The Toronto Raptors played two sloppy games against Phoenix and Atlanta recently, which resulted to back to back losses. Then another shabby game against a weak (due to multiple injuries) New Orleans team but a late (and lucky) win, and this team just pressed the alert button. Not the panic one, but it’s close.
Toronto Raptors are going to be a part of the playoffs. This will be the inevitable reward for a remarkable season. But in which position they will start this campaign? Nobody knows yet, and the signs aren’t promising that they will start from the 3rd or even 4th position, which gives home-court advantage during the first round.
But, what happened lately, and I feel that the panic button is near to be hit too?
First of all, the energy level of the team is low. They used to start sloppy and end strong, now the opposite is occurring. On Wednesday against Atlanta, a team that had played another game one day before, they couldn’t continue their great start (remember the game against the Suns, it has similarities), and they lost, not only the game but also Jonas Valanciunas this time. And this, losing their one and only center, after losing Parick Patterson for few games, is the worst part of the story.
This team doesn’t have the luxury of a deep bench. They don’t have a 12-man rotation, not even a 10-man one. And if you look the “unavailable” players, players are being utilized from little to none, there are peripheral players; Stone, Buycks, Fields, De Colo, Novak and Hayes (the only player who can play in the paint but he’s undersized and slow). Even Salmons, who is part of the rotation, isn’t helping the team a lot lately, and guess what, he is a SG. So, a loss of another “big” player (if JV goes to the sidelines after his back problems) after Patterson, whom absence is huge, it could be described as a mini disaster.
This team shows signs of fatigue, both physically and mentally. This is the reason, in my opinion that they usually start unselfish, but they finish with many ISO plays, because they don’t have the clear mind to play as a team, to move the ball correctly. Players during the last minutes of the game, take extremely difficult shots. We have also a “transformation” of roles. Greivis Vazquez is changed from backup PG to shooter SG, something he isn’t capable of, and this creates another void; of the backup PG who has to help his teammates score (against Atlanta he had 0 assists and 0-5 3s).
The Novak experiment isn’t working, but this is not only his fault, due to his defensive limitations. He’s not utilized by his teammates at all. There is no play including Novak, so he just runs back and forth, and if he has the chance, he may shoot a 3.
The two sophomores, JV and Terrence Ross, start strong but then they vanish. Especially Ross, even if Dwane Casey gives him the opportunity to play a lot of minutes, he disappears mostly offensively but also defensively (fatigue alert) down the stretch.
The team is in DESPERATE need of a backup Center. Atlanta, Phoenix and New Orleans (even without Davis) were having a party in the paint against the Raptors “bigs”. I’m not the expert to say if there is anybody available for a 10-day contract at least (there are few out there like Daniel Orton, Fab Melo, Sean Williams who had an effective season in Turkey) but I believe the necessity is huge, especially now with Patterson and JV out but also with Amir Johnson who is barely able to walk on his injured ankle. Having another big in the team, the rotation is wider, and the players, especially the PF and C, can rest a bit.
Masai has to do a potion of his magic, to help the Raptors finish in a good position and have possibilities at the playoffs.