Andrea Bargnani. If you had never seen the first 6 seasons of this guys career you would not believe how awful he has been in terms of his effort and defence for 6 years. Is 5 games enough to wash away 6 years of a bad taste in your mouth? No not really, but it is enough to make you stop and wait and see.
The player that has been wildly inconsistent has not been Bargnani it has been DeRozan. Last night we saw his most complete performance of the season. Ed Davis who many had high expectations for has had his issues. He also has had his opportunities reduced by the improvment and position change of Bargnani. About the only thing that seems to be consistent in what we have known about the Raptors in the past is Jose Calderon. If you love Jose you point to how he is still one of the most efficient floor generals in the NBA. If you hate Jose you point out he still can not stay in front of almost any point guard he faces. You point to his shooting and on one night his fans will see glimpses of the shooter he once was, on another you will see the shooter he has become for his detractors.
In terms of the new Raptors you have seen a Jamaal Magloire that is offensively challenged but has at times made an impact on the glass. Much as I hate to admit it a lot like what you could get out of Reggie Evans. If not for the other factors that bother me about Magloire I would almost like him. The main difference to me is Reggie is so genuine and I find Magloire to be the opposite. He has embraced this role has the hometown guy that has finally come home. But I can't help but think the chance was there long before the end of his career and his lack of playing for this country ever makes it hard for me to accept him as any kind of Canadian Hero. But if we keep it to basketball a game like last night is what a Reggie Evans could do on the floor.
Anthony Carter really would not have been playing at this point if not for Bayless and his injury. If you take that into account it is hard to tear the guy apart. Would he have been my choice as the 3rd point guard for this team? No. But given his role I don't expect much. He to me is a different more defensively sound version of Derrick Martin. Who was half coach and half player. Now we get on to perhaps the most puzzling of all. Rasual Butler who until the 2nd half in NYC last night did not look like he belonged starting in the D-League forget about on an NBA roster. He came alive late to make some key shots and boards to help secure the win last night. Maybe it was to harsh to expect more given in a normal season last night would have been the second last game of the pre-season more or less. In terms of Aaron Gray he has been sidelined with heart issues. Makes you wonder if Raptors were aware when they signed him? Same thing happened with Nathan Jawai in terms of finding out about heart issues with him on eve of training camp. Is this simple bad luck or did the Raptors miss something? Never going know the answer. But it is hard to be angry about something like that with the player. You just hope the best for their lives screw basketball. As for Gary Forbes seems like a great guy have not seen near enough of him to have any strong opinion.
When you look at this team as whole it really is not all that impressive. It looks like the team that many had very little in terms of expectations. But some how they are able to come together and find a way to hang around and be in games. The improved defence is the reason. Some even have fired off things like this team can be in hunt for the playoffs in the East. The people cheering for lottery balls are very dismayed by that. I am just not to the point of being convinced they can be that. However if they can build on what they did in New York and find ways to hang on and grind out wins maybe I can be swayed. When this season started I said the Raptors would be able to hang around in more games than people think. So far that is true. But I also said they would likely lose more of those games than they would win. That is the part I am starting to question. It would make you feel more confident if Knicks had Amare Soudemire in the line-up and the Raptors had the same result. In this crazy season you are going to catch and have to endure a lot of good and bad breaks in terms of the schedule and injuries. The Raptors had the bad draw in terms of the schedule last night but got the good draw in terms of injures. No Bayless vs no Amare is advantage Raptors.
So maybe at the end of it all. The Raptors are who I thought they were. But I remain willing to accept they could be better than that. But I have no real indication of if that is true yet. I am pretty excited to be going to see it in person tomorrow night. Tristan Thompson and the Cavs get a second shot at the Raptors. This will also be a good test to see what a team does after getting a look at the Raptors improved defence the second time around. Tomorrow could hold some answers on if this team truly can be as this blog asks, better than advertised?