For Raptors fans, the second pre-season game was undoubtedly better than the first. That’s not saying much, based on Toronto’s pathetic performance on Tuesday, but there were certainly encouraging signs. One night after giving up 65 first-half points, the Raps played impressive defense and held Philly to 35% shooting in the rematch. The energy level was higher, despite using a depleted roster on the second night of a back-to-back.
Some specific thoughts on the game:
While he showed flashes of potential, DeMar DeRozan has a long way to go. Expectations for this kid had gone way up since the draft, but fans should remember that he was never supposed to make a huge impact in year-one. It’s pretty obvious why, after seeing the rookie in person. He needs to develop his left-handed dribble if he wants to be an effective slasher, and it’s something Jay Triano is trying to enforce. DeRozan was yanked for the second straight game after settling for jumpers, and had some trouble getting involved in the flow of the offense. Still, there were positives – He filled the lane and finished with a power dunk off a pass from Quincy Douby, and he scored on a finger-roll after stealing the ball. DeRozan also knocked down a three-pointer for the second straight game, but I wouldn’t expect that to be a trend just yet. Defensively, he struggled against Andre Igoudala and is still adjusting to the speed and athleticism of the NBA. On one play, Igoudala grabbed an offensive rebound right over DeRozan – How often do you think that happened at USC?
Jose Calderon rebounded (somewhat) from a brutal first game, finishing with six assists and zero turnovers. That was the good news, but Calderon still looked passive on the offensive end. Remember when Jose would turn the corner on the pick-and-roll, going all the way to the basket for lay-ups? We need that guy back. There’s no doubt that Calderon is more effective when he’s surrounded by talent, and I expect improvement once Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu are in the lineup.
I really like Marco Belinelli. He was out of control at times, but the kid is skilled. Belinelli scored 12 points, while struggling from the three-point line. I’m not worried about his shooting – Instead, I was impressed with his ballhandling and passing ability. With more playing time and an elevated comfort level, Belinelli should be a valuable part of Triano’s ball-movement offense. I also think his shot selection improves when Bosh and Hedo are on the court.
Andrea Bargnani was quiet, but continues to prove he’s the guy we saw in the final third of last season. He still can’t rebound, but has developed into a very good offensive player. Bargnani’s baseline drive for a dunk was beautiful, but it hardly seemed like he was trying for most of the night. Again, I’m excited to see what he can do with Bosh and Hedo attracting attention from opposing defenses.
The real bright spots for Toronto were Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson. Acquired together in the Carlos Delfino trade, both players brought a ton of athleticism and hustle to the building on Wednesday night. Both were all over the court, forcing Philly into tough shots, while running the floor and showing a nose for the rim. Johnson might have the agility to play a little bit of small forward, while Weems treated the crowd to three huge dunks. After leading the team in minutes (and deservedly so), he’s making a case for playing time when the real games begin.
I really can’t talk about the defensive end without mentioning Reggie Evans. Like JYD, the fans have fallen in love fast. Evans was a beast, grabbing nine rebounds to go along with four steals. On the other hand, he forced tough shots in traffic and TWICE dribbled up the court. While his work ethic and determination are much appreciated, this needs to stop. There is no way Reggie Evans should be leading the break, and grabbing an offensive rebound shouldn’t entitle him to shoot immediately after. If he can control his game, Evans will be a fan-favourite all year long.
Jarrett Jack was fine. He made a few nice plays in the second half, including a sweet behind-the-back pass to Weems on a fast break. Jack didn’t really stand out, but he was solid. He stole the ball twice and played good defense.
Once again, Marcus Banks played better than expected. It’s hard to imagine him seeing much of the court this season, but I expected absolutely NOTHING from him. I guess it’s a case of lowered expectations, but I was impressed with his overall game on Wednesday. Put it this way – Calderon and Jack were no better, while Quincy Douby was worse. I still think Douby can be an effective scorer in limited minutes, but he didn’t show it last night. Meanwhile, maybe (it’s a long shot) Colangelo can find a way to trade Banks if he plays decent for any extended stretch. Don’t count on it.
Up front, Patrick O’Bryant and Rasho Nesterovic both played like…well, themselves. O’Bryant still hasn’t figured out how to use his 7-foot frame, but did block three shots. Still, he has a long, long way to go. Rasho was solid in very limited minutes, reminding us that yes, he only shoots from the baseline.
Overall, the Raps were much, much better on Wednesday, but it’s tough to say much without Bosh and Hedo in the lineup. Without say, Igoudala and Elton Brand, the 76ers would have plenty of problems. Defensively, though, Toronto challenged Philly to make difficult shots, improving drastically from Tuesday’s weak effort. At the shooting guard spot, both DeRozan and Belinelli have room to improve, while Antoine Wright has yet to play. Hopefully, the Raps are healthy in the near future, so we can see what this team will really look like on the court.